Being Oscar de la Renta: the story of an exhibition

Santiago de los Caballeros.- Oscar de la Renta has been studied frequently from an international perspective. On this occasion, the Eduardo León Jimenes Foundation, Centro León and Grupo Puntacana present the life and work of an artist out of series, of a versatile creator, of a universal Dominican who always kept his native country in his mind and in his generous heart. The dream begins when, running the summer of 2012, María Amalia León de Jorge and Rosanna Rivera met Oscar in New York City, and together they begin to weave the idea of ​​the exhibition from the visions that the designer himself I had the same. In 2015 the initiative is resumed at the beginning of curatorial research with the enthusiastic impulse of the Rainieri family and, especially, of the Oscar de la Renta family.

The exhibition is a perspective of his figure, seen from the Dominican Republic, his native culture, identifying the various connections of his Caribbean roots with other territories that the designer was braiding throughout his life and career. In this exhibition project, the link between the national and the universal, the Dominican and the Caribbean is shown in the designer's work, resulting in an unprecedented and unique contribution to the exhibition landscape, both national and international.
The spaces of the cultural institution invite a journey through the trajectory, creativity and influence of this world-famous creator, based on a museographic account that contains the foundations of an exceptional personality, full of art, rigor and tenderness.

This exhibition project, framed in the Great Teachers program, which the León Center has been developing since its inception, has also had the material and moral support of leading companies interested in the promotion of art and culture. Grupo Puntacana, Cervecería Dominicana Dominicana, Citi Private Bank, Banco Popular Dominicano, Editora Listín Diario, Visa International, Cibao International Airport, Synergies Corporation, Propagás Foundation and Excel, are the sponsors.

What is exhibited today in the room is the result of a process of several years of work, what were the stages of this project?
Joel Butler: The idea of ​​carrying out this exhibition germinated with an Oscar de la Renta visit to the León Center in the year 2009, when the exhibition was presented Fernando Peña Defilló, the eternal return. And it began to take shape after a visit from our director María Amalia León de Jorge to Oscar in the same year. In the year 2015 the research process was formally initiated in which the collections, bibliographic and documentary collections were identified from which this exhibition was conceptualized, which also shows a long and intense work in the world of fashion, work as ambassador of the Dominican culture that he attributed to himself, as well as his human and humanitarian side. Once the costumes, works, documents and objects necessary to narrate the history of the exhibition have been identified, the process of contacting private institutions and collectors and coordinating transport agreements and logistics to the León Center begins. After the arrival of all objects to the deposit of cultural goods of the León Center, the process of installation of the costumes and accessories has been in charge of Molly Sorkin and Jennifer Park, specialists of the Oscar de la Renta Archive and curators experts in fashion and textiles. The museological design and assembly of the exhibition has been in charge of the team of specialists of the León Center, led by our museologist Leticia Moronta with advice from Donovan & Green and Martín Corullon.

How was the research process for the exhibition project? What documentary funds were studied? What people provided information or provided items and how are these contributions reflected in the room?
Joel Butler: As part of the research, more than 50 interviews were conducted that include family members, fellow students and friends of the designer's adolescence. We also have the testimonies of national and international personalities who were clients and friends of Oscar de la Renta, to which those of people who worked alongside him both in fashion and in his other projects. During the research process, several trips were made to study in detail the funds of institutions such as the Savanah College of Arts and Design, Kent State University Museum and the department of special collections of the Fashion Institute of Technology, as well as other collections that were consulted by digital channels such as the collection of the Anna Wintour Costume Institute, the Costume Museum of Madrid, among others.

The name of the exhibition is BE OSCAR DE LA RENTA, why "BE" in infinitive?
Sara Hermann: One of the most difficult tasks is to start something. And an exhibition is quite complex to name, and if we add to that the complexity of it, I recognize that it has been an intense work of a work team. As Oscar said, the creative process is teamwork. Thus, we consider being Oscar de la Renta. Being is the most general of terms. In verb and in infinitive it implies more than the material presence of a person, it raises a spiritual presence. To be Oscar de la Renta is to be human, to be Dominican, to be transnational, to be integral, to be familiar, to be a friend.

