Oscar de la renta ~ the gala, the collection, and memories of being a “clothesmaker”

“There is always an emotional element to anything you make.” ~ Oscar de la Renta

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above ~ left / Oscar de la Renta’s tulle at the De Young Retrospective. right / an early cari borja tulle skirt shot on location in Havana, Cuba, 2005 (photo: Jock McDonald, stylist: Christi Mider, hair/make-up: David Michaud, model: Ania Alit, jewelry Noel Castellanos)

“the things we love are always emotional.   whether people, places, or yes, the things we make by hand or do ~ those things we put both on our bodies, in our bodies, or affect in some way our selves ~ in the actual act, or the memory they invoke later ~ is manipulated and sculpted into something more than it was. it was made by hand, with love ~ alchemy ~ interpreted, worn, or the case of food, eaten by another… it’s in that transference, that dialogue, that understanding that exists between maker and consumer through an object, where emotion is so strikingly and at times indescribably ethereal yet real….Oscar de la Renta left this world today, but his clothes will always remain ~  whether images in my head of women floating down the runway in his grand silhouettes, actual pieces i own, or the quotes that create the tapestry of this piece, his voice is clear, inspiring, his gowns ethereal, majestic ~ I  was continually influenced by his presence, his image, his grace…”  ~ cari borja, 2014




above ~ top / a photo shoot of my “alexandra” gown by Kelly Puleio at the Legion of Honor, 2014, Model: Helena Martin. middle / Kate Moss in an Oscar de la Renta gown (photoed by Annie Leibovitz for Vogue, 2009, from the Exhibition catalogue. bottom / Photo shoot of my “My Fair Lady Collection” by Claudia Goetzelmann on location at Djerassi Ranch, 2007. Model: Margarita, L.A. Models.


In October of 2014 I wrote the above opening as an homage to Oscar the day after he passed. It was a visual collage of some of my memories of his influence on my own collections, some of my favorite quotes that I would use when teaching at FIDM and just reflecting on how emotional clothes really are in our lives. They evoke a moment, just as they do a memory of a particular experience ~ who was I then, and how did I feel?

By the following year, June of 2015, I had closed my 4th Street Berkeley studio, and stopped making clothes altogether; I had spent 14 years hand making collections that were inspired by film and food, and of course other fashion designers ~ in particular Yohji Yamamoto, Vivienne Westwood, Valentino, Madeleine Vionnet, Stephen Burrowes and Oscar de la Renta.

So the invitation by my dear friend Lucy Hamilton to my very first De Young Gala in honor of Oscar was the perfect moment for me to experience his work and simultaneously reflect on the significance of those 14 sweet years of crafting at times beautiful, at times whimsical, but always feminine garments for the women who became my clients and friends throughout that time… of course I look at everything Oscar did with his collections and his brand, in utter awe. I confined my clothing line to my studio in Oakland, and then my atelier in Berkeley, always hand making within my studio EVERY SINGLE piece, never out-sourcing anything, and never really growing the business as most designers do. I kept it small, and face to face, conceiving, sewing, touching and distributing everything through the intimacy of my studio and the hands of my few assistants and interns who worked with me through 12 of those 15 years (and of course my husband Lloyd Bernberg, who supported me through it all). I thank these amazing women (and man) from the bottom of my heart ~ Racheal Matthews, Katherine Summer O’Neal, Ashley Mckinley, Joy Brace in particular; and interns Alcy Lynch, Dejanaye Starling, Christine Knobel, Alison Midstokke, Emily Frost, Karen Lewis, Alain Chavez, Irene Chiu and Anna Kell. I’m always amazed when I look back, and think wow, we did THAT…without ever coming out in NYC or LA. And although so many people asked “why not?” I always thought ~ “why?”…. I love what we created over those years, and knew it was time to stop doing it in that way, when it made sense. Not to say my passion for clothing and style is gone forever. In actual fact, Oscar’s retrospective has re-inspired the beauty of texture and silhouette and color, and I have no doubt that inspiration in whatever form, will emerge in a couple of pieces I am making for a few projects this year, as well as film installation projects I’m working on now …just like certain obsessions (like my kimono and my sirens gowns) made themselves manifest in the collections we used in the bringing to life of the Lapham’s Quarterly FASHION issue last fall…

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above ~ cari borja gowns appearing on-stage at Starline Social Club, Oakland for Lapham’s Quarterly FASHION ~ Deb Fink and Frieda de Lackner performing to my reading of Angela Carter, on Fashion. Amy Mansfield wearing a cari borja kimono, and singing David Bowie’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide.


