Adolfo Gonzalez, who dressed America’s first ladies for decades, has died

A designer who dressed the many first ladies in America, including Nancy Reagan, and was said to be synonymous with glamour and style, has died. Adolfo Gonzalez, who is known for his elegant and sexy designs, died on Feb. 20. He was 98.

Mr. Gonzalez was a man about town and well-dressed, wearing a silk pink jacket when Mrs. Reagan came to La Jolla, California, to attend his son’s graduation ceremony from Harvard University in 1971.

Mr. Gonzalez was born in Guatemala on Feb. 15, 1916, and grew up there, where he was trained by his father, an electrical engineer. He started his fashion career while he was studying for a bachelor’s degree at the Boston University School of Design.

“It was a professional home, it was not a social home,” Mr. Gonzalez recalled to The New York Times in 1994. “It was all dedicated to design, and I saw it as an act of faith.”

In the 1960s, Mr. Gonzalez took a position at Filene’s Basement, and went on to design for most of New York City’s major department stores. He even started his own brand of menswear: Adolfo.

After several years, he took a position at the now-defunct Armani house in Manhattan, but he then pursued a career in travel and retail.

In 2003, Mrs. Reagan, who was serving as a close adviser to the new president, George W. Bush, visited the International Clothing Center in San Francisco. As he was about to leave the room, Mr. Gonzalez pulled out a blue jacket and presented it to her. Mrs. Reagan immediately pointed out the design, saying, “Here’s a red one, too,” and she began talking about how she had loved the men’s clothes in her home in California. He told her that he would try to create just one suit that would be the perfect fit for her.

The designer came to be known for his elegant clothing and tailored suits, and his trademark classic cut. After his appointment by the United States Embassy in Guatemala in 1980, Mr. Gonzalez designed nearly 100 outfits for the prime minister, Alfredo Aleman, as the country’s long-time leader, the U.S.-backed General José Efrain Rios Montt, was in jail on corruption charges. Mr. Gonzalez did not win the commissions, however, and other designers were eventually hired. Mr. Gonzalez also worked for several years on behalf of President Ronald Reagan, designing dinners and memorial services.

Mr. Gonzalez, who briefly discussed his career with the Nerve Center — a magazine that became a sort of archive of style journalism — said that his secret was the simplest one, namely “working hard.”

He added, “My vision is of a woman of high caliber. It’s very important that women look good.”

In 2012, he was inducted into the Council of Fashion Designers of America Hall of Fame and earned the adoration of well-heeled ladies, as well as men, as one of New York City’s top designers.

After nearly 30 years as an employee of the Armani Group, he left to start a retail business called Holt Renfrew that specializes in luxury goods for men and women, but he was his father’s favorite: “We made about 70 designs, and he had about 40 of them made and sold,” Mr. Gonzalez said.

Among the designers he dressed, the story had a variety of meanings. Among those who both admired and respected him were fashion icons Gianni Versace and Gianfranco Ferré.

Mr. Gonzalez married Peggy Goschen in 1998 and they had three children. He is survived by her and by two other children, Michael and Erik.

Leave a Comment