It can be said that the work of the curatorship is to achieve an intermediation between an artist and his work with the public. On this occasion, how does the curatorial team manage to establish this communicational bridge between the life and work of Oscar de la Renta and the public?
Sara Hermann: This exhibition project proposes a journey through the life, work and influence of Oscar de la Renta, a visual and spatial story that takes visitors from the widely known, to more intimate spaces and moments. For the curatorial team it was very important to carry out this project in the Dominican Republic to present a differentiated view of the Oscar de la Renta figure studied from his homeland and identifying the various connections with other territories that the designer was braiding along His life and career. The communication bridges from these dimensions of Oscar and the public were established based on a thorough investigation. The research process of any exhibition project involves a series of complexities, varied levels of substance, involves time and specialists who focus on this task. Being Oscar de la Renta has not been different, although he has had a series of specificities related to the issues we are dealing with.

What were the main elements that defined the curation of this exhibition?
Sara Hermann: Fashion, as a discursive element, as a cultural component, is a rich topic and with possibilities to address it in various ways, it is in turn a very particular research quarry. And if to that fact the plurality of the Oscar de la Renta character is added, then as a consequence, there are also multiple investigative dimensions that we had to address. Also, this research process involves a work team. It is a collective effort that has developed in different places and times. The sources have been varied, museums, academic institutions, archives. The team has included people from different backgrounds and backgrounds, and has encompassed many wills. Questions that perhaps we had not asked before, have played a fundamental role: What does the design process imply? What is it designed for? What skills or abilities come into play when designing? How does design articulate notions of identity, culture, being and ways of life?

The tour of the exhibition is done through five spatial moments or areas, what are they and how do they articulate with each other?
Yina Jiménez: The different dimensions of Oscar de la Renta can be seen in the exhibition through five spatial moments that summarize and articulate his becoming as a human being and as a professional of the arts. The space moment category comprises, in a compound concept, the idea of ​​time and space. It is a nucleus of meaning that presents chronological episodes (not necessarily linear) and re-semantizes the idea of ​​space by relating the site of the exhibition to the place to which it refers. The five moments are: Oscar manifest; Oscar Renta Fiallo is Oscar de la Renta; In the workshop everything is inspiration; I'm just an island boy: Oscar is transnational; and Essences of a legacy: Be Oscar de la Renta. The spatial moments are articulated between them through the workshop, whose perimeter walls emphasize three geographically determined axes that definitely affect Oscar's languages: the Caribbean, Europe and New York.

The exhibition shows some 50 dresses. How were they identified and selected? Under what criteria? Some names of whom Oscar de la Renta created these pieces?
Joel Butler: In addition to the immense support of the Oscar de la Renta Archive, which has provided a retrospective sample of the brand's dresses and accessories, this time we have loans from international personalities collections such as Hillary Rodham Clinton, Laura Bush, Barbara Pierce Bush, Sarah Jessica Parker, Oprah Winfrey and Taylor Swift. To these are added important figures of Dominican society who had close relationships with the designer such as several costumes provided by the Rainieri family and the Vicini family.

Museographic discourse is the way to integrate and harmonize different resources to build a coherent and enjoyable reading of the exhibition. How did the museology build this discourse? Where are the accents? What resources were used?
Leticia Moronta: Museographic discourse was built on the results of curatorial research and direct work with curators based on certain symbolic elements such as Oscar's O. The use of colors, although sometimes they may seem imperceptible, adds reading levels to visitors. Each space moment was designed based on the organicity and circularity of the shape of the letter O, taking into account that the flows of the routes and the circulation of the visitors were appropriate for the public that visit us.

