By  on January 28, 2008

NEW YORK — Narciso Rodriguez has placed his small but acclaimed men’s wear line on hold and has not produced a collection for fall 2008. A men’s collection would have been shown during New York Fashion Week alongside his women’s wear. 

The hiatus from men’s wear is only temporary, i.e., a season or two, Rodriguez told DNR last week. But for now, he and his partners at Liz Claiborne, which bought a 50 percent stake in his company for $12 million last May, want to focus on expanding women’s wear with precollections and a larger accessories offering. At the time of the purchase, the cash infusion from Liz was seen as a catalyst to, among other things, beef up the men’s business. Rodriguez insists this is still the case. 

“I met with [Claiborne CEO] Bill McComb in December and asked his opinion, and he was so positive about men’s wear and about doing it better, later,” the designer said. But this season Rodriguez is in the throes of relocating, restructuring and bringing licenses back in-house, “and the sheer growth of my company since my partnership with Claiborne is overwhelming in so many areas. We want to do things properly because what we do now is a foundation for the future.” 

He continued: “Once I saw what bringing women’s in-house entailed, I didn’t want the core business to suffer by being spread too thin. And then it was a godsend, after late fabric deliveries this season and so on. I can speak for all New York designers right now. We’re very, very frustrated because we can’t do our work to its vast potential, because there isn’t time. The show season is so short that there’s barely enough time to do a proper women’s collection. We had to think about whether to present a few things, done quickly, or [put a hold on men’s] and do something bigger and better in the future. It’s taking a step back to take two steps forward. Getting into the right women’s wear factories and looking for places that make things the way we want them made has been a real process. And I want the same for the men’s wear. There’s just too much going on to do both.” 

Rodriguez has only offered men’s wear for five seasons, and the line was small, but it was highly regarded and seen as a natural extension of his aesthetic. His work in general is recognized for its roots in tailoring, its precise, body-conscious construction and its athletic influence. Men’s was only sold in Barneys New York because that was about all the operation could handle, Rodriguez said. Barneys was saddened by the hiatus but agreed it was a wise decision, said the designer, adding that once a structure is in place he’ll be happy to work with many more retailers. 

A signature fragrance for men debuted in July, augmenting the brand’s relevance to men. “I’m very passionate about it, and we’ve cultivated a fan base,” Rodriguez said. “I’m passionate and very serious about it.”

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