Narciso Rodriguez is a designer known as much for what he doesn’t do as for what he does. He doesn’t do girly or overworked clothes. No ruffles, no poufs, no fluff. What Rodriguez does offer is sophisticated simplicity, suitable for women of any age. Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue once summed it up perfectly. “No one but Narciso has ever made a simple line look more stunning,” she said.
So it is big news that Rodriguez has been chosen to introduce a new designer collaboration program at Kohl’s. Diffusion lines—second collections of moderately priced clothes designed by high-end designers—have been the rage for the past several years. When they are good, they can be very good--like the 400-piece Missoni collection for Target or Rachel Roy for Macy’s. Others, though, just fail miserably to live up to the hype. A case in point: In 2009, London-based jewelry designers Erickson Beamon did a diffusion collection for Target and the results were a cheap-looking, garish mess.
Rodriguez first captured attention with his bias-cut sheath wedding dress he made for his close friend Carolyn Bessette when she married John Kennedy, Jr. All streamlined, fluid movement, the dress was the perfect antidote to the exploding soufflé style of wedding dresses that came into style a decade earlier with Princess Di.
In 2009, Rodriguez designed a chic camel and black dress and coat ensemble that Michelle Obama considered wearing on her 2008 inauguration day. Instead, she wore the Rodriguez outfit to a pre-inauguration event at the Lincoln Memorial and, to many observers, it remains one of her most successful fashion moments of that historical week.
Rodriguez’s collection for Kohl’s, available on Nov. 7, is the kick-off of the department store’s new program called Design Nation. The concept invites designers to visit a city of his or her choosing, to search for inspiration for the month-long diffusion collection. Rodriguez choose Istanbul, where he was moved by the mix of European and Asian aesthetics. The results are evident in the nineteen different outfits he designed for Kohl’s: colorful, streamlined tops, skirts, dresses, pants and several stunning jackets, from $30 to $150. Solids mix gracefully with small abstract prints. The best part? The clothes look distinctly like Narciso Rodriguez designs.
Some of the standouts include a heather gray and clover green ponte colorblocked dress and a cobalt blue cocoon jacket with major presence. Also irresistible (stand back, everyone, until I get these for myself) are two colorblock tops—one short-sleeved in shades of mulberry, peony and crimson with black detailing and one sleeveless in shades of teal and cobalt with black. The less enticing choices, in my opinion, are the blousy tops paired with pajama-style pants. Show up wearing them and you will be rocking a just rolled-out-of-bed look.
The payoff for designers of diffusion lines is obvious: they can attract a wider audience at multiple price points. Beyond the bottom line, the best diffusion lines channel the spirit of more notable upscale look, albeit in less expensive material and with less detailed finishing. Luckily, the Rodriguez line is full of attitude and integrity, presenting the best of his approach to modern dressing.
“A designer’s mission is to dress as many people as possible,” Rodriguez has said. Mission accomplished--with style.