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Robinson, Patrick

Patrick Robinson

1966—

Fashion designer

Designer Patrick Robinson was heralded by fashion industry insiders as a star in the making after designing for some of the premier names in American and European sportswear, as well as launching a collection under his own name. "Watch this guy," declared Jennifer Jackson and Andrea Linett in Harper's Bazaar in 1998. "He has the potential for first-name designer status." A brief stint with the fashion house Perry Ellis International ended badly in 2004, and another with Paco Rabanne failed to reinvigorate the brand, but Robinson continued to have a loyal following of customers who appreciated the approach he took in his own collection. By May of 2007 the American public was familiar enough with his name and reputation that the discount retailer Target—long known for being both affordable and fashion-forward—featured Robinson in its GO International line, which is meant to appeal to a hip, young audience. From there Robinson was drafted as head designer to resuscitate the ailing Gap clothing chain. His ascent at Gap was greeted with a mix of enthusiasm and skepticism.

Interested in Fashion during Teen Years

Robinson was born in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1966, but he grew up southeast of Los Angeles, California, in the affluent area of Orange County. His father was a doctor, and Robinson, one in a family of five children, went to high school in Fullerton and worked at the Nordstrom department store at the Cerritos mall as a teen. He told Rose-Marie Turk in the Los Angeles Times that he grew up in a fashion-conscious family. His parents, he said, "subscribed to every magazine in the world and we had a big library." Besides working at the mall, Robinson also loved to surf, and he began his own line of surf wear. He decided to pursue a career as a fashion designer in earnest when he saw a film that featured homegrown American talent such as Calvin Klein and Jeffrey Banks.

Robinson was accepted into the renowned Parsons School of Design in New York City, and he also spent time at the American College in Paris. While there, he worked as first assistant for an up-and-coming young African-American designer named Patrick Kelly. After finishing school, Robinson worked for the design houses Albert Nippon and Herman Geist, and was hired by noted Italian designer Giorgio Armani for his bridge line, Le Collezioni. He got the job only when he agreed to start the next day and had to fly to Italy on extremely short notice. He completed an entire season's worth of clothes just ten days after arriving. "I've done a lot at a young age, but I pushed myself hard, and I gave up a lot of my personal life for my work," Robinson admitted to Julia Chance in Essence.

Robinson recognized that being associated with the Armani name was an invaluable experience. "In the '90s, Robinson was responsible for many of the Giorgio Armani power suits that female big shots have relied upon when dealmaking and strong-arming," wrote Robin Givhan in the Washington Post. In late 1994 he was wooed away from Le Collezioni by the Japanese owners of the Anne Klein Collection. The New York-based design house was one of the top purveyors of classic executive gear for American women, but had fallen on hard times during the 1990s. Its image had suffered as its look grew to be considered a bit too staid. The company had hired Hollywood designer Richard Tyler to revitalize it, but the move backfired and the collection was critiqued as too young and too sexy for the true Anne Klein loyalist. Tyler was unceremoniously fired from the collection in late 1994 after sales plummeted, and Robinson, still a relative unknown in the industry, was brought on board.

Became Head Designer for Fashion Collection

When he arrived back in New York to take over, Robinson found himself the head designer of a major collection at the age of only twenty-eight—yet among his predecessors at Anne Klein there had been equal novices: Donna Karan was just twenty-six when she took the same job in 1973. "This is the only company in America where you can become head designer and really be the designer," Robinson told Chance. The first few weeks were rough, however. He was introduced to baffled staff in the company showroom in a private meeting, and as he recalled in an interview with Kim France in Harper's Bazaar, he faced "a bunch of frowning little monsters." One witness to the meeting, Virginia Smith, then head of public relations for the company, told France that the young designer "looked slightly mortified to be in front of this group of people, and I thought, I feel kind of sorry for him."

