Adolfo began his career as a milliner in the early 1950s, a time when hat designers were accorded as much respect and attention as dress designers. By 1955 he had received the Coty Fashion award for his innovative, often dramatic hat... [more]
Adolfo began his career as a milliner in the early 1950s, a time when hat designers were accorded as much respect and attention as dress designers. By 1955 he had received the Coty Fashion award for his innovative, often dramatic hat designs for Emmé Millinery. In 1962 Adolfo opened his own salon and began to design clothes to show with his hat collection. During this period, as women gradually began to wear hats less often, Adolfo's hat designs became progressively bolder. His design point of view held that hats should be worn as an accessory rather than a necessity, and this attitude was carried over into his clothing designs as well.
Adolfo's clothes of the late 1960s had the idiosyncratic quality characteristic of the period and, more importantly, each piece stood out on its own as a special item. This concept of design was incongruous with the American sportswear idea of coordinated separates but was consistent with the sensibility of his wealthy customers who regarded clothes, like precious jewelry, as adornments and indicators of their social status. Among the garments that captured the attention of clients and press during this period were felt capes, red, yellow, or purple velvet bolero jackets embroidered with jet beads and black braid, studded lace-up peasant vests, low-cut floral overalls worn over organdy blouses, and extravagant patchwork evening looks.
Adolfo remarked, in 1968, "Today, one has to dress in bits and pieces—the more the merrier." By 1969 he described his clothes as being "for a woman's fun and fantasy moods—I don't think the classic is appealing to people any more." Just one year later, however, he changed his point of view and at the same time increased the focus of his knits, which had been introduced in 1969. In a review of Adolfo's fall 1970 collection, Eugenia Sheppard, writing in the New York Post, declared "he has completely abandoned the costume look of previous years." Adolfo was always responsive to his customers' needs and this sudden change of direction probably reflected their reaction to the social upheavals and excesses of the last years of the 1960s.
By the early 1970s the 1930s look, inspired by films such as Bonnie and Clyde and The Damned, swept over fashion, drowning out the kooky individualism of seasons past. His explorations of this look led Adolfo, in 1973, to hit on what would become his signature item. Taking his cue from Coco Chanel's cardigan style suits of the 1930s, Adolfo translated the textured tweed into a pebbly knit, added a matching silk blouse, and came up with a formula his clients returned to over and over again until his retirement. These revivals of a classic became classics in their own right and the look became associated in America with Adolfo as much as with Chanel. Adolfo's collections were not limited to suits. When other American designers abandoned dresses for day in favor of sportswear separates, Adolfo continued to provide his customers with printed silk dresses appropriate for luncheons and other dressy daytime occasions. Adolfo's clients also relied on him for splendid eveningwear combining luxury with practicality. Typical evening looks included sweater knit tops with full satin or taffeta skirts, fur trimmed knit cardigans, silk pyjamas, and angora caftans.