PARIS--"I'm amazed I stayed so long," says Gerard Pipart, whose couture collection for Nina Ricci on Sunday marked his 30th anniversary with the house. "When I arrived everyone was predicting the death of couture, so I was keen to get in for what were meant to be the final few years. And, despite what people like Pierre Berge and many others predicted, couture has lasted a lot longer than anyone ever thought." It was long enough for Pipart to go south in the collection he showed Sunday, with an homage to Eugene Delacroix. An exhibition of the painter's work from Morocco is currently a hit in Paris, and Pipart paid tribute with multicolored caftans, exotic harem pants, ostrich feathers and a series of pleated golden columns with elaborate lace tops or racy bustiers. Pipart joined Ricci in 1964 and is only the third couturier in the house's long history, following Nina herself and Jules-Francois Crahay. Before coming to Ricci, Pipart spent five years designing Chloe, where he gained a reputation for avant-garde looks. Some considered him the Claude Montana of his day. Once at Ricci, however, Pipart hewed a classical line. "At the time, Nina Ricci dressed le grand bourgeoisie. I was only 30, young and full of new ideas, so it was all pretty different and I had to adjust," he says. "When I first came I thought, 'I'm not very like this house,' and wasn't sure I was right. It was certainly hard in the beginning," recalls Pipart, as he picks up his feisty Jack Russell, Igor, whom he'd like to see engaged to Pierre Berge's Jack Russell, Ficelle. "I'm sure they would get on well together." Over the years, Pipart developed an exuberant, highly feminine style, attracting a client roster that has included the queens of Thailand and Norway, Grand Duchess Josephine-Charlotte of Luxembourg, Marcella Perez de Cuellar and Mai Hallingby. In 1987, Pipart was awarded the Dé d'Or, or Golden Thimble, presented for the best couture collection each season. But he is not enamored of the revival of glamour. "I really thought that after John Galliano's most recent [ready-to-wear] collection, nobody would try anything more like that," he says. "After all, wasn't his collection the last word on the subject?" Pipart's own classicism contrasts strongly with the house's other creative personalities. Ricci's president Gilles Fuchs prides himself on having handpicked a stable of directional talents: Christian Astuguevieille for accessories, Elizabeth Garouste and Mathieu Bonetti for perfume bottles and packaging, and, most recently, former Jean Paul Gaultier assistant Myriam Schaeffer for ready-to-wear. Asked about her October debut show, Pipart replies, "It's clear Mr. Fuchs wanted something new for his window, for his licenses and for perfumes. Well, this has clearly nothing to do with me, but I thought the show should not have been shown in the couture salon. That was the wrong way to project it. A first collection is never easy. I understood her suits for day; as far as evening is concerned, I'm sure she will learn. "My goal is to make a woman beautiful," Pipart continues. "In the evening, it's a great pleasure when a woman makes a man happy, hopefully in my clothes.'
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