Just before the debut of his first collection for Anne Klein, Robinson termed himself "28 going on 50" in an interview with Turk. However, he loved being back on familiar territory after years abroad. "This is the best country on Earth," he told Turk. "Everything works, I'm the only person, I think, walking around New York grinning." Yet some suspected that Anne Klein, after its Tyler debacle, was a sinking ship. Robinson recalled about this time "that it was almost more important for me to focus on bettering the name," as he told Harper's Bazaar, and because of this, he and Smith spent a great deal of time strategizing. A romance eventually blossomed, which they kept secret for as long as they could.

Meanwhile, Robinson dedicated himself to making the Anne Klein Collection a success. With his first collection of clothes, he visited several cities and held seminars with store executives and sales personnel that showed what Turk termed a return to the true Anne Klein look: "safe, sexy, understated, finely tailored day and evening wear in luxurious fabrics." Reviews were mixed: "There are some who think that Patrick Robinson is in way over his head," sniped Women's Wear Daily in a late 1995 issue that previewed the spring 1996 designer lines. Robinson's third collection for Anne Klein was not even shipped to stores when Japanese executives decided to close the Anne Klein Collection (its lower-priced line, Anne Klein II, was still commercially successful).

At a Glance …

Born on September 8, 1966, in Memphis, TN; married Virginia Smith (in public relations and marketing); children: Wyeth. Education: Received degree from Parsons School of Design; also attended the American College in Paris.

Career: Worked at Nordstrom department store, Cerritos, CA, mid-1980s; affiliated with designer Patrick Kelly, Paris, and with design houses Albert Nippon and Herman Geist, 1980s; Le Collezioni White Label by Giorgio Armani, Turin, Italy, design director, 1990-94; Anne Klein Collection, New York City, designer, 1994-96; launched own collection, 1997-2003; Perry Ellis International, creative director, 2003-04; Paco Rabanne, Paris, artistic director, 2005-07; featured designer for Target Corporation's GO International line, May 2007; Gap Inc., San Francisco, CA, executive vice president for design, 2007—.

Addresses: Office—Gap Inc. Headquarters, Two Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94105.

Launched His Own Line of Clothing

Fortunately for Robinson, his paramour was still gainfully employed—Smith had been offered a job at Calvin Klein shortly before the dark day of the announcement. Out of a job, Robinson traveled through Asia for several weeks as a tonic. When he returned, he set up a design house in his New York City loft, hired a staff, and began courting backers. A line of clothing finally bearing his own name was launched for the fall/winter season of 1997 after Robinson signed a deal with the Italian manufacturer Coba. He was rather fortunate in light of the terms of the agreement: Coba, based near Urbino, did not invest in his company and receive a controlling interest, but rather gave him a break on the costs of manufacturing the clothes in return for a promise that the designer would stay with the firm when his business grew successful. "We think Patrick is a very talented designer, even if he didn't have a brilliant experience at Anne Klein," Domenico Toselli, Coba's sole director, told Samantha Conti in Women's Wear Daily. "He's young and good, and we want to give him a hand," Toselli continued.

Robinson's first trunk show sold $65,000 the first day at Saks Jandel in Washington, DC. He presented Asian-influenced sportswear carrying price tags ranging from $125 to $1,000. Givhan praised the debut collection and noted the line was lacking the standard "high-concept theme" that most designers attempt. She wrote, "He simply has created beautiful garments in brushed alpaca, nubuck, python and pony…. The clothes have shelf life and relevance."

The Asian mood of his first collection fit in perfectly with a late-1990s vibe. His catalysts, Robinson told Givhan, would always be global. Theorizing about his "signature look," he said it would always reflect "something about adventure, something with lots of cultures mixed in." He explained to Givhan that "I'm looking not only to America for inspiration, but the world…. I'm a black man and I love being that. I love being different than other people. That's part of it, too." Early in 1998 Robinson was able to move out of his Soho loft into a separate workspace on Wooster Street. There he continued creating lines under his own name, which were sold at such high-end retailers as Barney's, Bergdorf Goodman, and Neiman Marcus.

