The impeccable Professor Barnette, photographed by fashion peer, Michael McCollom.
Renaldo Barnette loves models. In fact, he was one — a muse to esteemed fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez as he created the brooding genie in the lushly illustrated 1985 re-telling of the Scheherazade classic Tales of the Thousand and One Nights. Friendships with runway legends eased his transition to life in late-eighties Paris: Coco Mitchell (“She’s still my heart”) welcomed him as a roommate during his jaunts to the City of Lights and Lu Sierra introduced the awed young designer/illustrator to Monsieur Hubert de Givenchy. Millie the Model, a paper doll dream glimpsed in the pages of his older sister’s comic books started it all.
A page from a 1960 “Millie the Model” book available on eBay.
Renaldo’s oh-s0-chic 2010 season’s greetings brightened my holiday.
The youngest of the “humorous and fabulous” Eddie and Lillian Barnette’s four children, Renaldo was born in Fort Devens, Massachusetts. An Army brood, the family moved every 2 or 3 years, living in places as far-flung as Okinawa, Japan and Augsburg, Germany to several states in the U.S. “My real discovery of drawing was when we lived in Hawaii, between about eight and ten-years-old,” he says. He’d duplicate the super heroes from his comics, Spiderman and Superman, but it was big sis Phyllis’ Millie the Model and Katy Keene books that captured his burgeoning fashion imagination. His mom, who called to mind Diahann Carroll’s TV character, Julia, was a “nice, stylish, suburban lady” who had her clothes made. Baby of the family Renaldo would accompany her to fittings with dressmakers in whatever town they found themselves in. Fascinated, he took it all in, learning about patterns and fit, fingering the fabric samples and quietly taking the available scraps. With these scavenged textiles or even bits of his own cut-up socks, “I learned how to trace a bodice and sleeve.” He saved his lunch money and secretly bought a Barbie doll, sharing this only with his brother Corinzo, now a hairstylist in Florida. “Corinzo would style Barbie’s hair and I’d make her clothes.”
During a family stint in Fort Knox, Kentucky, “Mom sent me to the store to pick up something and I spent her change to buy a copy of Vogue. It was big, the September issue. I think it was 1971 or ’72.” Though he was concerned she’d be angry about the expenditure, it opened a dialogue. “Oh, you’re interested in fashion?” she asked, then shared that she’d gone to New York years before to pursue a modeling career. She didn’t continue that path, but she kept up with the styles of the times. As fashion “got young in the seventies,” people mistook Ms. Barnette in her “Cleopatra Jones cropped fur jacket, double-knit pants and curly “Freedom” wig for her children’s sister. (With Corinzo’s help she had “an entire wig wardrobe with wiglets and falls.”)
Though his father was oft in uniform, Renaldo was taken by a photo of his father in the era just after the Zoot Suit: the strong shoulder was still there, but the silhouette was slimmer. His dad looked sharp. And he taught his sons the essentials of proper grooming.
When Fort Bragg beckoned, the family lived in Fayetteville, NC where Renaldo excelled in art class, so much so that his teacher taught him private painting lessons. “But I was bored,” Renaldo says, “and kept on drawing girls.” Noticing the fashion illustrations advertising local store, Miss Vogue Junior Shop, his instructor noted that Renaldo’s illustrations were as good the advertisements in the paper and convinced the shop to hire the eighth grader for a Saturday job drawing velvet blazers, Faded Glory jeans and Huk-a-Poo dresses. It was, of course, a big deal for him. “I thought I was the cat’s meow. I became a local celebrity.” When his beloved brother, Eddie Jr. passed away last year, Renaldo was deeply moved by the discovery that his proud big bro had saved all his Miss Vogue sketches (as well as his favorite Hot Wheels cars.)
After high school, he headed to Los Angeles to attend FIDM (Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising,) where he was eventually advised to head to New York, for a better match of sensibilities. He did visit the Apple and was offered a job by a fairly new company that he loved, Carolina Herrera, but a boyfriend in LA convinced him to stay on the West Coast. He would finally make the move, take classes at the Parsons School of Design and reconnect with Antonio Lopez, whom he’d met at the L.A. launch of the book, Antonio’s Girls. Upon reviewing his portfolio, Antonio told Renaldo that it “looked out-of-townish,” and that he should “always carry a sketch book,” a practice he embraces to this day. They’d hit legendary club Paradise Garage and whilst Antonio & Co. burned up the dance floor, he’d find a corner, take in the uniquely New York scene, and sketch away. Although he was accustomed to immersion in different worlds, Antonio and his famous friends—Mick Jagger, Jerry Hall, Iman – were a new universe.
Posing for Antonio and freelancing at Polo Ralph Lauren, “sketching in various departments,” Renaldo met American-born Paris phenom Patrick Kelly who liked his sketches and invited him to work in his atelier. He loved the Paris years, working not only with Patrick but with the “very French” houses, Sonia Rykiel, Chantal Thomass and Jean Charles de Castelbajac.
