Toronto might not be considered the city of choice for a party to many New York-based designers, but for Robert Rodriguez it is. Back in 2003 when he decided to start his own label, Toronto retailer, TNT, was one of the first to see his sketches. “Arie has been an amazing supporter of mine and that’s why we’re here to celebrate our 10th year, he was the first one to see my collection!” Robert reveals, “He fell in love with it, and it was in Toronto that I actually showed my first collection.”
It’s inside TNT where I meet with Robert for this interview, just before the start of his big night. He is dressed like a chic grunge kid with glowing skin. Myself, I’m in head-to-toe Robert Rodriguez and can only hope my skin looks as good as his. He is warm and charming as we chat together as new friends. Here’s what happened:
GC: 10 years — congrats! What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned from running your own namesake label?
RR: My biggest lesson I’ve learned is to continue and strive for quality. One of the things I’ve learned in my ten years is that the collection has evolved. I’m always looking towards the future to see what I can do better, and I think that’s been the biggest thing throughout the ten years is learning to make sure that the collection evolves.
When we started Robert Rodriguez it was item pieces – it was a lot of cashmere pieces and sweaters. Over the ten years the collection has evolved into a full collection, so I think that’s been my biggest lesson, and I have accomplished it I think!
GC: What advice would you give to new designers stepping into the fashion world today?
RR: To be creative, to follow your dreams, not to give up. Anything is possible! And I think most of all is creativity, I think to stay true to yourself and to your creative inner self.
GC: As an FIT graduate, how important of a role did your schooling play in your career?
RR: Well, my father taught me one thing, he said: “do one thing and do it best.” And I followed that advice, and I would advise that to young people today too. I think that’s my success, to be focused. When I was a young boy, I wanted to be an architect. I wanted to be either an architect or a designer. So I was in that state of mind back then, where I was like “okay, what do I choose? And where am i going to be most successful?” and I said you know what, I’m going to follow my gut feeling and I’m going to follow what I love doing the most, and if you have passion I think you have success.
GC: What do you have to say about working for a couture brand, or an established brand before starting your own?
RR: It’s ironic that I started working for Dior because my mother gave me a Christian Dior book when I was a young boy, I was fourteen. She had a clothing factory back then and my father was a builder. (At the time) I was not sure what direction I wanted to take, and my mother gave me that book, and it was that book on Christian Dior that really inspired me to be a designer.
Going to FIT when I was 18 in New York, I took couture, and my dream was to work for a couturier, but I never thought in a million years that my first job would be for Christian Dior! When I got my first interview — I won the Critics Award — some doors opened up, and some interviews opened up, and my first interview was with Christian Dior. I remember staying up for two weeks working on my portfolio and thinking “I have to get this job! I have to get this job!” because I was so excited. Ironically they hired me on the spot. So that was my first job and I think working at a couture house like that and gaining the experience, I always think it’s instrumental to your career, and I’ve learned so much from that. I think part of the reason that I’m here is because of that, and I apply my knowledge from it into my collections today.
GC: I think a lot of people go into fashion thinking “I want to be a designer!” and that they just want to start their own label, but obviously it’s important to work for someone else too, a big brand or small one…
RR: I think it’s important to learn the business, My advice to any young designer is to learn the trade, really learn the business. Because its really not just about going out there and designing, there’s so much more to it and there’s a business aspect to it. You know when you create your own label its not just designing a collection, but there’s so many components that come with it, and I think that you learn from experience of working for other people and learning the trade.
GC: Have you always wanted to have your own label? Has that always been a part of the dream?
RR: I think every designer’s dream is to have their own label. I was born in Cuba, and I came from a middle class family, so I never imagined in a million years that I would be where I am today… I’m very humbled by it! And lucky! I’ve worked for Dior, and other companies, and it came to a time in my life when my partner said, “I think you need to have your own label” and I said, “really?” and he said “Yes! I think its time for you to do that.” So I think its all about timing and where you are in life that takes you to different places. In 2003 is when I decided to open up my own label, and TNT was one of the first to see my sketches. Arie has been an amazing supporter of mine and that’s why we’re here to celebrate our 10th year, because he was the first one to see my collection! He fell in love with it, and it was in Toronto that I actually showed my first collection.
GC: Who do you design for?
RR: I don’t have a particular woman in my mind when I design, I think when I design its more emotional. I do have an aesthetic of a young downtown girl that’s young and hip, you know, and I always think of that girl. But my age bracket that I sell to is very broad. So it could be a young girl, and it could be a young lady. It really depends on her lifestyle and individuality, and I always try to capture all of those categories (in my collections) because I want everyone to be emotional about the collection and want to wear it, and I don’t think its specifically for a type.
GC: What inspired your fall collection?
RR: One of the things that really inspired me for fall was ‘glam punk’ and I went back to the late 70s and early 80s but I wanted to do glam punk in a modern way. How you would wear it today, so its very reminiscent of that, but not so obvious, and I had a lot of fun with it. Debbie Harry was my inspiration for the collection so I kept her in mind, and I took some archive photos from her and kind of educated myself a little bit more on what she used to wear.
And with that, it was time to party! Cheers to Robert and everyone who joined us at TNT that night, check out photos from the event below: