By Vivian Nguyen
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
He designs his white dresses so they symbolize destiny and fate, but the way Kiko Rodriguez fell into the Seattle fashion scene was pure chance.
Born and raised in Manila, Philippines, Rodriguez grew up watching extravagant beauty pageants and fashion shows. Influenced by the dresses he saw, Rodriguez developed an interest in women’s formal wear and started to work on his own sketches as a hobby.
When he entered high school, a friend who worked in illustration saw his work and encouraged him to pursue a career in design.
Rodriguez then enrolled in the prestigious Salvacion Lim Higgins Fashion School.
Choosing to specialize in pattern design and construction, he credits his schooling for teaching him the technical mechanics behind dressmaking. Although his father was initially against his pursuits, Rodriguez’s family has become supportive of his work.
“I have proven to them that this is my calling, and I love what I’m doing,” said Rodriguez.
The familial support runs deep. After college, Rodriguez worked for his sister’s dress shop for three years until he built a name for himself in formal and bridal couture.
After opening four retail stores and hosting his own fashion shows, Rodriguez was invited to join the prestigious Fashion Designers Association of the Philippines, which solidified his reputation as a high-end designer in his country.
Despite his success in the Philippines, Rodriguez never imagined bringing his business to the United States, but he relocated to Seattle to look after his mother.
“After I decided to stay, I needed to figure out a way to survive here,” said Rodriguez. “My sister encouraged me to open my own boutique. It wasn’t planned — it just happened.”
In 1994, Rodriguez opened Kiko’s Couture in the then-emerging neighborhood of Belltown.
Although Rodriguez previously had assistants, he now works alone and enjoys creating and customizing an entire gown from start to finish. “I like it this way when [my shop is] small. … I’m very meticulous when it comes to finishing work. If I keep operations simple, I’m happy, and everyone is happy.”
Although Kiko’s Couture offers services for evening wear and accessories, he continues to specialize in wedding gowns. “Anything that is bridal is my passion,” he said. “I love doing intricate bead work and designs.”
From stitch detailing to shoulder wraps, the Filipino culture has also inherently influenced his designs. “I find embroideries to be very [essential to] Filipino fashion,” he said. “All of the embroideries used on my dresses are similar to the kind of stitching found in [clothing from] the Philippines.”
Rodriguez customizes a wedding dress based on a bride’s likes, dislikes, and personality.
“The one thing I really like about what I’m doing right now is that every project is different,” he said.
“It’s interesting because you associate the personality of your client as being different from [another], and the same thing goes for each of their dresses. [Work] never gets boring because each dress always has a story to tell.”
When asked what he enjoys most about his job, Rodriguez said, “My favorite part is to see my brides happy when they try on their dress. That’s my satisfaction — when I see my client satisfied and happy with my work.”
Although he has participated in several galas and luncheons back in the Philippines, Rodriguez is still waiting for the right opportunity to do a fashion show in Seattle. “I’m not looking to be famous or in the limelight at this point. … I don’t want to expand, I am content where I am now,” he said.
As for future plans, he’s hoping to enrich the community. “Sometime in the next 10 years, I would like to start teaching … [to] share my knowledge with people,” he said. “I would probably still continue making dresses but mainly focus on teaching. I don’t think I could ever stop [working]. I’d always want to continue.” (end)
Kiko Couture is located at 2416 First Avenue in Seattle. For more information, call 206-728-5080 or visit www.kikocouture.com.
Vivian Nguyen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.