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Narciso Rodríguez: 1961(?)—: Fashion Designer

Rose To Fame With Besette Design

In 1991, after five years at Anne Klein, Rodríguez moved on to one of the giants of American fashion, Calvin Klein. He spent four years as a design assistant there, and impressed Klein, who has been heralded for creating the fashion archetype of a classic American look for the late twentieth century. "He was very, very serious about the work," Klein told Zimbalist in Harp-er's Bazaar. "Aside from having the gift and the talent, he had the drive to do the best that he could possibly do. And it came through in the clothes." The job at Calvin Klein also served to introduce Rodríguez to Bessette, who was a public-relations associate at the company, and the two became close friends. In 1995 Rodríguez quit to take a job with Tse, a renowned maker of cashmere sweaters, as men's and women's design director. Soon he was lured to Paris as well when offered a job as designer for Nino Cerruti. Once known for its menswear, Cerutti hired Rodríguez to revitalize their women's line. With near-free rein for the first time in his career, Rodríguez impressed many with his design sensibilities. "His casually assembled sportswear pieces hit a magical middle ground," declared Los Angeles Times writer Mimi Avins. "Their sophistication was beyond a college girl's grasp, comprehensible to only the hippest matron. Models loved his sexy, clingy clothes and didn't conceal their admiration as they walked the runway."

Rodríguez remained a relative unknown, however, until September of 1996 when headlines across North America and Europe announced that America's most eligible bachelor and ersatz "crown prince," John F. Kennedy, Jr.—named after his slain president-father—had wed a Connecticut blonde named Carolyn Bessette. With a deep aversion to publicity and the tabloid photographers that followed their every move in New York City and elsewhere, the pair planned the nuptials with utmost secrecy. News of the wedding was made public only with a photo taken by a family member that showed Bessette wearing what the Los Angeles Times's Avins described as "a simple, bias-cut slink of pearl-colored satin" and, not incidentally, the "most famous wedding dress of the decade."

Rodríguez later recalled that Bessette and one of her sisters had come to visit him in Paris a few weeks before the wedding to have the dress finished and fitted. Both that dress and another that Rodríguez made for the bride-to-be for the rehearsal dinner were gifts to her. He had brought them himself from Paris back to the States in time for the wedding at a candlelit small church on Cumberland Island, Georgia. The dress had a Cerruti label inside, and though some at the Paris atelier knew of their boss's top-secret design project, Rodríguez remained quiet about his mystery client. He hand-carried both frocks back on the flight from Paris, as he told Janice Min in People. "I tortured everyone on that flight with the boxes," the designer admitted. "No one could touch them. I must have driven every Air France employee mad."

Rodríguez's friend Bessette and her husband died in a 1999 plane crash off the coast of Martha's Vineyard. The dress that he designed for that wedding became even more iconic, given the tragedy. Rodríguez had told Min in People that the fairy-tale "wedding … was so nice, so beautiful. I think it will be the thing I'll be proudest of my whole life."

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: Dudley Randall Biography - A Poet from an Early Age to Ferrol Sams Jr BiographyNarciso Rodríguez: 1961(?)—: Fashion Designer Biography - Rose To Fame With Besette Design, Own Line Garnered Rave Reviews, Officially Became "new York" Designer