In a career spanning over thirty years, he has been compared to Lorenzo de’Medici for building multi-faceted mixed-media art settings unlike any other in the world today. Ralph Pucci is a visionary and has in his roster furniture, art, lighting, graphics and mannequins designed by many of the most prominent modernizers of our time. His collaborations include, but are not limited to iconic artists such as Deborah Turbeville, Ruben Toledo, and Malcolm Hill as well as the eminent interior designer Andrée Putman. Pucci’s unique approach of highlighting the combined effect between the domains of design and art speaks to the masses and the elite alike.
azureazure.com had the distinct opportunity to chat with him while he was in South Florida to prepare for the premiere of a collection of paintings by Ruben Toledo at the new Ralph Pucci Showroom in Miami’s Wynwood Art District.
ELYSZE HELD [E.H.] / You have a few of the best artists in different disciplines under your umbrella- Andrée Putman, Ruben Toledo, Herve Van Der Straeten. Tell us about working with them.
RALPH PUCCI [R.P.] / Andrée designed her first mannequin with us for Barneys in 1985 for their women’s store in Chelsea-it was a legendary premier. I then started to represent her furniture in 1990, and I continue to represent Andrée Putman to this day. I have been working with Ruben Toledo since 1986 or 1987. We did miniature sculptures together, and I started to use his wife Isabel to dress mannequins.
E.H. / Why did you choose to open a showroom in Miami?
R.P. / We have New York, Los Angeles, and now Miami. I came here a few times for Art Basel, and when I decided to open up my showroom, it was a combination of the energy and an artistic sensibility here. But, when I saw the spirit, the power of the Margolis Foundation, I knew I had to be here. As for Wynwood, I just love this area, it continues to evolve and be creative. I think this is the most exciting area in the country right now.
E.H. / What country’s architecture, art, history appeals to you the most from all your travels?
R.P. / Six months ago, I would have said Paris, Provence, Italy, but now I after coming back from a family vacation to Japan, to the tiny island of Naoshima in the Seto Inland Sea, I have to say what is happening there is nothing short of phenomenal. The Benesse Foundation has taken an island that was underdeveloped and made way for the emergence of modern art and architecture in a relatively isolated place. But in my travels throughout Japan, I continued to be in awe of the entire Japanese aesthetic.
E.H. / Tell us about your philanthropy.
R.P. / I am a trustee at the Pratt Institute in New York. My work with Pratt takes up a great deal of time. This year we had a collaboration with the students and they were challenged to create an innovative design in knitwear, channeling the Pucci aesthetic (clean, minimal lines), and the collections were staged at our showroom. I am also involved with the Kips Bay Show House in New York City, where I was recently honored. To be recognized by the giants of the design industry is a tremendous honor.
I am part of the show right now at the Museum of Arts & Designs in Manhattan, an exhibit called New York City Makers. Pucci has eight mannequins there, called Motion. The exhibit is on until the end of October.
The director at the museum Glenn Adamson has offered me a solo exhibit of my mannequins –a retrospective of Pucci International from April 7, 2015 through September 25, 2015. Twenty-five to thirty mannequins in the exhibit, from Christy Turlington, Andrée Putman, Kenny Scharf, Diane von Furstenberg, Veruschka, Ruben Toledo, and my newest direction of the simple abstract mannequins. It is going to be very exciting. We are going to re-create our sculpture studio, and not only will you see the mannequins, but you will be able to see the creative process (once a week). There will be a book to accompany the project, and Margaret Russell, the editor of Architectural Digest, is writing the forward.
E.H. / You have mentioned that Pucci is a family business. How are you passing on your legacy?
R.P. / It was incredibly exciting that my son Michael came on board last year. We are very busy with manufacturing, working on new ideas all the time. We have three galleries, and he has taken on a lot of responsibilities and has been proactive in looking for other locations, investments. And most importantly, he has developed an amazing relationship with all of my artists. My artists are truly creative people, and I believe they want to let constantly their ideas be clear to me. If I am not always around or unable to communicate with them, Michael is there and works wonderfully with them. He is a great asset especially in that respect.
E.H. / The Pucci aesthetic seems to carry over into your wardrobe: Who is your favorite clothing designer?
R.P. / Gianluca Isaia. I am a big fan of his work, love him as a person, his clothes can be edgy, modern, hip, but not necessarily trendy. He is a master in his cuts—great suits, handmade Neapolitan tailoring. He is a giant in my opinion.
E.H. / How do you see the difference between good and exceptional?
R.P. / Good is easy to achieve; exceptional is much more difficult. To be exceptional you have to be focused; you have to live it; you have to breathe it. Quality is exceptional. Luxury is exceptional.
E.H. / Did you know when you started out with the Pucci Mannequins that you would have this aesthetic empire?
R.P. / You always have dreams about how big it could be. When we started out, we just began to chip away at things that were interesting to our consistent, clear point of view. Of course, in starting out, it was mainly in our mannequin business–there was a lot of excitement in the visual world. I think visual design has been undervalued in the world of design. I was fortunate to work with great visionaries in the retail world.
Things work very organically here at Pucci. We are very fortunate to surround ourselves with some of the greatest talents known today in the design world: Andrée Putman, Patrick Naggar, Herve Van der Straeten, Ruben Toledo, Chris Lehrecke, Dana Barnes, Jim Zivic and in the fashion world, Diane von Furstenberg, Anna Sui, Isabel Toledo.
E.H. / What is your Favorite Museum?
R.P. / My favorite museum is DIA in upstate New York. It is a huge building, a former Nabisco factory composed of brick, steel, concrete, and glass–all elements on the quiet side of design and beauty as the skylights provide a natural light. It is considered to be a model of early 20th century industrial architecture. But! Now that I have witnessed firsthand the work of architect Tadao Ando and the Benesse Foundation in Japan, I have to add that to the top of my list.
After our delightful conversation with Ralph Pucci, we look forward to seeing firsthand the next level of Pucci International! ■