Celebrity fashion designer Oscar de la Renta passed away Monday at age 82.
It was altogether fitting that effusions of praise echoed throughout the fashion world.
An empire in decline revels in trivia and drivel to conceal philosophical emptiness and approaching doom. Fifth Avenue, Worth Avenue and Rodeo Drive have become the nation’s identity, not Lexington and Concord, the Liberty Bell and Gettysburg.
Mr. de la Renta convinced women (who needed little nudging) that what they were was how they dressed, not what they read and how they acted. Debased men assisted by rewarding looks more than character or Penelope-like fidelity.
Women swooned at the prospect of evoking adolescent-like adulation over French laces and flounces. They deified the man who reduced them to puerility.
The gushing words of Washington Post writer Robin Givhan speak volumes: “With French lace and delicate embroidery, [Oscar de la Renta] helped women subdue their insecurities. And with his eye for a gentle flounce and a keen understanding of line and silhouette, he helped them build a powerfully stylish wardrobe that never denied their femininity nor apologized for it. He helped them look like their most romantic vision of themselves.”
What kind of a woman sports insecurities curable with French lace?
What kind of a woman needs flounce to display femininity?
What kind of a woman equates romance with haute couture?
French Queen Marie Antoinette — a permanent child whose empty life pivoted on fun and frivolity.
But men have no reason to gloat or deride.
Mr. de la Renta himself was satisfied with a life devoted to feminine beautification, simpliciter.
Professional sports is to men what high fashion is to women: a preoccupation or obsession with physical marvels and domination bereft of philosophical content. Professional football, basketball, baseball, boxing and the like are no more than updated versions of the Roman Coliseum featuring gladiatorial combat. They hastened the collapse of the empire.
The end of civil government is justice, i.e., the convergence of moral philosophy and law. It is not wealth. It is not domination. it is not creature comforts. And justice is discerned by an unflagging search for truth without ulterior motives. It is not come upon by spontaneous combustion, osmosis or flirtations with trifles light as air.
Between ashes to ashes and dust to dust, children are thrilled by fun and notoriety, but adults are thrilled by a moral and virtuous life that distinguishes man from animal. Oscar de la Renta was a child.
Our nectar and ambrosia should be William Henry Longfellow’s Paul Revere’s Ride, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Concord Hymn, Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and Socrates’ hemlock in defense of free inquiry. As Shakespeare’s Hamlet soliloquized in the eponymous play, “What is a man if his chief good and market of his time be but to feed and sleep. A beast, no more. Sure, he that made us with such large discourse, looking before and after, gave us not that capability and godlike reason to fust in us unused.”
It is the fate of all empires to be convinced they are forever as they inch toward ruination — either at one fell swoop as with the Soviet Union, or on the installment plan as with the Ottoman, Chinese and British empires. They all lose sight of what fueled their greatness as they indulge in bread and circuses.
We can make an unprecedented exception for the United States if we become more transfixed by moral virtue than by an Oscar de la Renta embroidered floral cloque gown.