By  on May 21, 2007

Designer Narciso Rodriguez made headlines this month when Liz Claiborne Inc. bought a 50 percent stake in his name and trademarks. The $12 million deal marked Claiborne’s maiden voyage into the luxury market, and countless industry watchers were surprised to learn that the highly regarded designer had been struggling financially. Claiborne, a $4.99 billion apparel giant, rated the sales potential of the brand at about $100 million, 10 times its current volume, once it branches into all available channels and categories, particularly shoes, accessories and, oh yes, men’s wear. The men’s rollout will be preceded by the July launch of Narciso Rodriguez For Him, the designer’s debut signature men’s fragrance.

DNR: Congratulations. It must be a relief to have this kind of backing.

Narciso Rodriguez: It is. For so many years I’ve been speaking to different investors—some of them evil, some phony, some waving a great deal of money but having no knowledge. Many people offered great opportunities, but a financial backer wasn’t just what we needed. We needed someone with the strengths to implement all the things we needed to grow. We needed someone with know-how.

In February you said you’d develop a full men’s collection if you had the right partner.

NR: It is happening. I’m very excited about this partnership because I loved introducing men’s two years ago. I started it out of love of the craft and wanting to express myself in a different way. I really enjoy it. And now, to be able to grow that into a bigger business is unbelievable.

Do you enjoy designing for men as much as for women?

NR: I do. I design both collections simultaneously. The techniques are very similar and I’ve heard very positive things. They say, “It makes sense. That’s the perfect counterpart to your woman.” I’ve just begun, really, and I put together a very small collection every season. The response after four seasons has been wonderful. I’m looking forward to growing that into a bigger and more experimental collection. I love doing knitwear and I’m ready to do it for men in a bigger way. And tailoring. I’m excited to experiment in both those ways.

How soon could it be fully formed?

NR: I don’t think it will be [overnight]. I want to grow it slowly and properly. I could see it double in size easily, but it still would be small.

Would you consider showing men’s and women’s separately?

NR: Yes, I think it would be great. When I launched men’s wear I wanted it to be shown with women’s. But as it grows it would be great to separate them. The impact for both could be strong.

Your fall men’s wear went in some new directions—more generous proportions, more knits, even prints. Why were you feeling so adventurous? 

NR: It’s in its infancy. It isn’t a huge collection, so I can create whatever I want. It’s very simple. I just do what I feel. I wanted the statement for the first seasons to be about the tailoring. After three seasons I wanted to keep the tailoring, edit it, and introduce some new ideas—knitwear, signature pieces, things that I do with women but interpreted for men. That’s why I started to look at it in a different way. I want to keep experimenting but have roots in tailoring.

Can you tell us anything about your spring collection yet?

NR: Gee, I love that question in May. How about this? I’m being inspired by the support and the capabilities that all of a sudden opened up to me. I’m in a very good mood.

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