DRESSCODE: ADOLFO: MASTER OF KNITS

“To make clothes that are long-lasting and with subtle changes from season to season—this is my philosophy.”

Adolfo

Cuban, Adolfo Sardiña was born on February 15, 1923, or 1933 depending on the source. His mother died at childbirth and his father died early during his childhood.  As he told the Miami Herald, he was a “10-year-old orphan living with an elderly aunt who didn’t laugh when her always-sketching nephew said he wanted to go to Paris someday.” He escaped Castro’s regime to do just that, but he would end up designing his best known pieces in America.

He landed in New York in 1948 and found work as an apprentice milliner for Balenciaga at Bergdorf Goodman.  He also apprenticed unpaid for Chanel from 1956-1957. Until 1961, he worked as an independent hatmaker and was somewhat of a Vogue darling, with his designs racking up more than 20 cover credits over three decades. He wasn’t particularly fond of hat making and in 1962, he opened up his salon, where initially he opted to design garments to match his already-established hat collection. As time wore on hats dropped in popularity and so his designs changed with his new outlook being that hats were now an accessory and not a necessity. In the summer of 1966, Adolfo returned to Chanel to serve another unpaid apprenticeship, and openly acknowledged her influence on his work. Adolfo's "Chanel jackets" and knit daywear became best-selling designs from the early 1970s onwards, and a design signature throughout his career. In the early 1970s, inspired by the silhouettes of the 1930s, his designs proved to be popular with scores of ladies like Nancy Reagan, the Duchess of Windsor, Noreen Drexel, and Pat Mosbacher eager to snap them up. Adolfo now stood for knitwear and his cardigan suits.


Nancy Reagan, in Adolfo, with Princess Diana in 1985. Photo by David Levenson. Image source

“An Adolfo lady should look simple, classic, and comfortable."

- Adolfo  


Adolfo with model, 1979. Photo by Susan Wood. Image source

“If Chanel had created clothes that liberated women, then Adolfo made clothes for liberated, well-heeled women.” - Vogue, 1981

 
Taking a page from the 1930s and Coco Chanel, gone now were the fussy extras. Adolfo concentrated on clean lines and subtle shapes with a small nod to power dressing. Bouclé tweed in matching skirt suits was in and it became his "thing" - and they came in every color of the rainbow. Nancy Reagan was such a fan that the term “Reagan Red” was soon applied to anything scarlet that appeared in his designs. This revival of the classic became a classic in Adolfo’s own right, and he branched out to silky daywear and understated evening wear.


In 1993, Adolfo put down the pencils and stopped his fashion designs, he could live comfortably from licensing deals and perfume sales, and he turned his attention to keeping up his palatial palace "Chez Adolfo,” a resplendent duplex in the famed Berwind Mansion in Manhattan. It was supremely elegant like the man himself, decorated with portraits of nobility, baronial furniture, and lashings of “Reagan Red" offset with gold gilding. He lived here happily until 2014 and on November 27, 2021, the man with no last name took his final breath at the age of 98. 

His name still conjures images of ladies clad in elegant dresses, suits, and knitwear, all accessorized with hats, gloves, and slinky low-heeled pumps. 



LEFT:
STRIPED SLEEVELESS TOP
FLORAL BALL SKIRT

RIGHT:
STRIPED SLEEVELESS TOP
BATTALION BOUCLE CARDIGAN JACKET


TOP LEFT:
DENIM SHAWL & SKIRT SET

BOTTOM LEFT:
MINT RIBBON WEAVE KNIT DRESS

RIGHT:
PETER PAN COLLAR KNIT DRESS


LEFT:
STAR STUDDED HALO HAT
GINGHAM TRENCH COAT

RIGHT:
REAGAN RED KNIT DRESS



Source material via: Vogue, WWD, Vintage Everyday