What were the main challenges from the museography in this project?
Leticia Moronta: The challenges presented by the design and construction of the museum elements were several. On the one hand, the fact of working within a medium on which we did not know in depth its implications and requirements. That is, working fashion and textiles, which in terms of conservation, construction and assembly has different requirements to the works of art with which we usually work. The temperature, humidity and lighting have a very specific handling. On the other hand, in this project we have a greater variety of teams of specialists in a variety of disciplines and the challenge has been to coordinate and work with everyone at the same time to achieve a harmonious activity, in which each one gets rich from the other achieving an impeccable product, like the one we can present today. Being the interpretive medium, at the spatial level, of the requirements of the curators and complying with the requirements of the institution, while working according to the possibilities allowed by the space is one of the biggest challenges. Find that balance where all parts of a whole converge and work.

Like all the exhibition projects of the León Center, Ser Oscar de la Renta, it will be accompanied by an extensive educational program, which allows to promote the knowledge of the life and work of Oscar de la Renta, what types of experiences can visitors live through The exhibition?
Yina Jiménez: The museum's layout of the exhibition makes it easier for audiences to build coherent knowledge based on fragments of meaning. The milestones, moments and pieces of each moment offer different levels of reading through the tour of the exhibition will know the multiple sources that inform the life and work of the Dominican designer: costumes, perfumes, visual and sound works of art, documentary elements , audiovisual and bibliographic.

This is the first time that an Oscar de la Renta exhibition has been held in the Dominican Republic. What is the significance of this fact?
Molly Sorkin: Of course, as Oscar was from the Dominican Republic, his cultural heritage and his country were very important to him. His first inspirations were the sights, sounds, and even the botanical fragrances of Santo Domingo. Presenting an exhibition that emphasizes this Dominican content and shows Oscar as a son of the Dominican Republic can also be an inspiration for young Dominicans who aspire to enter the world of fashion and the arts.

Oscar de la Renta has been the subject of other exhibitions, which others have been done and where?
Jennifer Park: The first exhibition was held in the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas. Mr. de la Renta was never nostalgic with his work and resisted the idea of ​​a retrospective exhibition. But his great friend, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton convinced him. He Bush Presidential Center in Dallas, Texas was the next headquarters. After Dallas, a series of major American institutions received versions of that same sample, among which are the Young Museum in San Francisco, California and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas. Each of these itinerances was cured again taking into account each location.

Can you tell us what were the selection criteria for the pieces of the Oscar de la Renta archives that are included in this exhibition?
Molly Sorkin: The archive has more than 2,000 costumes dating from the 1960 decade to the present. We work closely with the León Center to select the costumes that fit the themes and parameters of the exhibition and it has been very important for us to select costumes that adequately represent Oscar's immense talent. Fabrics, colors and textures played an important role in the selection process, since Oscar de la Renta is known for its exquisite textiles. This occasion has also been a great opportunity to include pieces that have not been shown before.

What is the process of preparing and assembling the dresses that are displayed in the sample?
Jennifer Park: Fashion shows require intense preparation for the installation process. It is not simply to place the suits on the mannequins. While the human body can be molded with underwear, the rigid surface of the dummy requires the construction of a support structure for the suit. It is a thorough and time-consuming task. All the materials used are of conservation quality to avoid the degradation of the materials.

In this process, Dominican seamstresses have been supported. How do you rate this participation in the preparation of the pieces?
Molly Sorkin and Jennifer Park: It has been an absolute joy to work with the Dominican seamstresses. Audiences see the costumes on the mannequins, but our job is to make them look perfect. To achieve this, the seamstresses have created, accurately, petticoats and other parts that have served as internal structures, according to our specifications. Eulalia Toribio, Nini Paulino and Verónica López have proved invaluable as support for the aforementioned preparation of the exhibition. Each one possesses incredible talent and skills and radiates positive energies. We would love if they could accompany us in all the assemblies!