Ralph Rucci: On the Move & Moving On

I had an appointment to see
Ralph Rucci and review Resort 2014 this past Friday, and we met at his soon to
be former headquarters in Soho.  On Tuesday, he will relocate his company to a
space in Chelsea, (151 West 26th street), that is three times the size (16,820
square feet to be exact) of his current atelier at 536 Broadway. As soon as I
walked in, I could sense the palpable excitement on the eve of what is to be a
major move; one that is illustrative of the exciting changes, and expansion to
come. (Remember “The Eve of Destruction”? I guess you can call this, “The Eve of
Construction”!) Quite frankly, everything about Ralph Rucci is expansive these
days, not the least of which are Ralph’s formidable biceps, a bi-product of his
rigourous workouts; and his even greater expansive mood. By Ralph’s own admission, “I can
work and not worry about the business. I’m in a great place right now –  I never
had the luxury of doing that.” Rosina Rucci summed it up perfectly with her
observation: “There’s a new sense of hopefulness we’re living at

 Ralph explained that they
will begin opening up freestanding boutiques to satisfy customers. “We need our
own point of sales like other designers, so that clients can see a fuller
picture”. Retailers are not capable of carrying merchandise the way they did in
the past”.
“I haven’t had a retailer
carry the clothes in the correct way so that the clients see that the clothes
are not just for rich older women, which is what so many people think that is
what I’m about, and it’s so frustrating”. (It’s early in the process but the one
thing Ralph knows is that the boutique will be located on Madison Avenue).
Ralph Rucci Resort “killer” black matte jersey with tulle inset seams
In addition to the free
standing boutiques, advertising is an important component of that, and his new
fall ad campaign is certain to be image changing and defining. Coincidentally,
on Friday, an article ran in WWD, “Rucci taps Meisel” during which time Rosemary
Feitelberg talked extensively about the “dream team” that was assembled to make
it happen. According to Feitelberg,Ralph Rucci didn’t spare any expense for his
first major advertising campaign. The designer lined up photographer Steven Meisel to call the shots
during Monday’s nine-hour shoot at Highline Stages in the Meatpacking District.
True to form, the lensman kept the details about the campaign sealed shut. What
was clear was that Johan Svensson served as art director, Edward Enninful was
the stylist and Stella Tennant modeled pieces from
the fall collection”.
Other big changes? In
addition to their new CEO, Jeffry Aronsson “who is doing great great things”,
and a recent collaboration with Holly Hunt on a furniture collection, the result
of which is the Ralph Rucci for Holly Hunt collection – it is made to order
through the Holly Hunt showroom at http://www.hollyhunt.com . He will start showing Couture in Paris in
July 2014 (it will now be called “Made-to-Order” since this is America). Of
course, Ralph has never stopped making “Made-to-Order”, but it will be
completely separate from ready-to-wear, as it should be.
And knitwear (cashmere and
silk), which he has always done as part of his collections, will now be a whole
separate entity. “I wanted it to be completely separate so that the customer can
buy all knits.” “Do you know what I remember
so clearly? I experienced it and it’s such an impressive memory. Do you remember
when Halston had his whole salon on 68th Street and Madison Avenue? The first
floor was all knits. That’s all they sold on the first floor. Cashmere, silk,
ribbed. And I remember people just buying multiples of everything and they
couldn’t keep them in stock”. (Do I remember? Of course, because Carrie
Donovan, who was senior fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar at that time, wore
only Halston knitwear).
“I had been doing knits on
and off for years, but it took us some time to really find the right factory”
(which he has). And this relationship has gone beautifully. It’s a factory
located in Perugia Italy, and they have the capacity to make the quality and to
work with us on the price so that a cashmere sweater is not a million dollars
anymore. And it’s great quality. It’s made in Italy. Not China or Turkey”.
And what, may I ask, is a
designer without a fragrance? So I was not surprised when Ralph admitted that he
had one in the works… “and then we had the crash of 2008”. But it is in the
works again and will probably make it’s debut before the close of 2015. “I know
exactly what I want it to smell like” (he wouldn’t divulge the ingredients or
the scent). “I designed the bottle in 1987 and never lost the focus on that.
Jeffry is now putting that all together. It will be called Ralph Rucci”. Which
was the perfect segue into what led him to drop the word Chado from the label.
“When did you decide to do that?”
Ralph Rucci Resort Taroni snakeskin printed coat
 “Six months ago! People were
confused. They would call me “Chado” and there was consumer confusion. But the
straw that broke the camel’s back but when I was having dinner with a really
important editor-in-chief of an American magazine and she said Prada’s last
spring collection was very Japanese. And since an enormous part of their
business is in China, that doesn’t work. The Chinese did not accept the
collection. I understand that if you are
going to start your expansion in Asia, as we are in China right now, then that
will be detrimental. I think now we have to approach the second three
decades (can you imagine? it’s going to be 32 years in October!). We have to
approach that with a zest and a spirit that’s zeitgeist. So I came and I said to
Jeffrey…Jeff, I just want to change everything and call it “Ralph Rucci”, and
his response was: “Oh, I couldn’t wait for you to say that!” But, he was so cool
he wouldn’t say anything. It was completely my decision”.
 I asked him who he would
consider his ideal client. “Who would you love see wear your clothes?” He immediately said, “You!”
Of course I was terribly flattered (that works for me Ralph). He continued, “Do you know what I mean? It’s a question that has evolved
the way I’ve evolved. It’s a woman who feels that she is special. I cannot give
you the normal fashion talk of Gwyneth Paltrow and all of that. It’s the quality
of a woman that has evolved, that I find so seductive. She is learned,
experienced, and she has her own style, because women with their own style  have
a certain eccentricity and you learn so much. So that’s who my ideal customer
would be. I already have my favorites: Patti Smith (she loves his crisp white
oversized shirts), Deeda Blair (the subject of Andrew Soloman’s recent profile
in “T” Magazine, “Deeda Blair’s Elegance of Conviction”, which included photos
of her clad in several of her own Ralph Rucci dresses), and Elsa Peretti. They
are iconic”. He also cited Samantha Storto (“talk about inspirational”, he said
of his design director).
Ralph Rucci Resort embroidered white cotton broadcloth tunic shirt
and pants with nautilus wrap detail
When I thought about the
rather divergent group he mentioned, and the divergent clothes he designs, I
quickly noted that his collections could be called “schizophrenic” (and I did
not mean that in a derogatory way nor was I making light of mental disorders,
and he ‘got’ it immediately). He literally clapped his hands and said, “I love
that”. “Can I say my clothes are schizophrenic?” When I noted, “there’s nothing
wrong with being schizophrenic, he jokingly opined: “we have lots of meds to
help them with that”. In addition, it was not lost on me that he used a
Rorschach print of his own design of course, for resort (“the Rorschach is
fun…I did this painting on a Sunday afternoon here and I wanted to put one of
my paintings in the collection and I don’t know why I did Rorschach, but I was
playing”), and there would be full moon on Sunday, so there was something very
psychological about all of it. And let’s face it, many creative souls, including
fashion people, are admittedly a little bit ‘crazy’, ‘off’, and eccentric, if
not obsessive, me included. Ralph would be the first to admit he has many
obsessions (the color black, bias cuts, his new drop grain hem, undulating
necklines, tulle insets, etc).
Ralph Rucci Resort – his “favorite” matte jersey drop grain hem dress
with undulating neckline which is available in black or white

