Fashion in the Family: Oscar Names Alex Bolen Company’s New Chief

Oscar de la Renta is handing over the chief executive title to his son-in-law, Alex Bolen, to allow the designer more time in the design studio.

Oscar de la Renta with his stepdaughter Eliza Reed Bolen and her husband Alex Bolen

Oscar de la Renta with his stepdaughter, Eliza Reed Bolen, and her husband, Alex Bolen.

Photo By WWD Staff

NEW YORK — In what looks like a changing of the guard, Oscar de la Renta is handing over the title of chief executive officer to his 36-year-old son-in-law, Alex Bolen. But the designer insists the move will merely free him up to spend more time doing what he does best — designing.

The 71-year-old de la Renta, who founded the company in 1965 and remains chairman, told WWD Friday, “I feel really great about it. I’m seeing the continuity of my business beyond my life span. That’s important for my family and my employees. But I hope to go on for a long time — you know I’m a control freak.”

But the transition wasn’t without at least one casualty. After nine years with the company, Rachel Barnett, senior vice president and chief operating officer, has resigned to pursue other interests. De la Renta and Bolen said they were “saddened” to see her go, but were optimistic about her next step. “Clearly, her gain is our loss,” Bolen said. Barnett could not be reached for comment.

Married to the designer’s stepdaughter, Eliza Reed Bolen, Bolen is a 14-year Wall Street veteran and a relative newcomer to Seventh Avenue. Last year at his father-in-law’s urging, he pitched in at the fashion house, working pro bono for six months. After Jeffry Aronsson exited as ceo in January 2003 (becoming ceo of Marc Jacobs International and later, Donna Karan International), Bolen agreed to step up into a salaried full-time post as director of corporate development.

De la Renta said of Bolen: “He likes to get involved with everything. He’s been studying the business for quite a long time, but he even gets involved with the collection. He feels we need to lower the price point for the opening line.”

Although Bolen is nearly half de la Renta’s age, the company’s namesake is showing no signs of slowing down. Bolen said, “He redefines the term ‘active chairman’ in that he is very active in all aspects of the business — not only design. He speaks with me frequently and is not in any way dialing back.”
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