“I like to work with luxurious fabrics,” including chiffons, silk tulles, embroidered tulles and silk charmeuse, Ruiz said. He mostly buys the fabrics in France and Italy, and then sends them to China for embroidery or India for beading.
“It’s a pain, but this is one of the things that gives us an edge in this business,” he said.
Ruiz’s dresses retail from $700 to as high as $10,000 for a gown with elaborate beading, crystals and embroidery. Men’s suits start at $1,500, depending on the fabric. Shirts range from $200 to $350, with tuxedo shirts as much as $800.
Ruiz often gets ideas from his environment — like going to a restaurant and seeing a woman wearing a beautiful dress. Even a visitor to his atelier is not immune to his curiosity, as he deconstructs the woman’s dress, analyzing the juxtaposition of fabrics and placement of seams.
“Sometimes you find a fabric and it speaks to you — it talks to you and tells you how to drape it,” Ruiz said. “Also, I’m very technical. I like the creative process of it, but I like the technical aspect of how to manipulate a fabric. And my designs are very sculptural — they are designs that can flatter a woman’s body.”
Many of his clients are repeat customers who send photos of themselves wearing his confections.
“When you make somebody feel beautiful for one of the most special occasions of their life, it’s a bond that is very special,” said Rosenblatt, 36.
Floria Alvarez bought a teal chiffon gown for her son’s wedding last year, and came back recently to select dresses for herself and her daughter for a close friend’s black-tie wedding.
“I like the way they have the dresses there, that you try them on, and from there you can work with them,” said Alvarez, 56, of Plantation. “They are very good quality, the way they fit to your body. And the customer service is fabulous.”
Growing up in Havana, Ruiz was always exposed to movies and the arts, since his mother had wanted to be an actress.
“I never thought I would be a fashion designer,” he said, seated in his atelier, wearing an outfit of his own design: perfectly tailored light pink linen slacks and a soft green paisley cotton shirt. “For a while, I wanted to be a civil engineer.”
He came to the United States at 15 and ended up in Miami, where he graduated from the International Fine Arts College, now Miami International University of Art & Design.
Charlene Parsons, chairwoman of the Fashion Department at the college, said he was an excellent student and had a natural talent.
“He is very special,” Parsons said. “He is on par with the major international designers, in work and workmanship.”
While still a student, Ruiz went to Italy for a semester abroad, and had an internship with a sample maker. The experience, he said, taught him much about how to make clothes and fit them.
After graduating, he left for Paris — but after several months, unable to get a work permit, he returned to Miami, where he got a job as an assistant designer at a factory, making women’s three-piece linen suits.
But when he was fired for overstaying a vacation in Europe, he started designing on his own. He would visit clients’ homes and fit them there. “I always believed in service,” he said.
Soon, word spread. “I proved myself, and people started trusting me more and more.”
Opened a shop
In 1992, he hired a seamstress and opened a tiny shop — a second-floor walkup on Ponce de Leon Boulevard in Coral Gables — to show his small collection. After a few years, he moved to a storefront on Giralda Avenue, and then to three locations on Miracle Mile, before moving five years ago to his current corner on Ponce de Leon. That’s when he added a men’s line.
Soon afterward, he began showing his collections in New York, and last year, in Paris.
Ruiz’s next step is to grow his line, adding more sportswear. Rosenblatt said a second store in Boca Raton could open in two years, and then perhaps a third in Texas or New Jersey, where Ruiz’s designs are popular.
The goal is to have the collection in 200 stores worldwide in two years, Rosenblatt said. This year, total sales are expected to reach more than $4 million, with more than $2 million coming from outside sales.
“After the change in the economy, it’s a much safer business mode,” Rosenblatt said.
Devy Fleishman, co-owner of Goldstein Jewelry & Couture in Englewood, N.J., said she has gone from selling two René Ruiz dresses at her store four years ago to selling an average of 80 to 100 dresses each of the last three years.
“The fabrics are different and amazing — they are interesting, and they are of fine, fine quality,” said Fleishman, who has a condo in Bal Harbour. “And I think the pricing is amazing for what they give you. And the fit is wonderful.”