Monday, June 24, 2013

Ralph Rucci: On the Move & Moving On

Ralph Rucci

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 RR".

 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 . 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 collections). 
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


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