Adolfo, designer to the rich and famous, will close N.Y salon

March 25, 1993|By Lisa Anderson | Lisa Anderson,Chicago Tribune

NEW YORK -- His Ladies, an ever-growing sisterhood of th very rich, the very famous and the very social, were legend. His twice-yearly showings, in the cream-and-gilt luxury of the St. Regis Hotel here, amounted to eagerly anticipated gatherings of the cashmere-and-pearls clan -- always carefully timed to dovetail with the luncheon seating at old-money favorite, La Cote Basque. But suddenly, it's all over.

After 25 years, dressing stylish women from the Duchess of Windsor to Nancy Reagan, Adolfo will close his Manhattan made-to-order and ready-to-wear salon April 30.

The shy, diminutive designer, who made his mark with luxurious, custom-made knit suits in the style of Chanel, announced that he will close his signature clothing business, which is estimated to produce a wholesale volume of about $12 million annually, to concentrate on his substantial roster of licensees. This lucrative list includes handbags, fragrances, luggage, outerwear, accessories, menswear and shoes and women's furs; of these, his wholesale fragrance sales alone are estimated at more than $5 million annually.

Born Adolfo Sardina in Havana in 1933, the designer apprenticed in Paris with the legendary designer Cristobal Balenciaga before coming to New York where he had his first success in millinery. In 1963, armed with a substantial list of classy customers he had met through his hats, he opened his own clothing business.

Among his first customers were the Duchess of Windsor, heiresses Gloria Vanderbilt and Barbara Hutton and socialite Babe Paley -- upper-crust trendsetters all.

In 1966, he met Nancy Reagan, who later, as First Lady, would wear his braid-edged suits around the world and underscore their well-bred pedigree.

Whether the Chanel-inspired suits or the sparkly ballgowns shown for evening, the Adolfo look rarely really changed and his fans liked it that way. The suits, averaging at about $2,600 retail, were ladylike and timeless, as were his evening clothes. Moreover, Adolfo, many of whose clients tended to be, as it were, of a certain age, understood the need to camouflage the effects of time and did it gracefully.

As his longtime assistant, Elizabeth Bixon, put it, "It's the end of an era."

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