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CHICAGO — Narciso Rodriguez and the Windy City are developing quite a relationship.

In October, the designer charmed fans during a personal appearance at Neiman Marcus here. In April, he returned for a spot on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” and flew back into town last Wednesday for the University of Chicago Comer Children’s Hospital benefit hosted by Barneys New York.

“I love any reason to come to Chicago,” said Rodriguez, who sported a Jil Sander suit and Vans footwear. “I love the city. I’m beginning to feel like a regular here.”

When he’s not flying to Chicago, Rodriguez said he’s developing his early spring collection.

“The women’s collection has grown so much over the past few years,” he said. “The price point has broadened. The collection, overall, is broader. I really wanted to cement that and then work on accessories.”

Although Rodriguez admits he possesses a strong Chicago following, Barneys New York chief executive officer Howard Socol said, “I think Narciso has a strong following everywhere.”

“He’s a very giving guy,” said Socol, who also came in for the event. “He’s the greatest, nicest guy you could want to meet.”

Cocktails and luxurious fall gowns by Rodriguez positioned at the store’s entrance greeted some 200 guests, who raised about $50,000 for the hospital, which opened in February.

Partygoers included local physicians, women from the Adler Planetarium’s Women’s Board, designer Nate Berkus, restaurateur Donnie Madia and Illinois Senator Barack Obama’s wife, Michelle, among others. The 5-foot-11 Obama, who is the vice president for community affairs for the University of Chicago hospitals, wore local designer Maria Pinto’s cutout black and gold flared skirt and matching halter.

Following cocktails, guests were ushered upstairs to enjoy dinner on elegant all-white tables adorned with white Japanese peonies and dancing afterward with DJ Madrid.

“It’s the first time we’ve ever turned our designer area into a nightclub,” Socol said.

Prior to dinner, Dr. Steve A.N. Goldstein, Comer’s physician-in-chief, presented Narciso with a doctor’s lab coat bearing the designer’s name, stating: “Now you’re one of us.”

This story first appeared in the June 13, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

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