Byline: Rusty Williamson

HOUSTON--Narciso Rodriguez, still high from winning the Perry Ellis award for new talent from the Council of Fashion Designers of America the night before, flew into town to push his new signature collection, now landing in about 50 specialty stores across the U.S. for spring.
He launched the quick cross-country tour here last month with a cocktail party thrown by Saks Fifth Avenue and The Paper, a monthly chronicle of social and fashion news, followed by an appearance at Saks' glitzy new store at the Galleria mall.
The party was held at the Hogg Grill, a sleek new cafe here, where Rodriguez was joined by a throng of 300 of the city's young and affluent. Three giant video screens served as a backdrop for the fete and flashed a continuous loop of Rodriguez's cool, spare spring fare.
The body-conscious collection, with peak retail prices of $3,000 for a beaded gown, is marked by luxurious and subtly textured fabrics like cashmere and silk and a Milanese palette of gray, pale yellow and white. It is produced and distributed by the Italian manufacturer Aeffe.
Rushing into the party straight from Houston's Intercontinental Airport, Rodriguez was buzzing about the collection and his new CFDA trophy.
"It was like a giant whoosh of excitement and happiness all rolled into one when they called my name at the awards ceremony," said an exuberant Rodriguez. "I always attended the CFDA as a student and dreamed of some day winning--and now it's happened."
As a matter of fact, a lot is set to happen for Rodriguez this year, including the Paris debut in March of his first ready-to-wear collection for Loewe, a venerable Spanish leather accessories firm that's updating under Rodriguez's direction. His fall signature collection will come down Milan's runways just a few days before the Loewe premiere.
"Both collections will have my stamp on them, but in different ways," explained Rodriguez. "My signature line is more experimental and has more of an edge, while still being clean--with a touch of opulence. Loewe is a luxury brand that was a little dusty. I'm bringing back the glamour."
Loewe, a Madrid-based leather house established in 1846 and owned by LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton for just over a year, named Rodriguez design director last July and signed him to a two-year contract.
The designer's signature collection is produced and distributed by Aeffe. The debut line, with close to 200 styles, was hailed by fashion critics and retailers last October. It's already been picked up by over 50 U.S. specialty stores, including Saks, Neiman Marcus, Stanley Korshak, Ultimo, Barneys New York and Tootsies. Industry sources said the collection should generate $7 million in first-year wholesale volume.
Rodriguez, a New Jersey native who divides his time among New York, Madrid, Paris and Milan, has tentative plans to open a signature store in New York in the near future.
"The world passes by your door in New York," said the designer. "A freestanding store is also a great way to test designs. You get immediate customer feedback. I love that energy."

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