Born: New York, 20 March 1956. Education: Studied painting, then fashion design at Parsons School of Design, New York, graduated in 1978. Career: Assistant to designers Ralph Lauren, Stan Herman, and Bill Haire, mid-1970s to 1981; showed first collection, working from home, 1981; designer, Betty Hanson company, New York, 1982-86; established Carmelo Pomodoro Design Studio, Inc. for freelance work, 1985; formed Carmelo Pomodoro Sportswear, Ltd., 1986; introduced lower priced line, 1987, and line of bodywear, 1991; licenses included jewelry, from 1989, furs, from 1990, and Toyota sportswear line, from 1990; first of seven Carmelo Pomodoro boutiques, joint ventures with Takashima Company, opened in Tokyo, 1989; dressed television commentators for Winter Olympics, 1992. Died: 1 October 1992, in New York.
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The November 1992 cover of Harper's Bazaar was redesigned at the last moment to pay homage to one of the most promising fashion designers of his generation, Carmelo Pomodoro. The cover spoke gently of Pomodoro's œuvre—an elegant neo-1930s-type woman wearing an ivory colored chenille open-work gridded robe. The words describing this image were soft, sensual, and just a little bit Hollywood. From his first independent collection in 1987, it was clear Pomodoro had an unclassifiable sense of style that was at once romantic yet ruthlessly contemporary.
Pomodoro had thought of becoming an actor, an architect, and a painter, before discovering his natural affinity for the fashion arts through the guidance of Frank Rizzo, chairman of the fashion design department at Parsons School of Design, New York. After stints with Stan Herman, Ralph Lauren, Bill Haire, and Betty Hanson, Pomodoro established his own design studio in 1985 where he carried out freelance projects. With characteristic good energy and optimism he started Carmelo Pomodoro Sportswear Ltd., and produced a collection in 1986. His business partner John P. Axelrod supported Pomodoro's career, even after it received substantial Japanese backing.
His first signature collection was memorable and indicative of his greatest strengths as a designer. What could be called "the white resort collection" of 1987, featured drapy fabric, simple lines, and virtually no color. Akin to the paintings of Agnes Martin, the fabrics of Pomodoro's collection revealed subtle and delicate details at close range. The textures of his unusual fabric blends, or the quiet wit of an almost surreal self-scarf sweater, characterized his ability to balance artistic self-consciousness with a paradoxical sense of reverence and fun. This blend resulted in perhaps the best-ever designed trapeze tunic from the same collection, which seemingly floated over a tight tube skirt.
Throughout his all too brief career, Pomodoro continued to develop this series of women in white, and these were arguably his most successful artistic and commercial fashions. From the eggshell cotton crochet cover-up, both a tribute to the 1960s and an avant-garde prefiguration of the 1993 crochet craze, from his resort 1990 collection, to virginal white cotton organza overshirts and cotton silk lace tank dresses also appearing that year, Pomodoro brought forth inspirational designs that made women feel and project their most beautiful selves. Whether or not his attraction to monochromatic compositions came from his skills as a black-and-white photographer (he did much of the photography for his company's advertising campaigns himself), it is clear this propensity distinguished him among other artists of his generation such as Charlotte Neuville, Zang Toi, Jennifer George, and Rebecca Moses.
If white was his best noncolor, knitted fabric was his best medium for making art (dresses). A master technician, he understood not only pattern making and construction but also his materials. In knitting, with its ability to hold a shape, to drape, to cling, and to stretch, Pomodoro gave his designs a comfort quotient not possible from any other technique. What made his knits extraordinary was the mixture of mostly natural fibers, with a minuscule amount of the newest microfibers developed for him in Japan.
Softness permeated Pomodoro's work, even his much heralded leather designs. His use of leather, which he considered a very modern no-fuss fabric, was at times biker-chic but usually tempered when paired with flowing double-layered georgette short skirts or pastel leggings. The fall 1992 line featured a leather bathrobe coat mixed with fake fur, and jackets that gracefully followed the natural contour of the torso. Menswear collections developed as adjunct to the women's lines, but the intellectually savvy androgyny of his men's sleeveless undershirt with sequined evening skirt of 1992 reminds us that Carmelo Pomodoro was a gifted thinker with a lot to say about our sartorial lives.
Pomodoro's last collection was inspired by one of the world's most alluring women, Sophia Loren. A blend of camel hair and velvet pieces, the tailored glamor was eroticized by the leopard prints in the form of scarves, vests, and blouses. The look conjured up images of Rome, and the dolce vita of Federico Fellini. The formal elements, however—the colors, lines, and fabrics—were of-the-moment and Pomodoro world view.
Carmelo Pomodoro's love of the female was paramount. He demonstrated an uncanny knack for knowing how to interpret the ideal dress for his clients, women 25 to 45, part girl, part femme fatale, self-assured. The power of his clothing was its emotional connection to its designer. Early in his career he said, "If women wear my fashions and smile, I'll be happy." Mission accomplished summa cum laude.
—Marianne T. Carlano;
updated by Nelly Rhodes