Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The Knitwear of Oscar de la Renta

As those of you who read my knitting magazine reviews may have noticed, I won't generally include the names of the knitwear designers whose patterns appear in them. My main reason for not doing so is that I think it would make my negative reviews too much like a personal attack on the designer. It would also mean my snark about their work would come up on Google searches for their names. So I keep the reviews focused on the merits of the specific item in question, and only name the designer when I think she or he is especially deserving of praise. But although my practice of not naming designers has become a policy with a carefully considered rationale, it wasn't originally so. No, when I first began writing reviews nearly two years ago, I didn't name the designers in them because I never thought of doing so. I'm not one to care much about name designers and labels. For me, it's all about the design, about looking at patterns on a case by case basis. And it seems like a reasonable approach to me because while there are exceptionally talented designers out there who turn out a very consistent body of work, many are hit or miss, and all of them are capable of laying an egg sometimes. I also don't think the famous designers are necessarily the best designers, because much of the most stunning work I've seen in the course of research and writing for this site was by some relatively unknown designers I stumbled across on Ravelry. This agnosticism regarding prestige designer names is an integral part of my entire approach to crafting. As I wrote in this March 2013 post, "The Mount Everest of Knitting Patterns", my belief is that when one makes one's own clothes one needs to be one's own designer, to make patterns one's servant and not one's master. It's so important when crafting anything to make an effort to maintain a certain critical distance from all outside design influences in order to make sound decisions about what will work and to guard against being overcome by slavish adherence to someone else's design and rules because as good as those may be, they weren't, after all, tailor made for you.

All of the above preamble is intended as an aside to explain why, when Óscar Arístides Renta Fiallo, known professionally as the designer Oscar de la Renta, died of cancer on October 20th, 2014 at the age of 82, it didn't make much of an impression on me. I certainly knew who he was and realized that he was considered legendary, but I wasn't that familiar with his work. And it was only after seeing all the Oscar de la Renta tributes on the websites and webpages I follow to keep myself somewhat informed about what's going on in the knitting and fashion scene that it occurred to me that I perhaps ought to do an Oscar de la Renta post myself. It took one image Google of the words "Oscar de la Renta" to make me decide that perhaps I also ought to reconsider my indifference towards name designers; that I ought to at least take the time to occasionally look at their work as a whole in order to gauge its general calibre and character. As I scrolled through images of Oscar de la Renta designs, dozens of beautiful confections were followed by dozens more. There is a reason why de la Renta dressed so many movie stars, royal and political figures including many American first ladies that he became a living legend: he was past master of elegantly and distinctively simple design. He is probably best known for his evening gowns, though as his long career progressed he diversified into bridal wear, home furnishings, and fragrances, but he also designed knitwear. And this post will feature a selection of his knitwear design. I've opted not to include any of the Vogue Knitting-published de la Renta patterns that are on Ravelry. They're all nice, but none of them really stands out to me. Instead I have included a selection of photos of the knitwear design that bears his name for your inspiration and replication.

Navy sweater and skirt set offering us an updated take on the polka dot fabric. I think those circles have been created by stitching beads in circles, and possibly cutting out the centre of the circle. The skirt seems to be self-lined while the sweater shows us glimpses of the blouse beneath it.

Beautifully shaped and detailed knitted dress. I love the kick pleats in the front and back, which are a great way to add interest and movement without making the silhouette too full.

This design is one of those that I could never wear but that gets my creative juices flowing, because the idea of those silver rose outlines against pale pink is one I would love to see translated into various handknit patterns.

I love this use of gradient colourwork, which is fresh and spring-like.

Many Oscar de la Renta designs have such a timeless quality. This sweater evokes the forties and probably could have been worn back then without looking at all out of place, but at the same time it looks very current.

Another good use of gradient colour, combined with great shaping.

Love this piece, which looks comfortable and casual enough to wear with jeans but has such incredible style at the same time.

I can't even quite tell what's going on with this design of this little cardigan, and how it is made. It seems to be knitted of some chiffon fibre and decorated with chiffon roses. I find the concept of a sheer cardigan with a textured decorative overlay around the neck to be an intriguing one that I would love to see interpreted by other skilled designers and knitters.

Something that I noticed about Oscar de la Renta's designs when I was researching this post is that wonderful sweater and dress pairings were very common among his offerings. Everything about this pairing is perfect, from its lines to its colour combination.

A beautiful lace cardigan over a coordinating dress.

Ever thought of embroidering a sweater to go with a favourite dress?

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