When Oscar de la Renta Told Hillary Clinton Not to Wear Black

“What’s Senator Clinton wearing?” the designer wants to know. It’s Inauguration Day and De la Renta is in his studio, too busy tweaking his new collection to attend the festivities. He is squinting at Chrissy Haldis, a tall, willowy, and by all accounts mannequin-mute brunette who has served as his house model for the past two collections. She stands rotating in slow circles, sheathed in rare, velvety Uzbekistani fabric that, when hemmed and cut, will become a long coat retailing in the neighborhood of $10,000. In De la Renta’s adjoining office, the inauguration is being broadcast over the Internet—there is Laura Bush, pert and stately in a pearly De la Renta cashmere dress, though the designer is currently concerned about the clothes another client, Hillary Clinton, has chosen for the event.

“She’s wearing black,” someone points out.

De la Renta frowns. “What?”

“It’s a black jacket, and a—”

He cuts her off. “Oh, I always tell Senator Clinton . . .” He pauses delicately. “Well, I mean, I’m sure she looks beautiful. Hillary is a beautiful woman. But I always tell her not to wear black. She looks tough in black”—he tenses his fists and jaw to illustrate his point—“and she is more than just a tough lady. The problem is that everything else she has, every other piece of clothing that’s not black, is mine, and with Mrs. Bush also wearing something of mine today . . . ”

After a moment, De la Renta simply laughs. The designer, who grew up under a dictatorship, seems to find politics most compelling, not as an engine of policy and social change, but as a theater of bombastic personalities kept in line by social formality.

“I’m a nonpartisan voter,” he says with a smile. “I vote for the man, not the party. I voted for Clinton, but I voted for Bush. I also voted for Reagan.” He pauses. “Black! I cannot believe she’s wearing black!”

— From a 2005 profile of Oscar de la Renta in New York magazine. The iconic fashion designer died yesterday at the age of 82.

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Photo: YouTube / Oscar de la Renta Film, Bill Clinton Presidential Library