Born in 1914 to one of Florence’s oldest families, Emilio Pucci, the Marquis of Barsento, became a fashion phenomenon in the 1950s with a trailblazing vision that continues to reverberate today.
Although he relinquished a private life of aristocratic leisure, the Marquis was nonetheless crowned ‘The Prince of Prints’ by the international fashion press who were smitten by his bold, new designs and radical approach to fashion at the time. A major influence in contemporary fashion, Pucci’s legacy continues to be a major force behind the birth of the ‘Made in Italy’ style and a milestone in Italy’s sportswear concept.
HOW IT BEGAN
An avid skier and athlete, who travelled between his family’s regal palazzo in Florence, the mountains of Switzerland and the glamorous resort island of Capri, Emilio Pucci naturally embodied the post-war, jet set glamour which captivated a new generation of modern, active women. His fashion career began unexpectedly in 1947 when he created a streamlined ski outfit, which was revolutionary with its sleek, tapered trousers and hooded parka, and was photographed on the slopes of Switzerland for Harper’s Bazaar. He then opened a boutique on Capri dedicated to simple, yet beautiful resort clothing that embodied the island’s natural beauty and refreshingly bright colours. The novel concept of designer ready-to-wear was a hit with the island’s sophisticated clientele who had instant access to wearable yet chic clothing. Later, his designs were prized by world-renown female icons, including Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren, Jackie Kennedy, and Gloria Guinness, as well as Madonna, and Nicole Kidman.
THE REVOLUTIONARY DESIGN
Prior to Pucci’s arrival on the design scene, women were constricted by rigid, structured clothing that utilised heavy padding, corsets, and petticoats to unnaturally confine the body. Contrary to his design contemporaries, Pucci was driven by the desire to liberate women, granting them unprecedented freedom and movement. His simply designed dresses, pants and tops featured free-flowing lines that followed the natural curves of the body. Pucci designs had the allure of couture, but were shed of all the impractical weight, volume, layering and, most importantly, cost of haute couture creations. Additionally, Pucci offered a total vision that ranged from dresses and underwear to linens, handbags, perfumes, and rugs, and gave an expanded group of consumers access to designer goods for the first time.
A BRILLIANT COLOURIST
Inspired by exotic cultures and by the natural landscapes of the Mediterranean, Pucci brought luscious, bright colour to his designs in an unparalleled way. A sophisticated fusion of colour, lemon yellows, bougainvillea pinks, frosted lilacs, azure blue, and almond green became the hallmark of Pucci design. The effect was glorious, joyful, and perfectly captured the new mood in fashion. Instantly recognisable, Pucci’s colour combinations exude energy and emotion and allow the designs of the clothes themselves to remain relatively simple.
A KALEIDOSCOPE OF PRINTS
In the 1950s Pucci began developing his signature prints, graphic, abstract designs, which swirled in a kaleidoscope of colour. The organic forms pulsing with geometric patterns mimicked contemporary art forms, but were inspired by the world around him, which included Sicilian mosaics, the heraldic banners of Siena’s Palio horse race, Bali Batiks, and African motifs. It was the first time that such optical illusions had been incorporated into clothing and the effect was highly original, not to mention extensively copied in the years to come. Each print carries the designer’s name ‘Emilio’, in tiny hand-written form, marking the debut of a designer’s name as an external logo.
Working closely with expert fabric manufacturers in Italy, Pucci revolutionised the clothing sector by pioneering free-moving, stretch fabrics. Eschewing the heavy, rigid fabrications that were still largely in circulation in the 1950s, he developed and patented several original fabrics such as silk stretch jersey and cotton jersey. Both fabrications, the result of intensive technical research, allowed Pucci garments to be weightless, unlined, and wrinkle-proof, the precursors for a modern, travel-friendly wardrobe.
Working out of his grand palazzo, the designer began showing his collections to the international press and buyers in Florence in 1951. He became an instant hit with American retailers such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus who were enthralled by the explosive colour and the wearability of his simple designs. The effortless, elegant clothing, which took women from day to evening and from jets to seaside cocktail parties, perfectly captured America’s new sportswear sensibility and complemented the glamour of the high-rolling, jet set crowd. Throughout the 1960s and 70s, the brand rose to popularity amongst the country’s wealthiest and most stylish women.
Pucci used his design talent in a variety of non-fashion projects. These include creating futuristic uniforms for Braniff International Airlines flight attendants, the logo for the Apollo 15 space mission, porcelain tableware for Rosenthal, Spring Mills bath towels, the ‘Piume’ print for Qantas airlines, and the interior of a Ford Lincoln Continental Mark IV, as well as Cappellini furniture projects and a 300-foot hand-painted sail for Wally Yachts. The more recent projects include the Illy Art Collection as well as the Pucci book published by Taschen.
In the 1990s, Pucci prints experienced a surge in popularity, and as the world’s fascination with the brand rekindled, Emilio’s daughter, Laudomia Pucci, began to take over her father’s business. In April 2000, an alliance was formed between the Pucci family and LVMH, with the French luxury group acquiring 67% of the company. In a short time the company has built a global store network, and soared once again on the international fashion stage.
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