Experienced Mixed Success in Fashion World

In 2003 Robinson was offered the position of creative director of Perry Ellis International, which he readily accepted. "I am truly enthusiastic about this exciting opportunity. The Perry Ellis name has always epitomized for me what American sportswear is," Robinson announced. However, the union was to be short lived. Reaction to Robinson's first two seasons of designs for Perry Ellis was generally good, and retail outlets where the collection was sold were pleased with sales. In July of 2004 New York Times fashion reporter Ruth La Ferla quoted Ed Burstell, vice president and general manager of the upscale New York-based department store Henri Bendel, as saying of Robinson's designs, "They were exactly what was needed to blow the dust off the brand." However, La Ferla suggested that Burstell's opinion was not widely shared by those in the fashion community, and in December of 2004 she reported that Robinson had left the company after "six months of fraught negotiations over creative control of the brand." More to the point, according to La Ferla, Robinson's designs simply did not appeal to the mass-market audience Perry Ellis wanted to target. "A former Perry Ellis executive, who still works in the industry and insisted on not being named, termed Mr. Robinson's stint at the company an outright disaster, charging that he had catered exclusively to an elite circle of buyers and editors."

In the meantime, Robinson had married Virginia Smith, who had taken a position as market editor at Vogue and had given birth to the couple's son, Wyeth, in 2003. When Robinson took his next job, as artistic director of the fashion house Paco Rabanne, it meant a move to Paris and regular commutes to New York City to see his family. By most accounts, Robinson's tenure at Paco Rabanne was successful. He was praised for designing collections that were luxurious and wearable but with a nod to the fashion house's edgy, innovative past use of elements such as chain mail and plastic. Nonetheless, his line was shut down after just three seasons. After that Robinson designed a limited-edition line for the popular discount retailer Target, which was especially well received by the store's younger shoppers. Still, Robinson could not resist the next challenge, when he was courted by the Gap to help revive its brand, which had been steadily losing its youth market since the 1990s to stores such as Abercrombie and Fitch and H&M.

Gap Inc.'s decision to bring on Robinson was not without controversy, but observers agreed that something had to be done. The company's sales had dipped dramatically. According to MarketWatch, the Gap's 2007 holiday sales fell 8 percent, with net sales falling 4 percent. There was even speculation that the company might be ripe for a takeover. In August of 2008 EricWilson wrote in the New York Times, "On the one hand, the company has continued to report weak sales, including an 11 percent drop last month in stores open at least a year, and on Tuesday, Brand Keys, a research consultancy, announced that Gap ranked last in customer loyalty. On the other, some retail analysts long critical of Gap's merchandising efforts and management choices have joined the chorus that is singing Mr. Robinson's praises." Whether or not Robinson's presence would make a difference to the company's financials—or its fashions—remained to be seen as of the fall of 2008.

Sources

Periodicals

Essence, September 1995, p. 22.

Harper's Bazaar, March 1998; June 1998.

Los Angeles Times, June 29, 1995, p. E1.

MarketWatch, January 4, 2007.

New York Times, July 13, 2004; December 12, 2004; August 20, 2008; August 21, 2008.

Washington Post, August 21, 1997, p. F3.

Women's Wear Daily, December 21, 1994, p. 8; March 1, 1995, p, 8; August 8, 1995, p. G8; November 2, 1995, p. 6; January 7, 1997, p. 2; January 28, 1997, p. 6.

Online

"Gap Inc. Names Patrick Robinson Head of Design of Gap Adult, Gapbody," Gap Inc., http://www.gapinc.com/public/Media/Press_Releases/med_pr_PatrickRobinson052307.shtml (accessed November 4, 2008).

