Hot Designer: Richard Ruiz

Richard Ruiz, the New York City based couturier, designs elegant upscale dresses, pants, and blouses with a special attention to excellent tailoring. And it's easy to see why: the 35-year-old boricua worked as a tailor to the stars for many years before launching his own line in fall 2006. (Visit to check out his design evolution.) spoke with Ruiz just as he was readying his second spring collection:

When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Until I was in high school, I wanted to be an Egyptologist. I was always interested in the history and geology of Egypt. It’s still a big
passion of mine. I’m always reading about it and armchair traveling.

How did you fall in love with fashion?

When I was a junior in high school, I came to New York to do a summer program at Parsons. I stayed for the summer. That’s when I decided that I really wanted to do fashion as a career and attend Parsons.

Was it like an episode of Project Runway?

There were definitely some similar personalities. It was a lot of fun. It was my first time being here by myself and away from my family. I
love New York. This was 1990.

What was your look that year?

I remember going to Barney’s when they had their store in Chelsea. We went there everyday after school. They had a little in-house boutique of Gaultier. It was one of the only stores that had all the special pieces. So I would save up my little money and buy a cool Gaultier
T-shirt. I bought the classic Gaultier suspender pants that came up to your chest. I was like a skinny little thing back then with bleached
blond hair. Just a club kid I guess. I mean, that’s totally not my look anymore. Now I’m a little more classic. I’ve got the little Prada
loafers or the patent leather Dsquared2 ones. I’m still a little funky. I can’t do the bleaching of the hair anymore. I’m just trying to hold
on to it at this point.

What shoes were you wearing?

I had these really round steel toe oxblood Doc Martens. And I had these horrible Kelly green, suede John Fluevog boots. They were so pointy. My mother called them cockroach killers because they could get into those

What’s your ethnic background?

My dad’s Puerto Rican and my mom is German and Greek.

What was the hardest thing about launching your own business?

The hardest thing was being able to financially survive without having any income. Because you’re sampling and showing your collection, and it’s really six months to a year before any money comes from that. You have to save up money and have something to back you up, and that’s really why I did the tailoring for so long. When I first started doing the collection, I was still tailoring, making custom stuff for musical
artists, tailoring on set stuff for videos. It was really helpful to me in a lot of ways because I met so many great people. But it also helped
me to launch the line and keep that going until I started making money.

What’s the most gratifying thing about having your own business?

I don’t really have anybody to answer to at the end of the day. I’m ultimately responsible for anything that goes wrong as well as coming
up with new designs. I love the creative freedom to get up and go to the museum if I have to get some inspiration. I can take a walk around
the city.

What was the last exhibit that gave you inspiration?

I’m actually waiting for an exhibit to open. At the Brooklyn Museum of Art, I’m really excited about the Japanese woodblock print exhibit.

You’ve worked with a lot of celebrities. How do you keep that glitzy stage look while maintaining your trademark elegance?

It’s a lot about working with the artists and understanding their personalities. I like to know what their favorite body part is and play that up. Some people love fashion and their fun to work with, because they are experimental. Some people are just about jeans and a T-shirt
and making that look funky. I’ve been in hotel rooms overnight. I used to go to Europe with Celine Dion and bring my dress form. As soon as we would get in to Paris, I would go to the fabric district and buy some fabric. I would stay overnight in the room, draping these little pieces
for her to wear on a TV show the next day. It was exhausting. I would stay up literally overnight, because she loved fashion. She is an amazing person. To have that immediate turnaround and see it on TV the next day was pretty amazing.

What is your funniest tailoring story?

This is funny and disturbing at the same time. We flew into Miami the day Katrina got to Miami. It wasn’t a crazy storm in the morning. We
went straight to the venue. I was Sean "Diddy" Combs's tailor for MTV's Video Music Awards. We were inside the arena all day while he was doing soundcheck. We didn’t even really know what was going on outside. At the end of the day, they sent home all of the crew, the lighting guys, the sound guys. So it was just me, the stylist and her assistant. We were like, where is everybody? It was completely deserted. We went into the parking garage and the exit signs were literally blowing off. I was like, this is insane. I had never seen a hurricane. So we were driving from the arena back to our hotel at two miles per hour, palm trees coming down, everything flooded. Puffy’s people kept calling us like, “Are you coming over? Puff’s ready to do the fitting.” We were like, “Serious? You want us to come and do these fittings in the middle of a natural disaster? We’re just trying to come back to the hotel.” There was nothing open. We hadn’t eaten all day. We went to a gas station, stocked up on potato chips and soda. It was funny. We went and did the fitting back at his house in Miami! Nothing really stops. The show must go on.

You studied in Paris for many years before settling in New York. What do you miss the most about Paris?

I miss the ethnic diversity. The people there hold on to their culture. I love when you walk through the markets there, there are these African women who are still wearing their traditional clothing, but they’ll also have on the typical French lady square heeled pump. It’s really an amazing dichotomy. They are walking through this ancient European city, but they have on their West African turbans, bodices, and very Western square-heeled pumps. America is a land of a lot of different cultures, but it’s about assimilation. Everyone wants the American dream. For immigrants that come here, they buy into the Nikes and all of that.

Click here to see some of Richard Ruiz's latest designs.

Serena Kim