So amongst the dinner and exhibition images from the very recent De Young Gala this past Wednesday, I interweave some of my favorite moments that went through my head as I walked through the rooms of 130 of Oscar’s looks that span five decades of his career and were so beautifully curated by Andre Leon Talley (with a nod to Dede Wilsey who originally asked Oscar to do a retrospective and Richard Benefield, the exhibition’s coordinator).



“Because I know that time is always time, and place is always and only place, and what is actual is actual 
for only one time and only for one place.” ~ T.S. Eliot quoted in Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil

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above ~ left / two of my favorite gowns, that I happened to save and put in storage. I chose the gown on the left. middle / my daughter Royal’s portrait of me that evening, right before departing. right / cognac or laser diamonds? I chose the elegant laser diamonds… courtesy of my friend, the jeweler Deb Durant.

THE ARRIVAL ~ to valet or not?

Not. as shocking as it was to the 12 men standing in unison in their white tuxedos, I asked where I could park, drove the quarter of mile,
and walked back to the entrance. The rain had stopped and the night was gorgeous.



above ~ with william and lucy hamilton, chris and josefine young, kira young and marquis de dampierre (photo: drew altizer)


THE ATMOSPHERE / from the reception (where I failed to take any pictures) to the dinner


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above ~ luscious green and pink (by J Riccardo Benavides), which matched my newly made bracelet for the evening, and the vichyssoise soup…with little glimpses of some of the guests at my table ~ which included: Lucy and William Hamilton, ex-creative director of Oscar de la Renta Adam Lippes, Alexandra Kimball, Illuminate/Bay Lights’ Ben Davis and Vanessa Inn, Chris and Josefine Young, Marquis de Dampierre and Kirat Young (YSL and Oscar’s early muse and model) and curator Martin Chapman; and a glimpse at the table behind us where sat Annette de la Renta, Lynn Wyatt and Andre Leon Talley. Also, lovely to see another designer friend amongst the crowd ~ Lily Samii…. and appreciate all the details ~ each colored glass, gold painted glass, the wonderfully mis-matched china and the table cloths, which instantly brought me back to some of my favorite textures I’ve played with in the past ~ Analisa Garcia as a live installation/window model (hair/make-up by Rebecca Beardsley), wearing one of my Dracula Collection pieces (inspired by Eiko Ishioka) at Racheal Matthew’s Sala Boutique in Berkeley.



“I like light, color, luminosity. I like things full of color and vibrant.” ~ Oscar de la Renta


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above ~my snapshots from the exhibition, Royal in her Royal Collection (shot by Lloyd Bernberg), Britt Dionne in a Shedding Skins Collection piece, Model Melissa Haro in Orange/Fuschia shot by Keith Brauneis; and a trio of my Cuba Collection images, shot on location in Havana by Jock McDonald.


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above ~ a stunning trio of Oscar’s Spain-inspired collections, juxtaposed by an image from Sylvia Rubin’s SF Chrocnile piece on West Berkeley, my mentor Laura Nader and I ~ at her daughter Rania’s wedding, which I made the wedding gown, bridesmaid dresses in Italian silk, Laura’s dress in a matte jersey and my own outfit in wool jersey; a 2005 fashion show at Fort Mason, with models Shawna Bailey and Ellen Fucanan Weeda, when I was pregnant with August.



