With his spirited and unexpected approach to design, Roberto Robledo brought a new excitement to contemporary American sportswear during his short, yet impactive, fashion design career and life.
His unique ability reached beyond the conventional design boundaries that became the basis for his bold, signature style. "My most exciting work comes from allowing the fabric to dictate my design," Roberto was quoted as saying during the height of his career in the late 1980's. "My limits are not set by what has been done before, but rather by what each new fabric will allow me to explore."
Innovative and daring, Robledo's designs received national acclaim and recognition. But, for the late San Francisco-based designer, who passed away in mid-1992, the focus went beyond personal success. Not only did his work help to establish San Francisco as a growing West Coast design center during the 80's, but Roberto was also an influential participant in the development of California's Contemporary identity.
Born in Manizales, Colombia, Roberto first came to the United States at the age of ten when his family relocated to Miami. Fascinated by the constant visual activity of this Southern city, his interest in fashion began to develop at an early age. At eighteen, in 1973, he was accepted into the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, where his talents soon led him into the area of fashion design. From his first exposure to textile design, Robledo was completely absorbed in the complexity and limitless variations of fabric, a fascination that continued to be the focal point of his clothing throughout his lifelong career.
The rapid rise of Roberto Robledo's professional career began in 1975, after graduating from F.I.T., as an assistant designer at Les Elles Murrels, a Junior Sportswear manufacturer. From there, he moved to Girl Town, another Junior line. In 1976, with a rapidly growing reputation as a creative and diligent designer, he was named head designer for Lynn Bowling, where he was also in charge of production, as well as the entire aspect of the business.
In 1977, Roberto began business under his own label, designing better sportswear for women and later adding a menswear line. In late 1977, Roberto merged with Patricia Field, one of America's innovators of New Wave fashion, and another partner to form G-Method, a high-tech unisex fashion line. His innovative design concept was based upon the use of industrial fabrics and design and modernistic dressing that translated into casual streetwear fashions for men and women. Roberto was one of, if not the very first, clothing designer to incorporate innovative, brightly-colored fabrics, like Tyvek and Polyurethane, which are washable, colorfast, non-woven, spun fibers, that regulate body temperature, into clothing designs.
Additionally, early signature designs consisted of high-tech fabrics, ScotchLight, rubber, and Lycra-based products, featuring large industrial zippers, metal, grommets, snaps, and Velcro - elements no other designer had prioritized as fashion elements up until that date.
Roberto Robledo unique designs became a staple for the company and were worn by numerous MTV video artists of the era, such as Cindy Lauper, The Thompson Twins, Joan Jett, Madonna, Klaus Nomi, and actresses such as Sophia Loren and Julie Newmar. His influence continued to be seen in fashion design throughout the 80's in clothing worn by other leading MTV artists and rock musicians of the era, such as Duran Duran, Loverboy, Devo, and countless others. Roberto's unique designs were so extraordinary, the influence of Roberto's innovative styles literally changed fashion and revolutionized the fashion industry.
G-Method enjoyed recognition and success in national publications like Harper's Bazaar, GQ, Mademoiselle and the NY Daily News and was sold through Macy's NY, Fiorucci, Ann Taylor LA, The Emporium SF and countless boutiques across the country.
The overwhelming response to his new approach for dressing made a major stir in fashion and G-Method received both critical acclaim for both its designs and talented designers. His nylon parachute jumpsuit, which was to become a Robledo trademark, vaulted him into the public eye.
After three years, with a yearning to return to the luxury of natural fibers, and more streamlined designs, Robledo again struck out on his own in 1980.
Once offering very advanced fashion sportswear that boarded on "Club Scene", "Punk", and "New Wave", Roberto's new architectural design concepts used geometric lines and shapes, to create modern, day-to-day clothing with multiple functions that were softer, cleaner, and more comprehensible in look. This was in part to his fabric choices. Heavy nylon and dazzle were replaced by luxurious fabrics of all natural fibers, such as silk crepe de chine, silk broadcloth, silk and wool, and subtle brushed cottons. Roberto quickly developed a reputation for transforming traditional fabrics into updated, defined silhouettes with superb attention to detail and construction. Additionally, Roberto Robledo was the originator of the Funnel Neck, as well as the Bandit Neck, design feature, the latter of which could be fashioned into five unique looks.
Because of the minimal design approach, he paid very close attention to details and his design appeal was not so much to an age group, but top a certain fashion-conscious customer.
Working closely with buyers, he was able to produce exclusives for major department stores and specialty shops throughout the country through his sales representatives in New York, Miami, Los Angeles and Atlanta.
Now, one of New York fashion's brightest new stars, Robledo continued to thrive professionally in Manhattan's design community. But, the hard-edged, fast-paced life in America's largest city was becoming increasingly less fulfilling. In 1982, firmly established in his design career, Robledo moved his operation to San Francisco, California.
While continuing to build his national reputation, Robledo quickly became one of California's stars, as well. His enthusiasm for the natural beauty and relaxed lifestyle of the Bay Area was equaled only by San Francisco's pride in claiming this talented new young designer as its own. A two-time winner of San Francisco Focus Magazine's "Golden Shears" award for design excellence, Robledo was installed in the magazine's Hall of Fame in 1987. A leader in the city's fashion industry, his personal style was also recognized by Focus Magazine when he was added to their Best Dressed List in 1986. Nominated for the California Apparel Mart's "Marty" award in both 1985 and 1986, he has continued to meet with the success on both a local and national level.
Roberto's versatility was evident in the range of his designs - from the clean and modern to the body-conscious and trendy. His collections were sold nationwide, in Nordstrom, Bonwit Teller, Macys and Bloomingdales.
Bursting with the creative energy, Roberto's multi-level studio in San Francisco's offbeat SOMA district was characteristic of the designer's enthusiasm for life and his work. Local graffiti artists covered the building with urban images while inside each new collection took shape on mannequins and cutting tables. The tumultuous activity of assistants, pattern makers and even two frisky Dalmatians created a hectic, yet informal, environment in which everyone thrived. "After all," remarks Robledo, "just because it's work doesn't mean it shouldn't be fun."
Roberto Robledo, President and Founder of the company that bore his name, passed away in 1992. The Roberto Robledo company remained in business and was operated by Roberto's business partner, Larry Taylor, until mid-2003, when he closed the company and retired. Up until the day the company closed, Roberto Robledo continued to design contemporary clothing and thrived despite the market's unpredictable tastes.
Many of Roberto's designs paved the way for other fashion designers that seized on his unique futuristic designs that have once again come back into vogue. The resurgence and interest in 80's club clothing is gaining momentum and its peak of interest is still years away. Robledo's other beloved architectural clothing designs, like the work of other artisans such as Frank Lloyd Wright, will remain timeless.
The Roberto Robledo brand name and approximately 2,000 clothing designs are available for sale and license. Any clothing manufacturer wishing to seize on a well-regarded West Coast clothing brand name and thousands of existing patterns can tool up and be in production in approximately one month. Those interested parties are invited to contact Roberto Robledo's representative, Christopher Buttner at firstname.lastname@example.org or tel: 415-233-7350