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July 9, 2008 3:35 PM

Fashion, Retail

Lunching with Oscar

Oscar de la RentaWhen I was asked to have lunch at Oscar de la Renta's Park Avenue apartment a few weeks back, I couldn't resist the offer. My colleague Bridget Foley and I had approached the designer for an...


Oscar de la Renta
When I was asked to have lunch at Oscar de la Renta's Park Avenue apartment a few weeks back, I couldn't resist the offer. My colleague Bridget Foley and I had approached the designer for an interview to catch up on things going on at his company and once and for all to dispel or confirm rumors that his company was for sale (it's not). Oscar's son-in-law, Alex Bolen, who's chief executive officer of the firm, joined us for lunch. Oscar's wife, Annette, was home that afternoon and after saying a brief hello, excused herself to meet with her chiropractor, who was making a house call.

Which brings us to the apartment. Fabulous artwork adorned the walls of the opulent living room and scores of books lined the shelves. Oscar had several in help serving lunch, which consisted of a salad with sliced chicken, wine, and a fruit dessert. I'm sure it was all was very tasty, but we were busy taking notes, asking questions and making sure the tape recorder was working.

We learned plenty about Oscar's growing international business (stores are opening in Madrid, Moscow and Athens this year), his problems with his licensees (he'd much rather do things in-house), and why his fashion shows tend to be lengthy (he feels sorry for the dress that gets cut). Furthermore, de la Renta said he has no plans to retire and doesn't know what he'd do with himself, he enjoys designing so much. Nor has he groomed anybody to succeed him.


We learned several other interesting tidbits about de la Renta's $100 million wholesale business. De la Renta admitted he needs to focus more on accessories, which are done in-house, and said many of his competitors, especially the European design houses, are much better known for their accessories. Currently, de la Renta's accessories business is approaching $20 million at retail, and he sees huge potential for himself in the category.


Dollar-wise, sweaters are a bigger business than eveningwear and two-thirds of his business is done in daywear versus eveningwear. He'd also love to do a swimwear collection in-house.


We came away with a great interview and a complete denial from both de la Renta and Bolen that the business was being shopped around, and a newfound respect for the future of de la Renta's business.

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