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Dress Designer Has N.O. Niche Sewed Up…Fashion Quiz: How Much Is That Doggy In The Window?

Dress Designer Has N.O. Niche Sewed Up

Ana Gershanik

2 September 2004
Copyright © 2004 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.


California's loss was Louisiana's gain when Puerto Rican-born fashion designer Raoul Blanco moved to New Orleans two years ago to install his haute-couture studio at 1522 St. Charles Ave.

Blanco's creations reflect the elegance and savoir-faire of his cultural heritage. He uses exquisite designers' fabrics such as Valentino, Ungaro and others to create feminine clothes from casual ware to ball gowns "that enhance a woman's personality and physique without overpowering her," he said.

At a recent visit to his studio, Blanco was working with a beautiful Valentino black organza decorated with tulle bows and red roses to make one of the dresses that he will present at the New Orleans Opera Association Women's Guild's Promenade de l'Opera. Titled "Couture Magnifique," the luncheon will be held Sept. 28 at noon in the Armstrong Ballroom of the Sheraton New Orleans Hotel. Blanco will introduce his spring collection 2005 showcasing custom designs with the highest quality workmanship and luxurious fabrics.

Born in San Juan, Blanco was attracted to fashion design at a young age, when he would look at fashion magazines at his aunt's home. At 7, he began to sketch designs in the back of his notebooks during class. Growing up at a time when it was not seen as proper for a man to sew, he tried to hide his inclinations from his father. During his high school years, he attended the Luchetti Art School in Puerto Rico, where he trained in painting and drawing while he continued to teach himself how to sew and sketched clothing designs. He was discovered by top Puerto Rican designer Carlota Alfaro, who became Blanco's mentor and taught him the principal techniques of haute couture.

In the early 1980s, Blanco moved to New York, where he worked as a freelancer for several designers and furthered his fashion design education. After a successful sale of his designs to Henri Bendel, Blanco continued to sell his designs to well-known stores in New York. In the mid-1990s, he moved to California, establishing a studio in the Napa Valley and developing his own clientele with great success.

"My ladies," he said, referring to his customers, "influence my designs and choice of fabrics."

Currently, Blanco's customers from out of state come to New Orleans or he flies to their homes to work with them in making their garments. He employs local seamstresses as well as others in Los Angeles and contracts first-class beaders and embroiderers. He has another studio in Mandeville, where he also lives, but he sees customers only at his St. Charles Avenue studio. Aside from his work, he is the proud father of three and grandfather of three.

"I love New Orleans and the culture of this city," said Blanco, who also likes how New Orleans women wear their clothes, hats and accessories. "More glamour than New York women," he said.

The quality of Blanco's work was recognized by Kathleen Blanco (no relation to fashion designer) when she commissioned him to make the suit and gown for the 2004 inaugural celebrations upon becoming Louisiana's first woman governor. Blanco sees customers by appointment only, and he can be contacted at 581-4483.

The opera luncheon featuring Blanco's couture will be preceded by a champagne patron reception. The cost of the event is $50 per person and $75 for patrons. All proceeds will benefit the New Orleans Opera Association. For reservations and further information, call 488-1822

Fashion Quiz: How Much Is That Doggy In The Window?


August 25 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE MIAMI HERALD. All rights reserved.

Flavia Ullivarri runs the Harmont & Blaine in Coral Gables, the Italian line's first U.S. store. PATRICK FARRELL/HERALD STAFF

The alligator. The guy on a horse playing polo. The new cool-shirt status animal for the styling man about town?

The dachshund.

It's the signature logo of Harmont & Blaine, the Euro-prepster men's sportswear shop that opened last month at the Village of Merrick Park in Coral Gables.

Harmont & Blaine. Doesn't ring a bell? Probably not, if you've never left the United States. This is the first store to hit our continent.

Assistant manager Manuel Jimenez tidily sums up Miami's latest destination for dudes in the know: ``We run the gamut. Italian-made clothes with a British name and German logo.''

Headquartered in Naples, Italy, where the owners, the Mennetti family, still reside, 15-year-old H&B already has established a foothold throughout resort-chic spots around Italy's Boot -- Capri, Forte dei Marmi, Viareggio -- as well as in sophisticated hubs Lisbon, Taipei and Shanghai.

So why not, say, a city like New York for its entree?

''If this concept was going to work somewhere, it was here,'' says store director Flavia Ullivarri, former operations manager for Ermenegildo Zegna, Bal Harbour. ``Miami's so multicultural and cosmopolitan.''

And jet-setting. One South Floridian frequent flier couldn't wait for the place to open -- literally.

''We had a guy knocking on the door one morning before we even opened,'' Jimenez says. 'We were stunned. I was like, `I didn't know this was so popular.' ''

The space itself, on the second level of the open-air mall, is cheerful, breezy and intentionally spare.

''We want the clothes to stand out, not the store as much,'' says Ullivarri, a 39-year-old Hato Rey, Puerto Rico, native.

Impatient shoppers -- sound like someone you know? -- will find solace in the color-coordinated setup. H&B doesn't know from mix-and-match: Entire outfits are pieced together -- a lime-green-and-navy polo paired up with the exact-hue lime-green crewneck sweater tied about the neck, matched with navy slacks. Voil: Instant outfit.

The only color you won't see: black. Plainly not welcome here.

''This is the spring/summer collection, and we'll hold onto bright colors because it's Miami,'' says Ullivarri.

Everything seems to be working out accordingly.

''Everyone who comes in here buys,'' she says. ``We already have repeat customers.''

Especially those who have -- you got it -- dachshunds.

''A little kid was in here,'' Jimenez recounts, 'and screamed, `That's Copper, Mommy!' That was the name of his dog.''

Mom subsequently dropped about $2,000 on loot for her husband.

But you can spend less than that: from $60 for a sporty T to $800 for a caramel suede jacket as soft as virgin olive oil.

''We use fine gauge cotton and linen from Solbiate, Italy, also where Loro Piana gets its linen,'' Ullivarri says. ``It's the best in the world.''

Sure seems like it. Even the most casual of shoppers need only brush a few digits over a dreamy sea-blue oxford with denim cuffs ($135) or hand-stitched yachtsman-meets-

Yalie, navy-and-cream-striped leisure jacket ($385) to see she's serious.

Although Harmont & Blaine caters to 18-and-over men, women may want to check out the cool selection of towels ($105) with soft cotton piping sold with a fancy ergonomic pillow ($65) and nautical backpacks ($45).

A plus: A 30 percent off sale to bring in autumn merchandise starts Sunday and will run through Sept. 6.

Just look for the little furry guy with short legs.

Harmont & Blaine, Village of Merrick Park, 330 S. Lorenzo Ave, No. 2310, Village of Merrick Park. Hours: Monday-Saturday, 10-9; Sunday, 12-6. 305-444-4220,

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