Ralph Rucci has received many well-deserved awards and accolades during his stellar and prolific career. He was honored with a star on the Fashion Walk of Fame, has been nominated twice by the CFDA as womenswear designer of the year and been the subject of two books and two documentaries. His couture gowns are part of the permanent collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art among many others. He was the first designer to be honored with FIT’s Couture Council Artistry in Fashion Award and was the subject with an exhibition “Ralph Rucci: The Art of Weightlessness” at the Museum at FIT. Fashion historian Valerie Steele penned a book of the same name.
Having the honor of being the first American designer since Mainbocher to be invited to show at Paris Haute Couture in 2002 has to be high on that list, and 17 years later, the couturier will be back where he belongs doing what he does best.
According to an article that appeared in WWD on April 25th, “Ralph Rucci to Return to the Couture Calendar in Paris With RR331 Label” by Rosemary Feitelberg, Ralph will show his RR331 label during Paris haute couture week which runs from June 29th through July 4th. The designer said that he is moving away from decoration (feathers, beads, etc.) and his collection will be more pared down with a focus on couture techniques of cut and drape. Great timing I might add because after the Met Gala in honor of the Costume Institute exhibition “Camp: Notes on Fashion” on May 6th, I think we will all have seen enough over the top decoration, including feathers, to last us a lifetime lol!
There will also be more day wear because as Ralph put it, “Who needs to see another ball gown the size of this room?” Furs will be used in very subtle “hidden” ways, and clients will be able to select one of his paintings (Ralph is an accomplished artist) to have screen printed on double-faced wool or silk. While he noted that the palette will be inspired by the Renaissance (Italian, French, and the Netherlands), I can’t imagine that black won’t somehow find a way to prevail (black is his favorite hue, and he once told me he could easily do an entire collection in noir).
I am a huge fan of the multi-talented designer/sculptor/artist/art collector, and one of many who bemoaned his absence from NYFW. I have always felt that Ralph is at his best, and most modern, when his designs are restrained, pared down, minimal, infused with a sporty, athletic vibe, and most simple, if you will. Of course, I laugh when I say “simple” because we all know that even if the overall effect is one of simplicity, there is nothing at all simple about the thought that goes into the designs, the unerring rigorousness, the meticulous attention to detail, or the complexity of workmanship that has come to define Ralph’s work.
For this designer, it’s always an evolution, not a revolution of what he has done before. Ralph has a finely honed sense of aesthetics and a very personal, individual way of looking at and thinking about luxury. He has said that fashion is always about “eccentricity” (his customer is a woman who has her own style and a certain eccentricity). And he loves the element of surprise. I remember a long white wool gown from spring 2012 that was covered up and austere in front but when the model turned you saw that in back, it opened to reveal the surprise of a cherry red sequined tube skirt.
Ralph is learned, sophisticated, and eminently quotable (I have been fortunate to have interviewed him many times). He once told me that he thought that a piece of wood worn around the neck is more elegant than ropes of diamonds. But that doesn’t mean he has an aversion to the glittery, shiny objects. For fall 2014, there were what appeared to be wide diamond rings on each finger of every model that came down the runway. It turns out that they were actually pieces of adhesive tape covered with stones and crystals. In Ralph’s universe, they looked as luxurious as Tiffany diamonds. Brilliant!