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Model Karlie Kloss was just 15 when she met Oscar de la Renta. Now, in the wake of his passing, she looks back on everything she learned from the legendary designer in Glamour’s January issue. Wearing the gown she wore in Oscar de la Renta’s final runway show, Karlie talks about her experiences with the legend giving us a glimpse of the man behind the iconic fashion house.

Kloss on meeting Oscar de la Renta when she was 15
“I met Oscar when I was just a teenager. It was my second season of doing shows, so I was still very fresh and it was all new. I remember walking into his atelier and being so wide-eyed; it was covered from wall to wall with trays of beautiful jewelry and gorgeous shoes and gowns. There were textures and fabrics I didn’t know existed. Here I was, this American girl from the Midwest, standing in this house of elegance and luxury to the level of First Ladies. The technique and craft that went into creating an Oscar de la Renta dress was like that of a couture house. It was totally intimidating! I don’t know what he saw in me; I was a kid playing dress-up in these elaborate, womanly gowns. But he saw something, because I walked in nearly every one of his shows from that point on.”

KARLIE KLOSS oscar de la renta glamour jan 2015 FashionDailyMag

Kloss on Oscar de la Renta’s charm
“Before a show he would always grab my hand and say, ‘Karlie, you are beautiful.’ That was everything. Nobody does that! It doesn’t matter if you’re a model about to go on the runway or just any woman, somebody grabbing your hands and looking you in the eyes like you’re the only person in the world? He made you feel special. I’d go in for fittings and stay longer than I was meant to, trying on the whole collection.”

Kloss on opening and closing Oscar de la Renta’s shows
“For the past several years, I would open or close his show, and as it got harder for him to walk, he started bringing me out with him when he took his bow. He would really hold on to me when we did that walk. It was an unbelievable honor, and every season it was our thing. Looking back, I realize he was getting frailer. But in my mind, I always saw this tan, suave man.”

Kloss on the woman Oscar de La Renta designed for…
“Oscar adored, respected, and celebrated women—and made them feel beautiful. We bonded over dance. He was a lover of dance, and I had classical ballet training. That was one of the first things he noticed about me. He saw the runway as a stage to perform on. It wasn’t just walking when you were on an Oscar runway. You were breathing life into the clothes and becoming the woman he designed for—a woman who is unbelievably elegant, poised, intelligent, confident, and powerful.”

reese witherspoon Glamour January CoverKloss on attending the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute gala with Oscar de la Renta last May
“I attended the Met Gala with Oscar just eight months ago. That night at the dinner, I had one of the most heartfelt conversations with him that I’ve ever had with anyone. He told me how he fell in love with his wife, Annette, and he told me about his first wife, who had died of cancer 30 years before. The most important thing in life, he said that night, is to love and be loved, and to do what you love. For me, it was so inspiring to see someone at 81, still so happy going to work.”

KARLIE KLOSS honors OSCAR DE LA RENTA for Glamour on newstands Dec. 9, 2014
photo credits:
Karlie Kloss by Patrick Demarchelier
January cover: Matt Irwin