Upon his return to the states, he embarked on a career designing and/or sketching for a variety of American sportswear lines including Anne Klein, Nicole Miller, Christian Francis Roth, Yansi Fugel and good friend Michael McCollom; teaching at the college level; creating day dresses for Badgley Mischka as Design Director for daytime dresses and Lauren dresses as Creative Consultant; and launching his well-reviewed (WWD) eponymous line, Renaldo, Ltd. in 2003.
Now an adjunct professor at F.I.T., Renaldo has taught there for 19 years. Though he is highly rated by students, he says “it took years to develop” his teaching style and level of comfort.
Amazing artist, amazing professor. He does not only teach you how to draw, but how to think and act like a designer. He treats you with respect and has a lot of expectation. He very often stays late for us after class. Very accessible and helpful as long as you are seeking for help. Love him! and I wish to have him again as my professor. – Student review of Renaldo from Rate My Professors
Though classroom instruction was not in his plan, “I interviewed on a lark,” he says. Painter, illustrator and art instructor Harvey Boyd exclaimed upon seeing his sketches “Wow! Have you ever thought of teaching?” Renaldo responded in the negative, but decided to go for it “to make extra cash.” He had no idea how much he’d enjoy it. “I find it so rewarding, giving back” and helping students to perfect their craft. So beloved is he and so strong his talent that he was hired by fashion darling and former student Bryan Bradley to work on his line Tuleh.
Renaldo delineates between the wonderful fashion illustration, which is “solely for setting the mood,” with little regard for technical detail and the effective fashion design drawing which serves as the blueprint for translation into an actual garment: from buttons and buttonholes, seams and topstitching to accurately rendered fabric texture and weight.
From sketch pad to runway: Renaldo’s design drawing fully articulates the look created for Mrs. Stevie Wonder’s fashion line, Kai Milla. View more of his work at RenaldoBarnette.com
Though the self-funded venture Renaldo, Ltd. was critically ac- claimed and able to fulfill all orders it became financially prohibitive to support. He would like to helm a line again, however his dream is “to do what Marc Jacobs has done, to not only relaunch but to renew a brand. I’d love to do Pappagallo.” As for the Renaldo line he has an eye toward a made-to-measure business. He would include the requisite red carpet looks, however the crux of the business would be daywear— “great pants, that perfect dress for day that fits! It’s all about the customer.” And his customer “appreciates simplicity, she’s someone who wants to see herself before she sees clothes,” elegant and aware that proper fit is everything.
Renaldo’s Trove reflects his love of beautiful presentation with a luxe, yet relaxed ease.
1. Meisel & McGrath. When Steven the photographer and Pat the makeup artist come together, the results are always magical and Renaldo loves the synergy of the two. “I give props to Meisel for being a model maniac like I am. Love him.” And Pat McGrath? “That woman’s work is genius, genius, genius!”
From Vogue Italia, Meisel and McGrath’s collaboration with Stylist Karl Templer and Hairstylist Guido.
2. Cashmere. Especially sweaters and jackets. The tactile experience has him sold. “It feels good against your skin and it feels good to other people.”
He often shops Barney’s for his cashmere pieces.
3. Chelsea Boots. “When I was a kid they were called Beatle boots and I thought they were the coolest thing–still do.”
Renaldo ushered in the new year rocking a tuxedo and Gucci patent Chelsea boots.
From the Spring 2011 collection of Los Angeles cardiologist-turned-haberdasher, Roderick Tung.
5. Black Jeans. He enjoys the contrast of black and white and the lengthening properties of dark pants. “I’m tall and black jeans make me appear even taller.”
Raleigh Denim creates jeans in varying washes and silhouettes.
6. Great Driving Shoes. “Even though I can’t drive!” Prada, Hugo Boss, Bally and the Daddy of them all, Tod’s–he loves the yin and yang of softness and structure.
From Tod’s Pre-Collection Spring/Summer 2011, the Gommino Loafer.
7. Creativity. He is grateful for his–“I don’t take it for granted”– and embraces and encourages it in others.
A project Renaldo worked on to revamp the Laura Ashley image was an all-encompassing vision for the brand from apparel to accessories and shoes.
8. Elmo Restaurant. In How to Be a Gentleman, John Bridges suggests that every gentleman should identify a restaurant he enjoys where he is known and respected. Elmo in Chelsea is that spot for Renaldo.
The stylish interior, great food and proximity to the garment district make Elmo a favorite haunt of the fashion crowd.
9. Bongo. With its mid-century modern furnishings, fun vibe, and great owners (his friends Andrea Cohen and Jeffrey Bell), the West Village seafood lounge is a frequent hang.
“If you like club–good house, the music will keep you coming back,” Renaldo gushes, “It’s great!”
10. Metamorphosis in Movies. The fashion-oriented films Mahogany and Funny Face tie for favorite film in his book with their shared themes of transformation. Diana Ross’ “Tracy” and Audrey Hepburn’s “Jo” both emerge from humble beginnings into beautiful swans.
One of his favorite scenes from Mahogany.
The original theatrical trailer for Funny Face.