—Carol Brennan and Nancy Dziedzic

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Robinson, Patrick 1966–

Patrick Robinson 1966

Fashion designer

Donna Karans Footsteps

A Difficult Experience

A Successful Launch

Sources

Before he turned 30, Patrick Robinson was designing collections for one of the premier names in American sportswear. When the line folded, however, Robinson found himself out of work but with a headful of ideas. The obvious talent that had helped him secure such a plum job in the first place also helped him land a deal with an apparel manufacturer to produce his own line; then the business-savvy designer worked out of his home for several months to produce and show a collection finally under his own name, which was met with positive reviews. Watch this guy, declared Harpers Bazaar writers Jennifer Jackson and Andrea Linett. He has the potential for first-name designer status.

Robinson was born in Memphis in 1966, but grew up southeast of Los Angeles in the affluent area of Orange County. His father was a doctor, and Robinson, one in a family of five, went to high school in Fullerton and worked at the Nordstrom department store at the Cerritos mall as a teen. It was a fashion-conscious family, he told Rose-Marie Turk of the Los Angeles Timeshis parents, he said, subscribed to every magazine in the world and we had a big library. In addition to working at the mall, Robinson also loved to surf, and began his own line of surferwear. He decided to pursue a career as a fashion designer in earnest when he saw a film that featured such homegrown American talent as Calvin Klein and Jeffrey Banks.

Robinson was accepted into the renowned Parsons School of Design in New York City, and also spent time at the American College in Paris. While there, he worked for an up-and-coming young African American designer named Patrick Kelly as his first assistant. After finishing school, Robinson worked for the design houses Albert Nippon and Herman Geist, and was hired by noted Italian designer Giorgio Armani for his bridge line, Le Collezioni. He got the job only when he agreed to start the next day, and had to fly to Italy on extremely short notice. He completed an entire seasons worth of clothes just ten days after arriving. Ive done a lot at a young age, but I pushed myself hard, and I gave up a lot of my personal life for my work, Robinson admitted to Julia Chance in Essence.

Donna Karans Footsteps

Being associated with the Armani name, Robinson recognized, was an invaluable experience. In the 90s,

At a Glance

Born September 8, 1966, in Memphis, TN. Education: Received degree from Parsons School of Design; also attended the American College in Paris.

Career: Worked at Nordstrom department store, Cerritos, CA, mid-1980s; affiliated with designer Patrick Kelly, Paris, and with design houses Albert Nippon and Herman Geist, all 1980s; Le Collezioni White Label by Giorgio Armani, Turin, Italy, design director, c. 1990-94; Anne Klein Collection, New York City, designer, 1994-96; launched own collection, 1997.

Addresses: Office Patrick Robinson, Inc., 84 Wooster St., Suite 205, New York, NY 10012.

Robinson was responsible for many of the Giorgio Armani power suits that female big shots have relied upon when dealmaking and strong-arming, wrote the Washington Posts Robin Givhan. In late 1994, he was wooed away from Le Collezioni by the Japanese owners of the Anne Klein Collection. The New York-based design house was one of the top purveyors of classic executive gear for American women, but in the 1990s had fallen on hard times. Its image had suffered as its look grew to be considered a bit too staid. The company had hired a Hollywood designer, Richard Tyler, to revitalize it, but the move backfired and the collection was critiqued as too young, too sexy, for the true Anne Klein loyalist. Tyler was unceremoniously fired from the Collection in late 1994 after sales plummeted, and Robinson, still a relative unknown in the industry, was brought on board.

When he arrived back in New York to take over, Robinson found himself the head designer of a major collection at the age of only 28yet among his predecessors at Anne Klein there had been equal novices: Donna Karan was just 26 when she took the same job in 1973. This is the only company in America where you can become head designer and really be the designer, Robinson told Chance in Essence. The first few weeks were rough, however: he was introduced to baffled staff in the company showroom in a private meeting, and as he recalled in an interview with Kim France in Harpers Bazaar, he faced a bunch of frowning little monsters. One witness to the meeting, Virginia Smith, then head of public relations for the company, told France that the young designer looked slightly mortified to be in front of this group of people, and I thought, I feel kind of sorry for him.

