Mr. Fabulous

by Amanda Bedgood

Couture finds a home in Lafayette. Photo by Robin May

Designer Raoul Blanco herds his "divas" backstage during the ASO's Hitting the Haute Note fundraiser.

Lafayette has had a lot of fabulous lately. Three back-to-back fashion shows of note - the killer IND Style Awards, Tinsel and Treasures and Hitting the Haute Note. Two couture designers have arrived in town.

(Yes, two bona fide fashion designers). And the season of dressing to the nines has arrived. September,

needless to say, was a month of some fabulous stuff. October promises to be the same.

One of the high notes of this all was certainly meeting Mr. Fabulous himself  - Raoul Blanco.

Raoul, you see, is kind of fabulous. But don't ever ask him.

"That's not for me to say," he says.

It's a surprising approach for a man who is otherwise larger than life. Tall, dark, handsome. He's a couture designer who cares far more about women looking truly great than he does his dresses.

"You have to think about the woman and not about you," he says in a rich accent over lunch dressed in a black shirt over a black shirt with an earring in each ear.

Raoul speaks freely about his childhood in Puerto Rico surrounded by beautiful women with strong personalities (chief among them his grandmother), his travels to New York (where he worked for Liz Claiborne as she made it big in the '80s) and his work (handing-sewing 24-karat gold beads onto dresses).

Raoul's stories are as rich as the fabrics he uses in his work ($850 a yard kind of fabric). It's something you realize the moment you meet him. Backstage at his presentation to benefit the Acadiana Symphony Orchestra we first meet and within moments I'm in stitches. Minutes before the models (his "divas") take to the runway, Raoul is as calm as they come putting the final touches on jewelry pairings. The divas (styled just so with updos, skinny black eyeliner and cherry red lips) come to him for advice on their poses and there's the air of family more than anything else. It's warm and serene and not at all what one would expect of a backstage scene.

While each of the models are styled nearly identically, they are diverse in height and look - much like the designs they wear. A pastel polka dot dress, a demure lace design, a daring dimensional floral piece.

"I don't design thinking about me or about a look. It's about clients," Raoul explains.

At this point you may be wondering how a man who has designed with the same fabric as Christian Lacroix (at a whopping $1,200 a meter) landed in Lafayette. His partner took a job at UL recently and the pair moved from the north shore of New Orleans to the heart of Acadiana. After living in New York and California, Raoul says Louisiana is home. He has clients the world wide but works much from his home. You can find him spinning those real gold beads while watching TV at night. And for the most part he makes house calls to sketch with clients. Clients who are more family than business, you begin to sense. In fact, he hesitates to call most of them clients. What he does is much more than a simple transaction.

"My job is to get the best out of you. Not you get the best out of me," he says. He wants his clients to turn heads; he wants people to say they look fabulous.

Fine, we'll say it. They look fabulous.