With the opening of a new showroom and the launch of a new contemporary “Adolfo Jeune” collection for spring ’09 (check out the fabulous unstructured sportcoat with stitched lapels and working buttonholes at $195 retail), Paul and Lee Wattenberg couldn’t be happier.
Nor could I, when I recently had the occasion to meet the designer himself: Adolfo Sardina. Born in Cuba in 1933, Adolfo immigrated to NYC in ’48, became a citizen in ’58 and served in the U.S. Navy. His design career began as an apprentice millinery designer at Bergdorf Goodman; from there he went to the Balenciaga Salon in Paris. He also apprenticed with Chanel, opened his own millinery salon in 1962, and then expanded into clothing.
If you happened to have been in Manhattan on January 31, 1977, you might remember borough president Percy Sutton declaring an official “Adolfo Day.” For more than 25 years, Adolfo dressed society ladies from C.Z. Guest and Betsy Bloomingdale to Jackie Kennedy and the Duchess of Windsor. He’s received several Coty awards and today oversees numerous licenses. Humble and gracious, Adolfo does not brag about his accomplishments, never even mentioning that a little red dress he designed for his friend Nancy Reagan is in the Smithsonian.
Instead, he talks about menswear designers he currently admires, a list that includes Tom Ford, Marc Jacobs and Ralph Lauren. But personally, he wears Adolfo. “My clothes from the past seem to last forever,” he almost apologizes.
Today, he’s wearing a double-breasted blazer with slim gray trousers, a crisp checked shirt, and knit tie. “I sometimes shop at Bloomingdale’s, Bergdorf or Selfridges. I like to dress quietly: a navy blazer with gray flannel
“Men should dress discreetly, woman glamorously.” —Adolfo
trousers will take you anywhere! And I’ve always believed that while women should dress glamorously, men should dress discreetly…” Adolfo is Spanish on his father’s side and Irish on his mother’s (thus accounting for his natural blond hair). His family was in the sugar business in Cuba; some were lawyers.
Most disappeared under Castro, and Adolfo was raised by an aunt and godfather. “They were like parents to me,” he remembers, “but I came to the States on my own, and then moved to Paris on my own. My first job for Balenciaga was collecting pins from the floor…” Had he not become a designer, he might have become a veterinarian as he truly loves dogs (he used to have four pugs).
Another passion is reading, particularly biographies; he’s currently reading about Marie- Thérèse-Charlotte, who was the only surviving daughter of Marie Antoinette. “I sometimes read fiction but I find biographies so much more interesting,” he explains.
“I learn so much.” Adolfo’s favorite city is Manhattan, and his secret to health and longevity is that he walks everywhere. “He also knows a lot about wine,” Paul Wattenberg adds with a smile.
His secret to happiness? Adolfo doesn’t hesitate. “Each phase of my life has offered something wonderful. Each has a mystique. The trick is to appreciate where you are now.”