THE FIRST MAJOR fashion exhibit at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston began with one phone call, when philanthropist Lynn Wyatt rang up Museum Director Gary Tinterow.
Having seen a tribute to the late, great Oscar de la Renta at San Francisco’s de Young museum, Wyatt believed Houston should stage its own showcase of the dapper designer. After all, he’d often visited our city and had clad not only Audrey Hepburn, Taylor Swift, Oprah Winfrey and every first lady of the United States—from Nancy Reagan to Michelle Obama—but also many local fashionistas, Wyatt among them.
Needless to say, Tinterow agreed.
Rest assured that the resulting exhibit, The Glamour and Romance of Oscar de la Renta—on view through Jan. 28—is no knock-off. Not only did de la Renta’s heirs and French label Pierre Balmain share corporate and personal archives, but some of Houston’s best-dressed denizens opened their own closets to the MFA. Each section features gorgeous garb loaned by Wyatt; former Mayor Bob Lanier’s wife, Elyse Lanier; fine arts patron Rosanette Cullen; anesthesiologist Yvonne Cormier; and former first lady Laura Bush.
“He told me he had a special affection for the women of Houston because they had style and wore their clothes beautifully,” Cormier says. And in return, Houstonians were besotted with the designer.
Wyatt, who first met him as a teen, recalls many a gala at de la Renta’s side. “He was just so, so charming. And he was a fabulous dancer. Oh, my goodness, he was a Latin dancer. I loved to dance with him.”
The last time Wyatt saw him was in his final days at the hospital, dying of cancer. “There [was] Oscar de la Renta, in a chair that was sort of reclining, in the most elegant pajamas, in the most elegant silk robe,” she says. “I mean, he could’ve had a dinner party there for a king and queen, and he wouldn’t [have been] out of place. I mean, even in the hospital, he was an elegantly dressed man.”
Three years after de la Renta’s death, the new show captures the always impeccably attired clothier’s wit and charisma, as well as his broad range, and supreme tailoring and craftsmanship. On view are 50 years of his work, not only for his eponymous brand, but also as head designer of ultraexclusive fashion house Balmain—which dressed the likes of Sophia Loren, Ava Gardner, Katharine Hepburn and Brigitte Bardot back in its heyday.