Designer Profile Master Class: Adolfo taps into his couture roots to offer affordable fashion. By Lauren Parker – Editor: ACCESSORIES MAGAZINE

Most baby boomers recall the elegant red Adolfo dress Nancy Reagan wore to her husband’s first inauguration. Four years later at Reagan’s second inauguration, Nancy wore a blue Adolfo creation.  Today, the red dress is displayed at the Reagan Library in California and blue dress, at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.  Having these dresses forever preserved in history reinforces Adolfo’s status as a fashion icon.

While the Adolfo name still conjures an image of the couture apparel that launched his business in 1962 when he catered to a high-profile society clientele including Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis, Nancy Reagan, and Betsy Bloomingdale, his current, more moderately priced designs continue to enthrall today’s woman. “Adolfo fills a niche in the marketplace for affordable brand name product with elements that meet a couture taste level, ” states Paul Wattenberg, managing director of Adolfo’s licensing group. Adolfo himself says that he doesn’t  necessarily design to meet the hottest trends. With accessories in particular, he explains, “The fashion pendulum swings from one end to the other, but my design s continue to be classic—with injections of

fashion-forward details where appropriate.” Handbags and small leathergoods licensed by Swoboda International feature classic Adolfo styling enhanced with discriminate fashion details. For Spring 2001, the best-booking styles are in soft pastels and a selection of materials including straw, raffia, nylon and microfiber.

As for the embellishments, “Spring’s designs are all about being ladylike and pretty,” says Adolfo. “For example, instead of beads and embroidery, we’re showing flowers on straw handbags with fringe detail. Confetti is a tweed-like group I’m especially partial to. It’s made in straw but looks like chenille.”  In scarves, also licensed through Swoboda, styles revolved around watercolor floral and classic status prints. Made in Italy, the hand-rolled and hemmed silks have a high-end look but are affordable at $12 wholesale. Similarly, the handbags provide affordable fashion at wholesale from $14 to $16.

Adolfo explains that n terms of price, his accessories and apparel are well suited to his target customer. “She’s not the most affluent, but she’s looking for fashion that looks expensive.” Wattenberg elaborates. “Our intent has been to enable the mid-tier customer who formerly could not afford Adolfo at its couture price to reach it.”  He explains that greater accessibility combined with the prestige of the Adolfo name is part of what draws customers. “Our strategy is to provide consumers with brand-name status product at prices where formerly, they could only get unbranded fashions.

What we’re giving them are fresh designs that do not have a mass-produced feeling. This special designer touch also pervades Adolfo’s other accessories. These include watches, which are licensed by M.Z. Berger, readers and sunglasses by Liberty Optical, jewelry by Franklin Mint and hair ornaments by Revlon. In addition, Wattenberg explains that the company is about to sign a license with a $50 million dollar company for luggage. “It will be called the Adolfo Royalty collection, and will feature the Adolfo family’s crest from Spain,” he says, adding that the same crest appears on his men’s sportswear. The family crest is symbolic of Adolfo’s philosophy:  “I like whatever I design to be like an old friend—to remind you of something you treasure.”A new product tier that will most certainly reinforce Adolfo’s illustrious past is Adolfo Gold, which Wattenberg says was designed to meet a more upscale customer. “The Adolfo Gold label will only be sold in better department and specialty stores,” he says, explaining that they’re first launching it this spring in men’s wear, but that it’s interpretation in women’s wear and accessories will follow.If history repeats itself, there’s little doubt Adolfo Gold will take off with a new niche customer. “The woman we’ve targeted appreciates the finer things in terms of materials and design, and she is willing to pay a little more for it,” says Wattenberg. “But at the same time, she’s not a part of that small percentage of celebrity clients who historically paid up to $10, 000 for an Adolfo evening dress.”

Nonetheless, all Adolfo customers are now privy to designs created by a master who has been commemorated several times over. Along his celebrated path. Adolfo received the Neiman Marcus Award and was honored with the Coty Award for hats in 1955, for head-to-toe in 1969 and in 1977, he was nominated for men’s wear. Adolfo attributes his across-the-board success to a propensity for enduring classics modernization with subtle detail, whether in silhouettes, materials or embellishments. “Accessories especially.” he says, “should be quiet—they should compete with the way a woman dresses. The simpler, the better.”