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Serenity Now

Last fall, Narciso Rodriguez was faced with a daunting reality. Despite having earned his status within New York's fashion establishment over the past decade, Rodriguez was struggling to make ends meet. There wasn't much money to buy the fabrics...

The designer, whose name was put on the global fashion map when he designed the wedding dress for the late Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy in 1996, honed his craft at Calvin Klein before designing for Tse New York, Cerruti and Loewe. Over the years, though, the relationship with partner Aeffe soured, and Rodriguez endured a lengthy and muchcovered search for new backers, all while having to contend with stories about possible new design gigs on his horizon. At different times, there were rumors of the designer taking over the creative helm at Giorgio Armani, Gucci and St. John-all of which, true or false, just served to underscore how highly regarded Rodriguez was in industry circles.

"It's a very difficult business if you don't have the right partner and financial people behind you or people who really care for you," Rodriguez says. "I am a designer. I take full responsibility. I did it. I chose the wrong people. I can't cry over the past and don't look at it as time wasted. I look at it as part of the history of my career in design. I look at it as a 10-year anniversary as much as I am closing the door on something that could have been much better with the right people in place. But, hey, that didn't happen, so I am looking at it more as the first anniversary of the future. I am opening the door to the future now."

That future has been made possible with the help of Liz Claiborne, which paid $12 million for a 50 percent stake in the designer's name and trademarks in May, and vowed to help turn the business ultimately into a $100 million brand by offering resources and financial support. The brand currently generates about $10 million a year. Rodriguez admits that working on the spring show with the support of the apparel behemoth made the process an altogether different experience from previous seasons. "We hadn't had any support before for the show," he says. "We paid for it ourselves, so I always had to work to find sponsorships. All the other jobs I'd had before disappeared. I didn't have to worry about dealing with the accountant every day. [LCI] are making sure that everything is working for us."
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