Oscar de la Renta gives Ann Getty’s historic textiles new life

Rare velvets and laces from the collector have been fashioned into one-of-a-kind handbags and dresses, exclusively at Christie’s

Statuesque with fiery red hair, Ann Getty, who stood nearly six feet tall, was eternally clad in the finest of fashions. She made as awe-inspiring of an impression on those she met as did the grandeur of her museum-like homes. Even the late Oscar de la Renta described the philanthropist and collector as ‘a Rossetti painting come to life,’ Alex Bolen, the fashion house’s CEO, tells Christie’s. 

Throughout her life, Mrs. Getty turned to the legendary designer — both at his eponymous label, and during his 10 years as Balmain’s head designer — for showstopping ensembles, making Christie’s latest collaboration with Oscar de la Renta a particularly full-circle moment. 

To honour Mrs. Getty’s exquisite eye, appreciation of craft, and longstanding relationship with Oscar de la Renta, the house’s current design team — led by co-creative directors Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia — have created five handbags and three dresses incorporating historic textiles from her vast collection. The pieces will be offered in The Ann & Gordon Getty Collection: Jewelry and Handbags, an online auction from 10-24 October.

‘Mrs. Getty was a very stylish client and someone who Oscar and Mrs. de la Renta adored. When she published her book, Ann Getty: Interior Style, in 2012, she asked us if we would have parties for her in our stores, which we happily did,’ recalls Bolen, whose wife, Eliza, is Mrs. de la Renta’s daughter. 

In January 2022, Bolen and his wife visited Mrs. Getty’s San Francisco home. They were ‘struck’ by her extensive textile collection, as well as her immersive interiors. ‘Everything was obviously incredibly beautiful, but the craftsmanship is something that I would say we at Oscar de la Renta aspire to.’

Proving the collaboration further ‘kismet,’ as Garcia puts it, during the time that Bolen was envisioning a creative partnership with Christie’s for the Getty collection, the co-creative director had been communicating with the Gettys’ granddaughter about dressing her for the Met Gala. 

To celebrate her heritage, Ivy Getty wore an Oscar de la Renta-designed dress composed primarily of an ethereal lace tablecloth from her grandmother’s collection. The dresses was adorned by a set of JAR jewels from Mrs. Getty’s inimitable collection, one which has since sold at Christie’s as part of the Ann and Gordon Getty collection.

‘These are as one-of-a-kind as it gets’ — Fernando Garcia

From that same textile trove, Oscar de la Renta design assistants, Hannah Barr and Julianna Storno, spent three days combing through rare Italian velvets and delicate antique laces in search of textiles to be made into contemporary handbags and garments. In the end, they whittled an expanded selection down to eight fabrics spanning half a millennium. 

‘For any designer, it’s so exciting to see textiles that are no longer able to be produced. A lot of these techniques are difficult to come by, and the price point is just not producible,’ says Garcia. ‘These are as one-of-a-kind as it gets.’

Each of the items represents a staple design in the house’s DNA. For the five handbags, the design team was drawn to rug-like textiles that appeared slightly aged, an indication of their ‘richness,’ says Garcia. The options range from a mustard velvet and magenta, rose, and juniper jacquard shoulder bag with Oscar de la Renta’s signature gardenia ornament, to a resin chain link strap evening bag featuring a Byzantine style soprarizzo velvet in shades of gold and silver.

To make the garments feel ‘more Oscar,’ Garcia and his team included several nods to patterns, colours, and details the company’s founder loved. His affinity for neutral tones is echoed in a strapless gown with 19th-century English gros point lace (akin to an Oscar gown Annette de la Renta wore to a former Met Gala), and the ‘Floral and Bow’ hand-embroidered ecru silk blend cocktail dress, which further references the designer’s fondness for paisley motifs.

Sketch by Fernando Garcia for the 'floral and bow' cocktail dress. Image courtesy Oscar de la Renta

A 'floral and bow' hand embroidered ecru silk blend cocktail dress with scalloped portrait neck, Oscar de la Renta, 2022. Sold for $16,380 in The Ann & Gordon Getty Collection: Jewelry and Handbags on 24 October 2022 at Christie’s online

De la Renta’s appreciation for multi-coloured embroidery, however, comes through vividly in the ‘Flora and Fauna’ cocktail dress, a masterful combination of 17th-century Italian thread work with additional embellishments developed by the house’s select artisans in India. The dress features a crinoline cage base that the designers often adorn with intricate embroidery. ‘It’s the shape we use to celebrate art — it’s like a canvas,’ says Garcia. 

The challenge of this particular dress was matching centuries-old, coloured threads with 21st-century ones. In the end, ‘our embroidery vendors were able to match it incredibly well,’ says Bolen. ‘If you examine the dress closely, it’s very much a unified whole.’ This tactic was also used frequently by Mrs. Getty — if she only had enough of a historical fabric to make one curtain but needed two, she would have the best artisans from around the world create a near-exact match to make her vision a reality.

Mrs. Getty’s international savoir-faire was as unmatched as her style. Bolen remembers that prior to working with Oscar de la Renta, he was friends with the Gettys’ son, John in college. When John invited Bolen, who was a Russian Studies major, to have lunch with his mother, he was welcomed not only by Mrs. Getty, but also former Soviet first lady, Raisa Gorbacheva.


Left to right: Sketch by Fernando Garcia for the 'flora and fauna' cocktail dress. Image courtesy Oscar de la Renta; Detail of A 'flora and fauna' threadwork and hand embroidered cocktail dress with open back, Oscar de la Renta, 2022. Sold for $13,860 in The Ann & Gordon Getty Collection: Jewelry and Handbags on 10-24 October 2022 at Christie’s online

‘Mrs. Getty was such an interesting person who was involved in so many things,’ says Bolen. He adds that because her textile collection made such a strong impression on Oscar de la Renta’s design team, they are planning a trip to Venice to visit storied textile purveyors, such as Fortuny and Bevilacqua, to spark ideas for future fashion collections. Oscar himself similarly made visiting the archives of textile mills in Lake Como an integral part of the house’s past and present creative process. 

‘From our perspective, this collaboration was very much a labour of love,’ says Bolen on the nine-month journey of discovering and transforming the historic textiles into wearable art. ‘Even if Mrs. Getty was not a friend of our house and family, this would have been an extremely exciting project with which to be involved.’

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