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André Leon Talley Curates the First Posthumous Oscar de la Renta Exhibit, Opening Thursday

When André Leon Talley began curating “Oscar de la Renta: His Legendary World of Style,” which opens Thursday in Savannah, Georgia, at the Savannah College of Art and Design, he says he went into the wardrobes of many of the eminent women who have become his friends over the decades—and he doesn’t mean that metaphorically. “I was literally inside their closets,” he laughs.


The exhibit began to take shape in Talley’s imagination shortly after de la Renta’s passing in October—what better way to honor that genius designer, Talley’s dear friend for many years, than by mounting the first posthumous presentation of his work? “It’s not a retrospective,” Talley explains. “Everything has been selected from my own memory, my moments.”


Oscar de la Renta Exhibit

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Nor is this a mere sterile recitation of ensembles. Talley remembers almost every client wearing these clothes. Loyal de la Renta aficionado Mrs. Mercedes T. Bass offered him fully five wardrobe trunks for the show; Catie Marron laid her collection out on her bed for Talley’s delectation. There are contributions from two former First Ladies, Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton. One golden dress was worn by both Nicole Kidman and Michael Bloomberg’s partner, Diana Taylor. Talley says it looked wonderful on each woman, “even though they are a generation apart. These clothes say to me, Oscar can dress everyone from a young girl to a grand lady.”


Save for a pair of striped evening pajamas belonging to Annette de la Renta, the designer’s wife and muse, there are no trousers in the show—this is a glorious review of dresses, day and evening. One spectacular area is devoted to weddings: the designer’s stepdaughter Eliza Bolen’s dress and veil, worn at her June 1998 nuptials; Miranda Brooks’s gown, inspired by Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette but topped with a Spanish equestrian hat; the dress of Elizabeth Cordry, which took 1,350 hours to create and involves three layers of French laces.


But lest you think that only ladies exuding a certain gravitas are comfy in de la Renta, please be aware that Taylor Swift is also a big fan, donning a vast pink confection to the Met Gala last year. “Oscar came from the couture world, so you are going to get the bow, the train!” Talley smiles. “He always wanted the appropriate look, a sense of the occasion. He would ask himself, ‘Is it beautiful? Will they wear it? Is it elegant?’ ”

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