If I said – remembering in summer,
The cardinal’s sudden smudge of red
In the bare gray winter woods –

If I said, red ribbon on the cocked straw hat
Of the girl with pooched-out lips
Dangling a wiry lapdog
In the painting by Renoir –

If I said fire, if I said blood welling from a cut –

Or flecks of poppy in the tar-grass scented summer air
On a wind-struck hillside outside Fano –

If I said, her one red earring tugging at her silky lobe,

If she tells fortunes with a deck of fallen leaves
Until it comes out right –

Rouged nipple, mouth –

(How could you not love a woman
Who cheats at the Tarot?)

Red, I said. Sudden, red.

~ Robert Haas


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“As on all its sides a kitchen-match darts white
flickering tongues before it bursts into flame:
with the audience around her, quickened, hot,
her dance begins to flicker in the dark room.

And all at once it is completely fire.

One upward glance and she ignites her hair
and, whirling faster and faster, fans her dress
into passionate flames, till it becomes a furnace
from which, like startled rattlesnakes, the long
naked arms uncoil, aroused and clicking.

And then: as if the fire were too tight
around her body, she takes and flings it out
haughtily, with an imperious gesture,
and watches: it lies raging on the floor,
still blazing up, and the flames refuse to die –
Till, moving with total confidence and a sweet
exultant smile, she looks up finally
and stamps it out with powerful small feet.”

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

above ~ My very favorite skirt in the show, alongside some of my own favorite skirts ~ in tulle (styled by Jayne Seward, for California Apparel News; me in my favorite peacock skirt, photographed by Heike Liss, and Shawna Bailey in our My Fair Lady finale piece, from San Francisco Fashion Week 2006. Dracula Collection in tulle, silk and brocade. Layered tulle and silk brocade shot by Claudia Goetzelmann; Ania Alit in Havana, shot by Jock McDonald; a trio of Red Cross Collection gowns made out of men’s Italian silk tie fabric, Royal in my favorite Royal Collection dress, made of layered crinkle satin and burnout chiffon. My first gown for the Oscars, 2008 ~ made for Camille Leblanc to accompany documentary filmmaker Charles Ferguson for his No End in Site nomination (red and fuchsia / still one of my favorite color combinations). Tulle and the same silk and brocade decontextualized in a photoshoot for Nancy Dobbs Owens stunning jewelery, shot by Stuart Locklear.


“Gardening is how I relax. it’s another form of creating and playing with colors.” ~ Oscar de la Renta

“What? Dew in the grass? The dew would be important! The dew would be significant! Because when you have an Oscar de la Renta dress,
you’re not worried about the dew, you’re thinking of being in the moment, living in the moment of beau-ty (voice rising on the second syllable)
and el-e-gance and luxury.” ~ Andre Leon Talley
(from Carolyn Zinko’s March 3rd 2016 article for SF Chronicle “Andre Leon Talley on putting Oscar de la Renta in the spotlight”) 

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above ~ My Chez Panisse collection 2011, inspired by my apprenticeship at the cafe earlier that year with chef Cal Peternell. Here I am with Alice Waters (wearing one of my bamboo jersey dresses) and outside Alta Tingle’s The Gardener on 4th Street, Berkeley with my design assistants Ashley McKinley, Racheal Matthews and Katherine Summer O’Neal (shot by Drew Altizer). Below, a trio of photos of the same collection, shot on location in Marcia Donahue’s Berkeley garden, by Gabriel Harber on models Kelsey Johnson and Jillian Lieber of Stars, hair/make-up by Rebecca Beardsley.


“I don’t really know how to do casual clothes…” ~ Oscar de la Renta

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above ~ A few more favorite snapshots from the exhibition, along with my Global Green Gala fleece coat with embroidered curtain details, shot for the Style section of the SF Chronicle; Robin Ayers-Lee in my Discarded to Divine gown made out of Old Navy men’s pants, shot by Gabriel Harber; JAKE’s Jake Wall and I fixing my tulle hemmed gown on model Kimberly Roselle, shot by Kelly Puleio at McCroskey Mattress Factory; and Maria Ralph wearing a satin polka dot gown for the SF Ballet Gala.


