On Thursday morning, Hillary Clinton gave her first in-person speech open to the general public since conceding the election, in honor of her close friend, the late fashion designer Oscar de la Renta at New York City's Grand Central Station. The occasion was the first-day-of-issue dedication ceremony of a set of "forever" United States Postal Service stamps commemorating the designer and his work.
Though the speech was mostly personal in nature—she reflected on her and her husband's relationship with the Dominican-born designer and his wife Annette—things turned political when Clinton both urged everyone to read the U.S. Constitution and honored the contributions of immigrants to America.
"Oscar de la Renta was an immigrant," Clinton noted. "And aren't we proud and grateful that he was?"
"In the corner of these striking stamps it says 'USA Forever,'" she continued. "Let us remember what is durable and lasting about Oscar's legacy. Of course, it is the fashion. It is the great worldly success. But it's also going with him to Washington Heights, going to a nightclub and watching him dance the salsa with young people who were just starting out their lives in this great city, in this blessed country. He knew what they were hoping for. He gave up his heart and his soul to make sure that his example would live on."
As the sentiment received its due recognition from the audience, Clinton was just winding up to her point.
"What a fitting person to be chosen by our Postal Service—mentioned, by the way, in the constitution, something we should all read and re-read in today's times," Clinton said and was drowned out by applause. "Its choice of this immigrant who did so much for our country—his country—truly is what it means when we say 'USA Forever.' Who we are. What we stand for. And let there be many, many, more immigrants with the love of America that Oscar de la Renta exemplified every single day."
Earlier in her speech, Clinton reminisced about the first time she met the designer. It was around the time of the Kennedy Center Honors in Washington, D.C. early in President Bill Clinton's first term. The then-First Lady had bought an Oscar de la Renta gown off of the rack for the night.
"So Oscar goes through the receiving line, and as I'm shaking his hand and welcoming him to the White House, he says, 'That's my dress.' I said, 'Yes, it is.' He said, 'Where did you get it?' I told him. He said 'Well, I'm calling you tomorrow.' And he did."
Indeed, Clinton would go on to wear the designer's clothing throughout her term as First Lady, including at the balls in honor of her husband's second inauguration. The pair would remain close even after the Clinton left the white house. De la Renta helped Clinton campaign during her 2000 Senate run in Dominican-heavy New York neighborhoods and Clinton would return the favor by showing up quite frequently at events honoring him. It was Clinton, then serving as Secretary of State, who presented de la Renta with the Founder's Award at the 2013 CFDA Fashion Awards, after all.
Clinton recalled subsequent visits with the de la Rentas at their home in Punta Cana, particularly the times in which President Clinton and the designer got worked up about the contentious results of a card game called Oh Hell. Though, she said some of her most cherished times with de la Renta were through service conducted out of the public eye.
"When I was First Lady there was a very serious hurricane that hit America and the Caribbean and I led a delegation from the administration and the congress to see what we could do to bring attention and bring help, and I ended up in the Dominican Republican, and I met Oscar. After touring some of the places that had been hit, he took me to the orphanage he had started. No press. No entourage. Just Oscar and me and the wonderful people who took care of those abandoned children. As we walked through the toddlers and through the kids, and Oscar talked about those children as if every single one of them was his."
The event, emceed by CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, also featured before Clinton took the podium remarks from Oscar de la Renta chief executive Alexander L. Bolen, former Mayor of New York Michael R. Bloomberg, and Anna Wintour, Vogue editor in chief and artistic director at Condé Nast, W's parent company.
Bloomberg cracked up the audience by admitting that he was nervous about what to wear to the fashion-heavy event but then just decided to go in what he was planning on wearing to Aspen later on in the day. Though, Bloomberg also noted that the designer was side-by-side with him during his three mayoral campaigns in the city's Dominican neighborhoods, and also honored de la Renta as an icon of "the important contributions immigrants make to our city and our country every day."
Wintour, who got choked up during the speech, recalled de la Renta as a "part of the fabric of my life," a trusted friend who often rang with early morning phone calls to talk about all things, and a designer who brought influences of his native land into American culture.
The stamps, which are available beginning today, feature an Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin portrait of the late designers as well as several colorful patterns he had used through his career.
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