A household name among the world’s fashion-conscious and arguably the planet’s best known Dominican (baseball stars notwithstanding – after all, America’s pastime is not so hot in Paris, Milan, and Dubai), Óscar de la Renta was born in Santo Domingo in 1932 to a Dominican mother and a Puerto Rican father. At 18, the budding artist moved to Spain to study painting, but promptly shifted into fashion, starting out with Balenciaga in Madrid, then moving on to Lanvin in Paris and Elizabeth Arden in New York before launching his own label in 1965. He was a nightlife fixture during the scandalous 70s but has proved to be a durable couture icon, expanding successfully into home furnishings, fragrances, and other lifestyle products. Unintentionally perhaps, he also expanded the pop lexicon with the popular phrase “fashion victim,” first coined one night at Manhattan’s La Caravelle while ogling some egregiously dressed hipsters.

De la Renta’s work is still plenty popular among the rich and famous (recently including Jessica Biel, Cameron Diaz – and of course Chelsea Clinton famously wore him during her “wedding of the century”). When De la Renta’s fall 2011 collection debuted during the last New York Fashion Week, critics were mighty complimentary of his “swoon-worthy” evening gowns and the accessible opulence of the collection in general.

For all the impact De la Renta has had over the years in North America, Europe, and beyond, he remains very attached to and involved with his home country, keeping a home in Punta Cana and financially supporting various projects including schools for poor children, day-care centers, orphanages, education for the handicapped, and a foundation to benefit communities in the DR’s particularly depressed southwest. He is also involved in the School of Design at Altos de Chavón, the exquisite hilltop Mediterranean-style village overlooking the Chavón River, which is truly one of the Dominican Republic‘s premier sights. The man clearly has a lot going on, and shows no signs of slowing down – meaning this Dominican national treasure should be dressing the elegant and helping the unfortunate for years to come.

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