“Elegance is a discipline of life.” ~ Oscar de la Renta


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above ~ Blush baby doll, by Oscar de la Renta ~ echoed by model Lija Kukle in our My Fair Lady Collection baby doll ribbon dress and Natasha Garrett in an Indian cotton ruffled peacock vest and skirt; Royal is a layered blush and gold metallic ruffle skirt with jean and gold metallic Monte Carlo hoodie jacket. And one of my early shoots by Rico Schwartzberg ~ Fall 2004~ with stylist Christi Mider, Model Hasmik, hair and make-up David Michaud. 4 pieces from my Unbearable Lightness of Being Collection show in Deb Durant’s 50/50 LIGHT 2014 exhibit.


“We live in an era of globalization and the era of the woman.
Never in the history of the world have women been more in control of their destiny.”
~ Oscar de la Renta 


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above ~
An image of Oscar and Sara Jessica Parker from the exhibition catalogue ; black and white gowns by Oscar, followed by 4 of my favorite pieces in black and white, silvers and metallic. My Dracula Collection from 2010, Camalo Gaskin in my black and white Dalmation print sarong pants and top from 2002, Helena Martin in a black and white My Fair Lady Gown and Mellissa Gray in golden brocade, shot by Kelly Puleio at McCroskey Mattress Factory, and a Poiret Collection Gala Coat that was taken to Obama’s 2009 Inauguration…


“His name alone evokes elegance and timeless beauty,” Hillary Clinton has said about de la Renta, who began dressing her as first lady in 1993.
(taken from a March7th 2016 article by Martha Ross, for the Contra Costa Times)

Asks Carolyn Zinko, in her SF Chronicle interview ~ “What about people who want to make clothes that light up or display messages?”
Andre: “That’s fine. I’m interested. I would love to have a T-shirt that could light up. I’d want my T-shirt to say, “Hillary Clinton!” You can write that.”

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20above ~ A shot by fashion writer Tony Bravo of Oscar’s cheetah gown made for Hilary Clinton, worn at Nelson Mandela’s 85th birthday in 2003 (photo: Getty images); Lloyd and I (wearing an animal printed faux fur jacket to Philip Glass’s Einstein on the Beach at Zellerbach); a selfie of me in a fleece cheetah print coat before selling it at Barb Pridham’s trunkshow for me in Saratoga. The first of a collection of “Hillary” t-shirt dresses and gowns for Stacey Moss, who I made a collection of Obama gowns back in 2008 ~ seen here on Leah Wade for a fundraiser in 2008.Tug-of-war a la Downton Abbey, shot on location at the Legion of Honor by Kelly Puleio / my gowns of satin and tulle, with Jake Wall’s bespoke suits.



above ~ image of Andre Leon Talley, by Chandler Holmes, for Maghan McDowell’s article for WWD.

For more coverage on Oscar de la Renta exhibition and Gala ~ see the article by Emily Holt for VOGUE, Catherine Bigelow for the SF Chronicle,
Carolyne Zinko’s interview with Andre Leon Talley also for the SF Chronicle,
and Drew Altizer’s (with Claudine Gosset) images from the whole evening…


“We all need someone to look at us. We can be divided into four categories according to the kind of look we wish to live under . . .
The fourth category, the rarest, is the category of people who live in the imaginary eyes of those who are not present.
They are the dreamers.” ~ Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

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“This is the power of gathering:
it inspires us, delightfully, to be more hopeful,
more joyful, more thoughtful: in a word, more alive.”
~ Alice Waters



  • Reply March 14, 2016


    So much vibrance and romance in it all. All of it reflecting who you are. You-Cari, are and always have been a dynamic maker who reinterprets all aspects of life- as you weave art to make them more attractive, more fluid, more of what they really should and want to be.

  • Reply March 14, 2016

    Janice Paredes

    A lovely tribute, walk though time, memories and inspirations. After reading your blogs, I am always prepared to go forth and create!

  • Reply March 14, 2016

    Claudia Kliszewski

    Beautiful post. Beautiful images, colors and words.

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