Narciso Rodriguez Talks Mass Fashion, MObama, & A Maybe Makeup Line

Narciso Rodriguez is a rare breed of designer, able to stay true to his brand's heritage while also evolving to fit into a shifting social landscape. After three decades in the business, Rodriguez has managed to not only stay relevant, but also keep people talking about his line, tuning out all of the chatter over hot new names in fashion. No small feat in an industry that's known for its emphasis on the next big thing. His strength lies in his ability to diversify, constantly moving his take on subtle allure and understated sexy into bold new territory — from a diffusion line for Kohl's to a successful collection of fragrances and the recent addition of bags and shoes.
We got the rare opportunity to sit down for a one-on-one with the talented designer as he prepares to launch his newest fragrance (debuting spring '13). While we're sworn to secrecy on the scent (for now), we did get him to open up about staying relevant, celebrity fragrances (spoiler: he's not a fan) and the possibility of a makeup line (pretty please?). Read on to get the scoop straight from the man himself.
This past collection of yours has very much been an editor favorite, and it's one that people are saying really goes back to the roots of the brand. How do you stay inspired?
"Well, it's hard when you're…my age. But I feel that in any field, in any career, there's a start, and a middle, and there's an end. And I think when you stay true to what you love but you also keep evolving, I think you just get better at it. And hopefully that's true with my work. I tend to cut out the trends and block out the noise and instead look at things that I find really inspiring — the way that people move on the street, and how people live and present themselves to the world. It says so much about the times, and about people themselves."
In terms of your perfume, is the person wearing your perfume the same person who's wearing your clothing?
"Interestingly enough, I've met quite a few women who are loyalists of the ready-to-wear who are also loyalists of the fragrance, and I think the fragrance For Her is such a great reflection of women who are feminine and sensual. I dress that kind of woman, so there is an overlap. Certainly with fragrance, it is much more accessible to many women who desire to be a part of the club, and it's a great way to experience the brand."
We love how alluring your aesthetic is, but in a pared-down way. How do you translate that into beauty?
"You know, I'm always curious about seduction, which to me is more appealing than something that's overtly sexual. I love that people think of my work as being very sexy and sensual without being overt. And when you meet someone, you remember the scent. You don't remember it because it was overpowering, but because it was so seductive and beautiful. I think when you make an impact in that way, it's always so much more interesting than by beating people over the head with an advertising campaign, or by how loud the color you're wearing is, or how many labels you have on. That discretion and sensuality and mystery…it's just so intoxicating."
What drew you to fragrance?
"I think for some people it's a business decision, and for some people it might be an ego or image-driven decision, but for me, ever since I was very young, I had an appreciation for fragrance and the glamour and beauty of fragrance, and so I really wanted to do it and had dreamt of doing it in different ways. Always. So when I was lucky enough to partner with BPI, I set the goals really high. I had this dream to create this fragrance that was iconic — in its packaging, in its scent, in its purity, and in its newness. Something highly addictive that everyone envied and admired. And BPI took the challenge, and we were able to create For Her. And it has evolved beautifully and very naturally into the Eau de Parfum and the launch of the musk collection, which was a limited edition but was so well-received that we put it on the range as a forever product."
What is your take on the celebrity perfumes? Are they bringing anything to the table?
"Well, it's easier, I imagine, for big fragrance companies to take the name of a teen heartthrob [to make] hundreds of millions of dollars on perfume for teenage girls, once, instead of building [something enduring]...."
In your shows, we've seen you start to veer more toward color and stronger statement makeup. If you're going to do one bold, showy element, are you more into a smoky eye or a bright lip?
"I love a red lip, I love a dark brow. I love a smudged eye."
Any favorites from your shows come to mind?
"It was Fall 2010, I think….hard to keep them straight. When my assistant says 'Fall 2010, Look 15' I'm like, 'how do you remember that?' I can't remember any of that. But we did just straight hair parted in the center with a very dark brow and a very clear complexion. It was very beautiful, very dramatic. And then we went crazy…it's so amazing to have a collaboration with someone like Dick [Page, a makeup artist and Shiseido's artistic director]. We've known each other since we were kids…he started at Calvin, and I was at Calvin, and we've worked together ever since. He's just such a genius. And I can say, 'what if we did this?' And he can take it to ten different places, and give me a better version than I could have ever dreamt of. When we did spring, where we had two different eyes and three different lips. So depending on the outfit, we did the colors of the lips. I love beauty. So many people ask when we're going to launch the beauty…"
Cough, makeup line, cough. Is that anything you've thought about?
"Yeah, I've thought about it ever since I thought about doing a fragrance."
Is that something we might see come to fruition soon?
"I wouldn't hold my breath."
Aw, don't say that! We had a whole vision of Narciso nail polishes, lipsticks…
"It takes a major investment."
Speaking of expansion, you're reaching out into new fields, like the diffusion line at Kohl's. How do you keep that authenticity that we were talking about and translation it into the diffusion line?
"Well, the two company expansions that we launched were bags and shoes, which were designer level and will stay that way. And those I am very proud of as well, as with the fragrance, because they're really great ambassadors. The collaboration with Kohl's that I did was really a one-shot deal. There have been so many opportunities presented to me, and I'm always curious, and I was intrigued by the idea that I could challenge them to make a product that was true to the aesthetic here, as well as the things that we love — quality, fabric, materials, workmanship. I challenged them, and they did a great job. It was a really amazing life experience, to just put on a different hat. I just love that some of the signature pieces of the house were made accessible to a much broader audience. I left my building the other day, and I turned the corner, and there was this really cute girl walking down the street in one of the dresses. She must have thought I was crazy, because the look on my face was like…. It was incredible."
So we can't not talk about Michelle Obama, because she's clearly such a fan of yours. Can you tell us a bit about your experience working with her?
"I see her as such an inspiration. She's intoxicating. As a role model, and a woman of style; I think she's so incredibly beautiful. And she's so unapologetic about her personal style and what she likes. She wears all of it with such dignity and grace. I love that fashion doesn't define her, but she loves it so much and it's such a big part of her life. And that's how it should be."
As far as the inauguration goes, everyone's going to be looking to see what she's wearing. And we're not sure if she's chosen anyone yet…but what would you put her in?
"Um…something as beautiful as she is."
No specific shapes come to mind? No specific colors?
"I'm not divulging any secrets…no, I'd have to put a lot of thought into that — I don't just want to be flippant about it."
Photo: Courtesy of Narciso Rodriguez

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