By  on November 7, 2006

NEW YORK — Well-wishers marched into Ralph Rucci's SoHo showroom Saturday night to celebrate his company's 25th anniversary.

Friends and supporters included Joan Kaner, Iris Apfel and Amy Fine Collins. Among the other guests were Martha Stewart, Vogue's Hamish Bowles, Bergdorf Goodman's Roopal Patel, The New York Times' Cathy Horyn, Town & Country's Pamela Fiori, Celestina Wallis and Mary McFadden.

Although many designers have tried to hinge their fame on licensing deals and photo ops, Rucci has preferred to focus on his craft, staying under the radar. In 2002, his competitors took note when Rucci became the first American designer since Mainbocher to be invited by Paris' Chambre Syndicale to show as part of the haute couture.

More recently, Rucci's profile has risen again, partly because of a retrospective bowing Jan. 13 at the Museum at FIT. He was picked to receive the first Artistry of Fashion Award from the Museum at FIT's Couture Council. And in the past few years, Rucci has been honored by the Fashion Group International's Night of Stars as well as Kent State and Drexel universities, among others.

"I feel so lucky to do this with my life,'' he said. "I do this for myself and for my business first, and if other people enjoy it, that's fantastic."

The recognition was a long time coming, said Kaner, retired fashion director of Neiman Marcus, who championed Rucci's work for years.

"It's been 25 years with lots of ups and downs,'' she said. "It's been a long, hard road for him and I am so thrilled that the last 11 years have been so good and positive. He's all about elegance and grace and women looking beautiful. He's not about trendy, and his clothes are never of-the-moment. His work is very individualistic. Every woman here who is wearing Chado Ralph Rucci has picked out her color, her shape and her silhouette."

Getting people to look at his clothes was the greatest challenge from the start, Rucci said. Gazing at the crowd, he continued, "There are some people in this room who were at that first show 25 years ago at the old Westbury Hotel at 69th and Madison. The collection was entirely cut on the bias. I draped and made everything myself because I wanted it to be a couture collection. But here I was this nobody, a kid trying to make everything entirely on the bias."

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