“Ralph Rucci: A Designer and His House” is a new documentary film directed by David Boatman, paying homage to the great designer. The film, presented by Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia in association with the Sundance Channel, will air on September 22, 7 pm et/pt. However, a lucky group of people (including this writer) had the privilege of a special viewing Tuesday night at the MOMA. The auditorium was full of Rucci aficionados including Martha Stewart (who narrates the film as well), Coco Mitchell (Ralph’s muse, who also stars in the film), Fern Mallis, Deeda Blair, Amy Fine Collins, Joan and Sonny Kaner, Pamela Fiori (Town & Country), Patricia Mears (deputy director, Museum at FIT), Essie Weingarten (essie cosmetics/nail care), Jan Calloway, Lynne Zydowsky, Judith Hoffman and Barbara Hackett (Chado clients), Patrick McDonald and even Miss J from America’s Next Top Model. Mercedes-Benz, Sundance Channel, and Martha Stewart executives were also in attendance.
I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Rucci before we all settled into our seats, and he couldn’t have been more gracious and down to earth. Displaying the same graciousness and humility throughout the film, Rucci never once raises his voice -- even when the noticeable look of angst appears on his face after counting and recounting only 48 of the 49 pieces in a collection he brought to Paris. He is seen moments later sitting on the ground surrounded by a spattering of Polaroid’s, sorting through one by one until he proclaims, “Here it is. This is the one that’s missing,” and the 49th dress is found and happily reunited with her 48 friends. It is this steady focus and determination that has enabled Ralph Rucci to persevere through decades in the finicky and unappreciative world of fashion. It is only recently, after years and years of providing women with the most beautiful clothes in the most expensive fabrics and elaborate treatments, Rucci is receiving the recognition he merits. In the film, Rucci compares himself to the writer, James Baldwin, stating that he had to go to Paris in order to gain any attention in the U.S. That is ridiculous, when one considers that Ralph has been selling clothes and connecting with women for years. “There are actually women who buy these clothes,” says Rucci. “We are not doing all this to sell nail polish,” he adds (this is quite possibly my favorite quote in the film).
It’s clear that Ralph Rucci is in a class by himself, and the opinion is unanimous in that it is important for the U.S. to have a designer of his caliber. Couture in New York is not up to the old standards. The film depicts beautifully (although it can only capture a small amount) how meticulous and detailed Rucci is in his efforts to produce the finest couture pieces possible. “Not since the great James Galanos has the U.S. seen a designer of this level,” says CeCe Cord in the film. Glenda Bailey says, “He has the precision of an architect and the artistry of a painter.” And, Cathy Horn is quoted, “He is reminiscent of Balenciaga.”
Again, this well directed film faces the impossible task of condensing into a 45-minute journey what actually requires months to accomplish. One cannot fathom the dress that took 1,000 hours to complete, with its 140 meters of fabric manipulated into intricate fluting detail with black water pearls set in between the grooves. It is unbelievable. Mind blowing can only describe the tasks that Rucci and his team tackle. Who else does this? Even Rucci himself refers to a dress with ostrich feathers delicately layered over beaded fabric sparkling through, as “totally insane.” I am in agreement with this statement, as it takes me an hour to blind stitch a simple hem. I can feel my fingers cramping imagining the tedious, painstaking hours of labor required to complete just one of Rucci’s masterpieces.
Rucci never fails to credit his talented team helping him along the way, nor does he forget his great inspirations and mentors. He calls Balenciaga his prophet and is motivated by the almost religious devotion Cristobal had toward couture. He remembers his first employer, Halston, fondly. And of course, he speaks of his idol, James Galanos, who after meeting at a trunk show in L.A. became a close friend. Galanos, has in turn, become a great admirer of Rucci and is quoted in the film stating, “My career now is to follow Ralph Rucci.” Paris adores him. The Parisian couturieres guided by the detailed sketches, finishing his works of art, praise him, comparing him to legends they’ve worked with in the past (Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld, YSL and Givenchy). Why, then, is Ralph not a more widely recognized name? No matter, he has carved out a niche for himself and is respected not only by his peers but a sizeable clientele as well.
This very enjoyable documentary offers a glimpse into Rucci’s genius. I found myself cheering inside for Ralph’s success. Perhaps it’s the Pennsylvania girl in me sharing a sense of camaraderie (Ralph hails from Philadelphia), or maybe I can relate on some level to his struggle, or it could be that I just love to root for the underdog. Whatever the case, it is a triumph that Ralph stayed true to his vision and pushed onward relentlessly until finally breaking through. He managed with tenacity, passion and determination to create his own world. How, after all this time, did he achieve this feat? Ralph sums it up best in the film by stating that “The consistency of couture is the marriage of the designer’s vision with the house.” He further explains, “This requires a staff which has been a part of the establishment for a long time, working in unison…and that is why it’s called CHADO.”