But while he agreed his
collections are divergent, he observed that there are inherent qualities that
hold the line all together: “cut, quality, make, and whatever word you want to
use, but edge”. “Even Deeda wants to have an edge. Everyone consciously or unconsciously wants to look desirable and be desired so it never leaves your mind
whether it’s a platonic or fully sexual relationship” I was also curious as to his
thoughts regarding the new crop of talented, young American designers. “Who you
think are major talents?” I asked.
“Alexandre Wang’s work is
fabulous. I buy his t shirts and shorts”. (Coincidentally, I was wearing
Alexander Wang’s sleeveless white cotton shirt with a cape back from sring 2011,
which is one of my favorite pieces).”What he is doing is superb
and I love what he’s doing for Balenciaga which is brilliant. I don’t know him
but I think he is a designer!” He also mentioned Mr. Givenchy, James
Galanos, and then he added,”I had the privilege in my
life of witnessing Halston”.”Azzedine Alaia has his own
private secret factory which is unto himself. He’s a genius! I am not going on
that direction. I’m trying to do our own thing which is another option within
that realm. Riccardo Tisci is brilliant and what he has done for haute couture
is a whole other level and I’d love to wear his menswear but it doesn’t fit.
It’s too small. They don’t cut beyond a size 52″ (his muscles again).

Ralph Rucci Resort zipper white canvas jacket with Rorschach print

Of course, getting back to
Resort 2014, which was why I was there. His thoughts about resort? He wishes
“everyone would be grown up like we used to and have two collections (spring
summer and fall winter) and that’s it”. Though, as he put it, “the confusion is
this thing called pre fall, because I approach it as pre fall, but they want it
to be less prefill and more lightweight which I will address”. Regardless,
getting up close and personal with Ralph Rucci (and
his designs), is always a treat. While it maybe true that a picture is worth a
thousand words, this is certainly one example that dispels that notion, and
proves that pictures do not always do justice to a finished product. When it
comes to Ralph’s work, one really needs to see the pieces and most importantly,
feel them and touch them, to fully appreciate the excruciatingly painstaking
detail and workmanship that goes into everything this acclaimed artist does. And
he an artist in every sense of the word (he had a one man show in December, and
each season, his paintings are screened for fabrics which are used in the

He wasted no time in cutting
to the chase and immediately pointed out the most important pieces on the
collection: the wider pant that wraps on the leg (nautilus wrap); the new drop
grain hem (“the cut is fabulous…the fabric falls on the bias on the side and
it is cut away. There’s a point that happens and it makes the body look great”);
the over sized button front tunic nautilus wrap shirt: “I’ve done that shirt in
various fabrics, from crepe de chine to pique. I’ve done it in pique and women
love that body. I call it the Elsa, I originally made over sized shirts for Elsa
Peretti in white pique because she goes through them. It’s a staple and we do
variations every season, and this is a new version. It’s in broadcloth
and embroidered very beautifully, but the embroidery is very static. It’s based
on those wall collages by Louise Nevelson”; the group of cashmere and silk
knits that are part of the expansion; the thick white cotton canvas zip front
jacket with a Rorschach pattern; a coat in a snakeskin pattern comprised of
black, nude, and petrol green made of thick Taroni silk.

Ralph Rucci Resort drop grain jacket with bias cut sides
As for his favorite, favorite
pieces? They were unsurprisingly all in black “I could do an entire collection
in black” he said.  I, of course, had to touch them all. Included was
a perfectly cut double face wool jacket with zippered sleeves; a drop grain bias
cut jacket that comes to the front and “makes women look taller and slimmer”;  jersey dress with an undulating neckline that is “all purpose, 12 months a year” (“I
cut it in chalk and in black”); the black matte jersey dress with seams that are
inset with tulle (“a killer, look what it does for the body!”, he exclaimed);
and the black silk chiffon lame dress that is cut on the cross grain. He literally marveled at
the bias cut pieces. “Don’t you just love the bias?” he asked. “Just two pieces
of fabric. The perfection!”

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

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