Narciso Rodriguez: Designer to the First Lady, Hollywood Stars, American Royalty

For her final official address as First Lady, Michelle Obama opted for a design from Narciso Rodriguez. The fashion press was quick to note that Mrs. Obama wore a Narciso Rodriguez dress on election night in 2008 and intermittently throughout the past eight years. A marigold shift dress for the 2016 State of the Union Address, a deep purple-hued frock to meet future First Lady Melania Trump (the same one she was photographed in during a trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina, in March 2016), and some of the designer's separates for other occasions.

A Cuban-American designer, who graduated from Parson’s, a design school in New York in the 1980's, Rodriguez showed his first women’s ready-to-wear collection under the Narciso Rodriguez label in Milan in October 1997 for the Spring/Summer 1998 season in partnership with Italian manufacturer AEFFE. Of his debut, Tamsin Blanchard of the Independent wrote, "He is not trying to challenge women, stun the world with his intellect or shock us with see-through underwear. All he wants is for women to look at his sequined slips and camisoles and sporty, luxurious separates on the rail, and want to wear them there and then."

But even before then he began making his name as a powerful - yet quiet - force of minimalist design in American fashion. He started his career at Anne Klein working under Donna Karan and later moved on to Calvin Klein. One of his earliest successes - which dates back to 1996 - came by way of the bias-cut pearl-white crepe wedding dress he created for Carolyn Bessette's wedding to John F. Kennedy, Jr. Bessette and Rodriguez had while they were both working for Calvin Klein.

Rodriguez also held design director positions at Tse, Cerruti and Loewe before he launched his eponymous label's atelier in New York in 2001, having grown tired of traveling to and from Loewe's design studio in Madrid. 

Of his Fall/Winter 2001 collection - the first since he relocated back to New York - Vogue wrote, "Anyone who has felt New York fashion week needed a shot of fresh energy will be glad to know that Narciso Rodriguez is back to stay ... With his short, highly focused collection, Rodriguez proved that a few well-executed ideas are far more compelling and newsworthy than predictable gimmicks and flash-in-the-pan trends."

All the while, he garnered die-hard fans in Hollywood, including Sarah Jessica Parker (who wore some of his designs on Sex and the City), Jessica Alba, Julianna Margulies, Claire Danes, and Kate Winslet, among others. And awards. Many awards. For instance, Rodriguez was the first designer ever to receive consecutive Womenswear Designer of the Year awards by the Council of Fashion Designers of America in 2002 and 2003. In 2005, Time Magazine honored the designer by naming him one of the "25 Most Influential Hispanics in America.”

More recently, Rodriguez curated his first-ever solo museum exhibition at Florida International University’s Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum. On view from October 9 until January 8, the exhibition, entitled, “Narciso Rodriguez: An Exercise in Minimalism,” showcases over 40 couture designs, archival materials, original sketches and video alongside works of art selected by the designer. It also marked the first time a living fashion designer’s exhibition was presented by a major museum during Miami’s Art Basel Week, which was hosted in November.

With all of this in mind, one may wonder: What does achievement look like to Rodriguez, in his own words? And he has spoken directly to that point in the past, saying, "I want my clothes to be worn. I want women in the audience at my shows to see really desirable things. That's my success."