Oscar de la Renta leaves legacy at the runway, White House

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to the legacy of a fashion icon, remembering Oscar de la Renta and his giant impact.

From the runway to the red carpet to the White House, for more than four decades, Oscar de la Renta dressed America's best-known and most powerful women.

OSCAR DE LA RENTA: I have lived through — through a period of life where the woman that I started dressing 50 years ago is such a very different woman than today.

JUDY WOODRUFF: De la Renta was born in 1932 and raised in the Dominican Republic. As a teenager, he moved to Spain to study painting, but took to fashion instead.

After a stint in Paris, he arrived in New York in the '60s and began to help define American fashion.

Robin Givhan is a fashion critic for The Washington Post.

ROBIN GIVHAN, The Washington Post: He was one of the first designers who stepped out of the shadows, who made it clear that American designers could perform on the world stage, that they could compete with the best that the French had to offer.

And I think, by doing that, he gave Seventh Avenue a level of confidence that's trickled down all the way through many — multiple generations.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Simon Collins is dean of fashion at the Parsons New School for Design in New York.

SIMON COLLINS, Dean of Fashion, Parsons New School for Design: Our students at Parsons, you know, we were on the next block to Oscar's studio for many, many years. And so we would see his team, we would occasionally see him in the neighborhood. And it was — his stature, the grandeur of the way that he operated in his business and the people that wore his gowns was very influential.

And when — I think when a young designer aspires to being a great designer, he's someone that they very often had in mind.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Specializing in evening gowns and daytime suits, he designed for first ladies through the years, from Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, to Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush, and, just last month, Michelle Obama wore de la Renta.

ROBIN GIVHAN: He was able to balance the sense of the regal that we expect from the first lady, but also the sense of accessibility that we demand of the first lady.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Away from Washington, de la Renta's designs were coveted by women from New York to Hollywood.

ROBIN GIVHAN: I think one of the things he was really able to do was, in a strange way, was get out of the way of the design and allow the woman to shine through. I think that's the reason why women from 70 and 80 years old to women in their 20s found his work compelling.

JUDY WOODRUFF: His influence was felt wide throughout the industry. Major designers paid tribute to him on Twitter.

Diane von Furstenberg wrote: "Oscar de la Renta was a wonderful designer, a true renaissance man. His voice will continue to sing in our hearts."

And Vera Wang tweeted: "Oscar created a whole world of luxury, style and elegance all his own."

SIMON COLLINS: There's that famous scene in "The Devil Prada" where they talk about the fact the Oscar did a collection in cerulean, which is a particular shade of a sort of turquoise. And that was very influential for other designers around him, and then eventually that trickles down through the market.

And perhaps a year-and-a-half after Oscar showed it on the runway, it shows up in your local high street fashion retailer. And I think that was, as it was played for laughs in the movie, is actually very, very true.

JUDY WOODRUFF: His most recent accolade, designing the dress worn by Amal Alamuddin for her wedding to George Clooney.

Last night, entertainers and actresses remembered the man they turned to for their biggest moments.

JENNIFER GARNER: He was the most beautiful, elegant soul. I was lucky to have worked with him so much. I'm lucky to have sketches that he's done of me in his dresses.

TINA FEY: We have lost a genius. You know, we have lost a brilliant artist and an elegant and lovely, kind human being. And his dresses and his work will live on forever, I think.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Givhan agrees that his impact will be felt for decades to come.

ROBIN GIVHAN: I do think that he kind of held up a certain standard for attire, and the idea that it's a responsibility, when you go out in public, to look your best, and not necessarily wear expensive clothing, but just to take notice of how your presence is affecting the landscape.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Despite all of his success, de la Renta maintained that he still had much to learn.

OSCAR DE LA RENTA: People ask me, how long are you going to be doing this?  And I say the day that I have learned everything, that day, I quit. Every day is a learning process, and every day I learn something new. And that is what makes it exciting.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Oscar de la Renta died at his home in Connecticut yesterday. He was 82.

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