Adolfo (Sardina) (b. 1933) began his career as a milliner. After an apprenticeship with Balenciaga as a teenager, he moved to New York in 1948 and became an apprentice milliner at Bergdorf Goodman. He worked as a designer for milliner Erik Braagaard in the early 1950s and in 1953 was named head designer at Emme, where he received two awards for his millinery designs—a Coty “young designer” award in 1955, and a Neiman Marcus award, shared with Emme, in 1959. As widely praised as his collections for Emme were, he felt he was not receiving due credit there (his name never appeared on the label) and left in February 1962. Later that year, he opened his own millinery house with a $10,000 loan from Bill Blass.
In 1963 he launched a bridge line, Adolfo Réalités, and a less expensive line, Adolfo II; though he designed the hats for these lines, unlike those for his custom label, they were produced by an outside company. Some of Adolfo’s hats during the early 1960s were designed to accompany the clothing of Norman Norell.
Not long after opening his own millinery house, Adolfo began to design clothing to complement the hats his models wore, and by the mid 1960s his celebrity clients ranged from the Duchess of Windsor, Gloria Vanderbilt, and Betsy Bloomingdale to Jackie Kennedy Onassis and Nancy Reagan (who wore a red Adolfo dress, currently in the Smithsonian, to her husband’s second inaugural ball). His custom clothing was available both in his salon and in the Adolfo boutique at Saks Fifth Avenue.
Though by the 1980s he was best known for his ladylike, Chanel-inspired cardigan suits, in the 1960s Adolfo’s designs were playful and even flamboyant. He won a second, special Coty Award in 1969 for his head to toe women’s design. His licensed lines in the 1970s included menswear, scarves, perfume and wigs, and in 1985 he introduced Adolfo Atelier, a lower priced women’s sportswear line. In 1993 he retired from custom design to focus on his licensed businesses.
Written by Cur.io Vintage
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