10.15.2014

TFW 2014 Industry Icon Joey Rodolfo

Though he’s a 33-year-veteran of the fashion industry, Joey Rodolfo didn’t start out with dreams of becoming a successful designer.

“When I was 7, my uncle, who was a music composer and arranger, encouraged me to become a drummer,” Rodolfo explains. “So I thought I might become a musician. But I also loved drawing as a kid and I read a lot of architectural books. I believed in Frank Lloyd Wright so much that I adopted his philosophy about nature and ‘form follows function’—and that inspired me to try building architectural tree houses.”

His first steps down the road toward design began in third grade, when his teacher, Mrs. Baffert, saw some of his artwork and believed in his artistic talent enough to strongly encourage him to keep developing it. So he did. And by the time he reached high school, he had begun designing his own tailor-made suits.

Recognizing his gifts as a designer, Joey’s aunt, who was in the apparel business, encouraged him to consider a career in the industry. Taking her encouragement, he launched his first collection in Los Angeles under the name "Life Guard.” During Life Guard Joey was commissioned to design the first NFL sportswear collection in Japan; which is where he became firmly committed to working architectural details into his designs.

Joey was soon hired as head men’s designer at Catalina Swimwear. In 1984, he was recruited to become the Men's Design Director for the newly formed Union Bay sportswear company in Seattle. Then, in 1987, Joey started down a new road of entrepreneurialism, co-founding and guiding the success of several apparel companies, including Bench Company, Cutter & Buck, JR 1879, and Resort Two, a luxury men’s and women’s sportswear company known for outfitting the 2001 Ryder Cup.

In the middle of his career, Joey traveled to Italy to study not only design, but also renaissance art. It was there that he was re-inspired by his mantra that ‘classic is simple and simple always remains classic.’

“I start designing a garment from the inside out – interior to the exterior,” he explains. “I have a very unique approach that involves combining simple pattern lines and complicated sewing techniques. To accomplish that, I have to rely not only on sewing machines, but on talented seamstresses as well—they’re the ones who can actually create the magic of my garments.”

In 2004, Callaway hired Joey to help re-launch Callaway men's and women's apparel collections. In partnership with Richard C. Helmstetter, the inventor of Big Bertha, Joey created the X-series apparel and helped introduce the collection worldwide.  

In 2005, one of Joey's closest friends, Lucio Dalla Gasperina, asked him to join him at Tommy Bahama and help navigate a new path for the brand. Joey saw an opportunity to launch a new swimwear division under the "Relax" by Tommy Bahama label. For the last 10 years, he has served as the VP of Men’s Design and has been instrumental in helping to re-position the brand.

Maybe it’s not surprising that a man that grew up inspired by architecture and music would become a menswear innovator with a reputation for artfully infusing color and sophisticated details - but Joey wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Joey Rodolfo will be at the Garden Party at the Tucson Botanical Gardens this Friday. A special retrospective of his work will be shown.

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