Summary by: Jeanne Beker
Date Published: November 10, 2011
I've had the privilege of hearing designers philosophize about fashion for over a quarter of a century now. But it's when they philosophize about life that I'm really moved, remembering what it is that drives them.
Deep in conversation with Oscar de la Renta at the Bay in late October, I savoured the realization that, far beyond love of women, it's passion for life and compassion for the human condition that's at the heart of every great creator.
Perhaps it was de la Renta's health scare earlier this year that's made him reflective: the 79-year-old was diagnosed with cancer, but is now cancer-free. So what could be more life affirming than reaching out to the women who adore him, giving them a new piece of his dream? Live in Love is de la Renta's new fragrance, a green scent based on some of the flowers he grows in own gardens.
De la Renta was born in the Dominican Republic and took off for Spain at the tender age of 18 to study painting, but soon began an apprenticeship with Cristobal Balenciaga.
De la Renta then moved to Paris, where he worked as a couture assistant at Lanvin, before moving to New York in the early 1960s to work for Elizabeth Arden. In 1965, he started his own label. The rest is American fashion history. De la Renta has consistently thrilling women with his profound sense of elegance and luxurious approach to modern, feminine dressing. I've interviewed him countless times, but something about this conversation especially touched me. Maybe it was because it had nothing to do with the style of his dresses, but rather, the style of his life.
This is an edited version of our conversation.
We're living in an age in which the older we get, the more productive we can become if we choose to. And you're an example of that.
We have to. I keep repeating this and I sound like an old record. But the other day I was talking to my doctor about a friend of ours who retired, and the way his life has changed so much. And my doctor said something to me that I keep repeating every single day. He said, "When you rest, you rust."
That's going to be my new mantra!
And it's true.
How many times have we heard that when people finally do retire, they just drop dead, because they loose their raison d'être.
Like the friend we were talking about, who was very active. And then all of a sudden, he just got so old so fast.
I guess we just have to pray to the powers-that-be everyday to have the strength and energy to keep on going. It's not always easy.
But you do have the energy. Sometimes our body doesn't let us do as much as we want to do. I understand that there are time limitations. .. You know, I think I'm doing today far much better work than I did 20, 30, 40 years ago-for the very simple reason that I know more, I have seen more, I have learned more, I have observed more.
There is a whole well of knowledge that I have today that I did not have when I started. And today, there is so much access to quick learning. That didn't exist back then. You want to know about whatever, so you take your iPad or your computer and you type in the word and you have instant knowledge. People used to say, "When I have time, I'll find out." Now you can find out right away.
And there's another phrase that I remember, too. Brooke Astor, the New York socialite, who was really an extraordinary lady even in her 90s, always said that her mother told her, "Brooke, don't die guessing!" You know, so often, we guess. But we don't need to guess anymore. Because we have the tools to find out.
But there are still some things in life that I think should remain a mystery.
Well, we want to project mystery because there is magic about mystery. Yes, I think that mystery is a fantastic word.
It's very seductive.
It's a very seductive word.
Speaking of seduction - this wonderful new fragrance that you've concocted, Live in Love: The name alone is such a beautiful sentiment, and really speaks of your whole passion for living. Why did you feel that this was the spirit that you wanted to evoke?
Obviously the most important part of the fragrance is the juice itself. But then you want to put that into a beautiful bottle, and then you want to have a great name for it. . .
I think the true success of the fragrance is when you're no longer buying it because you like the bottle or packaging, but because it is you. It's part of your personality. It projects who you are as an individual. Nevertheless, there is something mysterious and magical about the name. And sometimes, it comes from a place that you least expect you're going to find it.
I have this wonderful Italian man that works with me, and he worked for 10 years at Dior and 10 years at Chanel. He runs all the sample rooms.
We were working in the middle of the summer and he had his sleeve rolled up. And we were working on this fragrance, and playing with different names. It's difficult because every single name you can think of has already been registered. And this guy had this tattoo on his arm and the tattoo said Live in Love. And I said, "Oh, my goodness! What a wonderful name! But I'm sure it must have been registered a thousand times, because it's such an obvious name for a fragrance." So I thought, forget it. . . . Well, as it turned out, it hadn't been registered, and we were able to use it after all!
You know happiness has nothing to do with wealth. It has to do with your spirit. And you have to discover that spirit to discover happiness. And it's often the very obvious, something that had always been in front of your eyes, that you hadn't discovered. . . . Why didn't anyone every think of calling a fragrance Live in Love before? After all, it's the way we all so strongly aspire to live life, to live in love-loving what surrounds you, loving your life, loving what you've made of your life, loving the moment, loving the time.
We keep hearing about people looking for love, because so many people feel that if we find the right person to love, our life will be complete. Or if we find the right person that's going to love us, our life will be complete. But you're suggesting that it's so much more.
I am always in love, but first of all, love starts with yourself. You cannot love someone if you cannot love yourself. Because love is about how you live your life. You cannot be madly in love with someone if you are unhappy with yourself. Then it is not a happy love. It's all about having this extraordinary great communion with this fantastic universe.
But the fact that you want to subject yourself to that is what I find so miraculossus and wonderful.
That's the curiosity about living, and the curiosity about learning. I always say that the day that I say I know it all, that day I should stop.
I asked my Twitter followers what they'd like me to ask you, and everybody seemed so excited-you're such a legend in their eyes. But some of the questions that I found most interesting were the ones that asked how you manage to keep yourself so relevant to a younger generation.
I suppose it has to do a lot with my passion for what I do. And it has to do a lot with my sense of curiosity. What's exciting about life is learning: It's that curious moment of trying to look for something and then thinking that you have found it. It's about what tomorrow's going to bring.
You're a philosopher too! Who knew? Thank you so much for coming to Toronto and for creating this new scent.
You know, the other day I was having a horrible time with someone, and I came to the conclusion that actually the biggest luxury in life has nothing to do with money and wealth. The biggest luxury in life is to be able to say what you want to say, when you want to say it. And I want to say how happy I am to know you, because it's been.well, we don't want to say how many years! (laughs) But I knew that I was coming to Toronto and that I was going to see you. And that made me happy.
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