VERDICT IS IN: couture designer Ralph Ruccis moment
is at hand. After 25 years in the business of working in relative
obscurity, the fashion world is finally waking up and taking notice
of this enormously talented designer. Mr Rucci is a hybrid: part
artist, part couturier. There hasnt been a designer like him
since James Galanos and Mainbocher. And hes got the kudos
of some of the industrys biggest guns to prove it. In the
world of fashion, he is the straight parfum, not watered-down cologne.
Mr Rucci has taste in a world of dumbed-down culture. His tasteful
sensitivity will be seen as the next big thing. I seldom get this
way, not since I saw my ﬁrst Armani collection in 1971.
In 2002, he was propelled into the spotlight when
he became the ﬁrst American designer since the legendary
Mainbocher to be invited by the Chambre Syndicale to present an
haute couture collection. Doneger Group forecaster, David Wolfe,
states, John Galliano is yesterday and Ralph Rucci is tomorrow.
Luxurious womenswear has always been Ruccis
hallmark. In 1994, he opened Chado Ralph Rucci, chado being
the name of a centuries-old traditional Japanese tea ceremony. The
designer chose this word to represent the qualities he wished to
evoke and explore through fashion. Chado also symbolizes the unity
and dedication of the talented staff that he has developed throughout
According to Neiman Marcus Fashion Director, Joan
Kaner, who has been a friend and supporter for ten years, Rucci
runs a tight crew, miniscule by comparison to his peers. There
is no staff of design assistants in the wings, and only Rucci himself
designs. Ana Rita does the pattern making and ﬁtting, and
Vivian Van Natta, with him from the beginning, runs sales, production,
and PR. His sister, Rosina, works
by his side in the atelier.
Although hes been in the Seventh Avenue
game for years, few people truly know this enigmatic designer well.
Mrs Kaner, who Rucci fondly calls the Kaner and my
Carmel Snow, is one of the few who does. Ralph has a
marvellous fun-loving sense of humour. Ive been up in the
studio when Ana Rita, Vivian and Ralph are carrying on. They can
be side-splittingly funny. Hes very warm, close to his family,
and generous to a fault.
In person, he looks like a modern-day El Greco
come to life, his airy white showroom is a pod of tranquility. When
Rucci begins a new collection, it is tabla rasa,
he explains. I need a completely clear departure point each
time I design a collection. Thats not to say that he
wont start one of his prints if hes inspired by say,
a chunk of Egyptian hieroglyphic.
Lucire witnessed part of the creative process
in a recent studio visit. After an impromptu visit from New York
Times writer, Cathy Horyn, the designer drapes an enormous sheet
of tracing paper around Ana Rita. Covering the sheet is the Bedouin-inspired
design hes created speciﬁcally for Madame Xs
gown. It boggles the mind to think how long it must have taken him
to draw it.
Another client, Tatiana Sorokko, wife of US
west coast gallery owner Serge Sorokko, has known Rucci since the
90s. They ﬁrst met during her modelling days, and she
probably owns the largest collection of Chado Ralph Rucci clothing
on the west coast and wears it almost exclusively, preferring to
have dialogue with one single designer. She is one of the
women Rucci considers to possess both style and glamour, although
Ms Sorokko describes herself as unfashionable, but with a
Glamour, Rucci says, is an allure that pulls
you into their personage. The most glamorous thing is to be seduced
by someones intelligence.
His muses are the women he dresses, not the usual
Hollywood red-carpet walkers most of his contemporaries aspire to
dress. Over the past ﬁve years, Mr Rucci credits his showing
in the couture arena for giving him a lightness of hand.
The couture liberated him as a designer. It enabled him to let go
of certain formulas and to have the conﬁdence to go back
to the roots of what he appreciates and designs.
Rucci is also enamoured of ﬁne fabrics.
He has a long-standing love affair with double face and previously
extinct fabrics, such as hammered satin. He recalls reverentially,
As a young guy, I used to write down the names of the mills
they used to credit in Vogue for future reference.
Among the names were Abraham and Bucol. Years later, when he could
afford the fabrics, he was able to talk the mills into making them
again. In fact, many of them responded with delight. By doing so,
Rucci has helped to keep alive the calibre of beauty and luxury
that must exist. He is vehement about this topic.
Contemporaries such as Michael Kors, appreciate
the quality of his designs and his quest for perfection. Says Kors,
Ralph Rucci harkens back to designers like Galnaos. [Editors
note: Galanos was Ruccis mentor]. I love the fact that his
clothes can appear to be so simple and understated, and at the same
time be incredibly opulent and intricate.
Although recognition is ﬁnally coming Ruccis
way, the biggest prize still eludes him. He has been nominated twice
for the CFDA Designer of the Year
Award, but has never taken it home. Insiders say that this is certainly
not due to a lack of talent but rather to the politics and commercialism
that go hand-in-hand with the award. He does, though, have big players
in his corner, such as Harper’s Bazaar, a supporter for years.
Vivian Galtier Kelly is correspondent for
Rucci says, is an allure that pulls you into their personage.
The most glamorous thing is to be seduced
by someones intelligence
TOP: Ralph Rucci.
ABOVE: From various collections
in couture and prêt-à-porter, ranging from spring 2004
to fall 2005.
the full story in the May 2005 issue of Lucire.
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