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A passion for fashion

Ricardo Rodriguez may be best known as a high-end real estate agent. But his interest in style goes back to his childhood in Colombia.

Ricardo Rodriguez works with designer Daniela Corte and photographer Dominic Costa at a photo shoot on a Beacon Hill rooftop. Ricardo Rodriguez works with designer Daniela Corte and photographer Dominic Costa at a photo shoot on a Beacon Hill rooftop. (Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff)
By Christopher Muther
Globe Staff / September 23, 2010

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Real estate agent Ricardo Rodriguez may be the listing agent for a $15 million townhouse in Beacon Hill, but on a warm and sunny afternoon last month, he wasn’t showing the spacious home to prospective clients. Rather, he was at the townhouse showing a shapely, bikini-clad model how she should be posing by the rooftop infinity pool.

“No, no, no. It’s like this,’’ he says, demonstrating by arching his back and crossing his legs. “We want it to be playful. Think sexy. Think pin-up.’’

Rodriguez, 39, one of the city’s most prominent real estate agents, is taking the afternoon to indulge in what has quickly become a passion in his life. Newbury Street designer Daniela Corte recently named Rodriguez the creative director of her label, and now the real estate agent is styling photo shoots for Corte and collaborating with the designer on the production of runway shows. He will lend his touch to Corte’s show on Oct. 1, which is part of Boston Fashion Week.

Normally nattily dressed in a suit and tie, Rodriguez is wearing jeans and a tank top for the photo shoot. He runs back between the model and photographer, checks hair and makeup, and consults with Corte to make sure the accessories are just right. Being creative director for a fashion company may sound like an unlikely sideline for a real estate agent who sells chic properties, but Rodriguez has followed a circuitous route in his professional life, and long before there was real estate, there was fashion.

“Growing up in Colombia, my grandmother loved clothes,’’ Rodriguez says a few nights later over dinner at Toro. “She would go to get one or two new dresses every week, and she would always take me with her. First, she would go to the store to pick out fabrics, and then we’d go to her seamstress. She would ask me ‘Do you like this cut?’ ‘Do you think this shape works well?’ I was a little kid, and I had this input into how my grandmother looked. Some of my earliest memories were picking out shoes and jewelry for her.’’

Rodriguez is once again picking out shoes and jewelry, but this time for slightly younger women. His partnership with Corte began casually when they meet three years ago. They are now so close that their families vacation together. Corte refers to Rodriguez as “my gay husband.’’

“We would go shopping together, and I would realize just how good his eye was,’’ Corte says. “He has fantastic taste. He started making suggestions to me about the line, and I realized he could offer a lot when it came to styling models.’’

Rodriguez had a very specific goal in mind when he decided to work with his friend.

“Daniela has a very well-defined aesthetic, and she owns that aesthetic,’’ he says. “But I felt like from a consumer perspective, she hadn’t identified her customer. You can immediately identify a Ralph Lauren woman, or an Armani woman. You know exactly what that woman looks like. I don’t think Daniela has that yet, and I think that was the next step for her. That’s what my focus has been.’’

Rodriguez’s first attempt at defining a Daniela Corte woman came during a photo shoot at a former prison-turned-condo building in Salem, placing models attired in Corte’s sexy designs and stilettos on scaffolding against unfinished walls. The idea was to show a woman who was sexy and beautiful, but also strong and fearless.

“These are women who own their bodies,’’ he says. “She owns who she is and is sure enough of herself to be silly and playful.’’

Rodriguez also has a penchant for the playful and enjoys hamming it up at every turn. When he came to the United States from Colombia 17 years ago, he arrived with the intention of acting full time. His career through most of the 1990s and 2000s was a combination of acting with local theater companies — such as Ryan Landry’s Gold Dust Orphans — and working with the nonprofit group the Multicultural AIDS Coalition. As the acting work picked up, he even moved to Los Angeles.

“Things were going well in LA,’’ he recalls. “But as I was auditioning more, and taking more classes, I realized that I wasn’t a very good actor. I thought, ‘How come I was doing so well in Boston?’ And then I realized it was because I was always on stage in my underwear. I guess I was the only person in Boston who would walk around in his underwear on stage, so I did well with it.’’

He came back to Boston from LA and five years ago started pursuing real estate. He attributes his success in the field to his love of design. When working with developers, he helps choose finishes. When working with clients, he does everything from staging homes for sale to recommending restaurants to new Bostonians. He says what he does with Corte’s clothing is similar to what he does with his real estate work. In both cases, he’s helping to define a product for a consumer.

He’s had no formal training in fashion or interior design, but says he is fortunate that he has a strong eye for what looks good. Even when he served in the Colombian Army, he had his uniform sent to the dry cleaner because it looked sharper. His fellow soldiers washed and pressed their own uniforms — with mixed results.

“It all goes back to my grandmother,’’ he says. “I didn’t realize that we were poor until I was an adult because my grandmother always had a good time. She had an eye for the details. She knew how to make things look good regardless of the expense, and thankfully, I think I inherited that from her.’’

Christopher Muther can be reached at muther@globe.com.

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