A Difficult Experience

Just before the debut of his first collection for Anne Klein, Robinson termed himself 28 going on 50 in an interview with Turk in the Los Angeles Times. But he loved being back on familiar territory after years abroad. This is the best country on Earth, he told Turk. Everything works, Im the only person, I think, walking around New York grinning. Yet some suspected that Anne Klein, after its Tyler debacle, was a sinking ship. Robinson recalled about this time that it was almost more important for me to focus on bettering the name, as he told Harpers Bazaar, and because of this, he and Smith spent a great deal of time strategizing. A romance eventually blossomed, one that they kept secret for as long as they could.

Meanwhile, Robinson dedicated himself to making Anne Klein Collection a success: with his first collection of clothes, he visited several cities and held seminars with store executives and sales personnel that showed what Turk termed a return to the true Anne Klein look: safe, sexy, understated, finely tailored day and evening wear in luxurious fabrics. Reviews were mixed: There are some who think that Patrick Robinson is in way over his head, sniped Womens Wear Daily in a late 1995 issue that previewed the Spring 1996 designer lines. But Robinsons third collection for Anne Klein was not even shipped to stores when Japanese executives decided to close the Anne Klein Collection (its lower-priced line, Anne Klein II, was still commercially successful.)

Fortunately for Robinson, his paramour was still gainfully employedSmith had been offered a job at Calvin Klein shortly before the dark day of the announcement. Out of a job, Robinson traveled through Asia for several weeks as a tonic. Upon his return, he hired a staff and set up a design house in his New York City loft, and began courting backers. A line of clothing finally bearing his own name was launched for the fall/winter season of 1997 after Robinson signed a deal with an Italian manufacturer, Coba. He was rather fortunate in light of the terms of the agreement: Coba, based near Urbino, Italy did not invest in his company and receive a controlling interest, but rather gave him a break on the costs of manufacturing the clothes in return for a promise that the designer would stay with their firm when his business grew successful. We think Patrick is a very talented designer, even if he didnt have a brilliant experience at Anne Klein, Domenico Toselli, Cobas sole director, told Womens Wear Dailys Samantha Conti. Hes young and good, and we want to give him a hand, Toselli continued.

A Successful Launch

Robinsons first trunk show sold $65,000 the first day at Saks Jandel in Washington, D.C. He presented Asian-influenced sportswear carrying price tags ranging from $125 to $1000. Givhan praised the debut collection, and she noted the line was lacking the standard high-concept theme that most designers attempt, as she reported in the Washington Post. He simply has created beautiful garments in brushed alpaca, nubuck, python and pony. The clothes have shelf life and relevance, she wrote.

The Asian mood of his first collection fit in perfectly with a late nineties vibe. His catalysts, Robinson told Givhan, would always be global. Theorizing about his signature look, he said it would always reflect something about adventure, something with lots of cultures mixed in, he said in the Washington Post interview. Im looking not only to America for inspiration, but the world.Im a black man and I love being that. I love being different than other people. Thats part of it, too. Early in 1998 Robinson was able to move out of his Soho loft into a separate workspace on Wooster Street. Smith was working for Calvin Klein, and the pair chatted on the phone several times a day. They dine out eveningsoften after a very long workday for bothand have no plans to join forces again professionally. Coming home and seeing her is the highlight of my whole day, Robinson told France in the Harpers Bazaar interview. Its the one thing I cherish. Besides, I couldnt afford her, he added.

Sources

Essence, September 1995, p. 22.

Harpers Bazaar, March 1998; June 1998.

Los Angeles Times, June 29, 1995, p. E1.

Washington Post, August 21, 1997, p. F3.

Womens Wear Daily, December 21, 1994, p. 8; March 1, 1995, p, 8; August 8, 1995, p. G8; November 2, 1995, p. 6; January 7, 1997, p. 2; January 28, 1997, p. 6;

Carol Brennan

Cite this article
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  • MLA
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  • APA

"Robinson, Patrick 1966–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Nov. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Robinson, Patrick 1966–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/robinson-patrick-1966

"Robinson, Patrick 1966–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved November 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/robinson-patrick-1966