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Narciso Rodríguez: 1961(?)—: Fashion Designer Biography

Rose To Fame With Besette Design, Own Line Garnered Rave Reviews, Officially Became "new York" Designer

Narciso Rodríguez: 1961(?)—: Fashion designer.

Narciso Rodríguez won the coveted Perry Ellis award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America in 1998. The annual honor is bestowed on the best new women's wear designer to emerge in the past year, and Rodríguez had recently become a household name across North America when he created the ethereal slip dress for Carolyn Bessette's 1996 wedding to John F. Kennedy, Jr. Prior to that, however, the Cuban-American, New Jersey-born designer had spent years toiling behind the scenes in various Seventh Avenue ateliers. His newfound celebrity led to an opportunity to launch his first collection under his own name in 1997, and critics responded enthusiastically to the coolly elegant femininity in Rodríguez's designs. His commitment to highlighting a woman's best assets seemed to come naturally for him. "I dress a specific woman," he asserted once in an interview with Harper's Bazaar writer Kristina Zimbalist. "She's tailored, she's cool, she's relaxed. She never wears neon colors…. The idea of dressing really well again, traditional things, rich things, things that are cut on the body—that's what I love. I don't want seven colors of lizard shoe. I like to be smarter than that."

Rodríguez was born in New Jersey in the early 1960s, where his parents had settled after leaving Cuba in 1956. There, they had studied chemistry and worked in the island nation's sugar refineries, but in New Jersey his father became a longshoreman. The family lived in an area of Newark populated by families of Cuban, Portuguese, African-American, Spanish and Italian descent, and Rodríguez grew up in a bilingual household. With an artistic bent that manifested itself early on, he became known as the creative one in his family, and gravitated toward fashion. As a high school student, he found work as an apprentice to a local tailor, and there began to learn the rudiments of fine-clothing construction.

Rodríguez attended the esteemed Parsons School of Design in New York City, and after graduating in 1982 worked first as a freelance designer. He eventually found a permanent post with the Anne Klein company, when Donna Karan was still its chief designer. After she left to launch her own line, Rodríguez worked under her successor at the house, Louis Dell'Olio. He knew that someday he would like to present his own vision down a runway, but "I always thought I should gather as much experience as I could," he told Trish Donnally in a San Francisco Chronicle interview. "You make your mistakes on somebody else's money."

At a Glance . . .

Born c. 1961 in NJ; son of Narciso (a longshoreman) and Rawedia Maria (a homemaker) Rodríguez. Education: Parsons School of Design, degree, 1982.

Career: Freelance design assistant in New York City, 1982-85; worked as design assistant under Donna Karan at Anne Klein, New York City, c. 1985, and under Louis Dell' Olio until 1991; Calvin Klein, New York City, design assistant, 1991-95; Tse, New York City, men's and women's design director, c. 1995-96; Cerruti Paris, women's design director, 1996-97; offered his own line of women's clothing in partnership with AEFFE, 1997; Loewe, Madrid, design director, 1997-2001.

Awards: Designer of the Year, Hispanic Society, 1997; Best New Designer, VH1 Fashion Awards, 1997; Perry Ellis Award for best new women's wear designer, Council of Fashion Designers of America, 1998.

Addresses: Office—AEFFE SpA, Via delle Querce 51, S. Giovanni Marigano 47842, Italy. c/o Council of Fashion Designers of America, 1412 Broadway, New York, NY 10018.

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