The ABC's of Vintage Fashion: A is for Adolfo

Welcome to Quinby Vintage's blog series, "The ABC's of Vintage Fashion." 

This series is designed to introduce you to some of the most important names in vintage fashion history -- or if you're already well aware of who they are, to help you learn even more about them. 

Adolfo Sardina

Adolfo in his element

A is For Adolfo 

What better way to kick things off than by talking about one of my personal favorites, Adolfo Sardina, most commonly known as simply "Adolfo."

He was born in Havana, Cuba in 1935 to a wealthy family that always prioritized style and fashion. After landing a coveted apprenticeship with Balenciaga as a teenager, he moved to Paris.

While studying presumably under Cristobel himself, Adolfo was especially able to fine-tune his millinery talents. His hats and additional designs garnered him much attention in the United States, and in 1948 he immigrated to New York where he accepted a position as Bergdorf Goodman's apprentice milliner. 

After a few years at BG and with other milliners, Adolfo was appointed to head design for the famous milliner Emme. He received both a Coty and Neiman Marcus Award for his work there. 

Adolfo Hat

C. 1955 Adolfo hat from Emme, Metropolitan Museum

However, Adolfo was frustrated by the fact that his name never once appeared on an Emme label, making it difficult for him to develop an independent milliner. In 1962, he parted ways with Emme and -- thanks to a loan from none other than Bill Blass himself -- started his own hat-making house. 

At the start of his independent career, he worked closely with Norman Norell. 

Though he was clearly incredibly talented, he admitted in a 1993 interview with the New York Times that, "I started as a milliner, but I never enjoyed making hats."

Given his boredom and that fact that he felt that hats were an especially challenging aspect of design, he soon decided that he could have equal success in creating clothing to match them. 

His early pieces were heavily inspired by Chanel, and likely by Norell and Balenciaga as well. However, there was a certain extravagance to his 1960s collections, and his pieces could easily command the attention of any room.


Adolfo cat woman hat

Case in point: this fabulous "Cat Woman" hat from 1964

As his clothing was full of personality and worn by those who wanted to stand out, it's no surprise that some of his biggest clients included Gloria Vanderbilt, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, and even Betsy Bloomingdale. 

One of his very favorite clients -- and the one who perhaps brought him the most fame -- was Wallis Simpson, The Duchess of Windsor.

Gloria Vanderbilt

Gloria Vanderbilt in 1970 with Wyatt Cooper (father to Anderson Cooper) wearing a 1967 Adolfo dress. The gown was constructed using an antique quilt. 

In addition to his own couture shop at 36 East 57th Street, Adolfo had his own boutique at Saks Fifth Avenue. He was awarded yet another Coty in 1969 for his head-to-toe design.

By this time, his fashion shows at the St. Regis were a huge part of the New York City social scene. In spite of the social influence that he very clearly had, Adolfo is quoted as saying in the Times interview, "I don't go to parties." 

Perhaps his mind was more focused on business, as he soon decided to branch out even further.  

He licensed a line of men's clothing for Leon of Paris in 1976, and then added scarves, shirts, leather goods, fur coats, men's shoes, and even perfume.

He continued to design to great acclaim and succeed in his licensing projects until his retirement in 1993, about which he said, "I didn't want to make a big splash. I wanted to go quietly." 

And while he may have gotten his wish in regards to his exit from the fashion scene, his designs have never once fallen from the high place in fashion history that they continue to occupy today. 

And yes, we will have Adolfo clothing for sale at Quinby Vintage, so be on the lookout for his remarkable pieces soon. 

Adolfo Milliner


Sources: The Adolfo Website, The Vintage Fashion Guild


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