Monday, Aug. 22, 2005

Narciso Rodriguez

It was one dress that put Cuban-American designer Narciso Rodriguez on the fashion map back in September 1996. He had been toiling away for years — under Donna Karan at Anne Klein, as a design assistant at Calvin Klein and as the designer of the Cerruti label in Paris — when his good friend Carolyn Bessette asked him to design her wedding dress. With one simple matte silk crepe slip, Rodriguez made John F. Kennedy Jr.'s bride both sexy and ethereal — a look that would become his fashion hallmark and the most copied silhouette of the past decade.

"He can cut a dress better than any designer," says Kalman Ruttenstein, fashion director of Bloomingdale's, who has known Rodriguez since he started his label in 1998. The only American to be awarded the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) award for best designer two years running, Rodriguez is often cited as the heir to the mantle of American sportswear's great minimalist innovators: Anne Klein, Halston and Calvin Klein. But unlike any American designer before him, Rodriguez, 44, draws on his Latino roots to imbue his designs with a distinctive sense of color, curve and verve.

Although his father, a retired longshoreman, didn't initially approve of Rodriguez's career choice, preferring that his son study law or medicine, today he sits in the front row at most of Rodriguez's shows, right alongside the adoring buyers and celebrities.