NEW YORK — Ralph Rucci stands out at an academic symposium much the way his designs do on the runway.
The spirited designer waxed on "Seeking My Vocabulary" and how his early education still shapes his work at FIT's "The Art of Fashion" symposium. Now marking 25 years as a fashion designer, Rucci received bachelor's degrees in philosophy and literature from Temple University before studying at FIT.
"At some point, I lost interest in the simple activity of fashion design," Rucci said. "If a young person wants to be a fashion designer and just thinks about the clothes, they are missing an enormous amount. Just to dive into fashion design is going to be ultimately disappointing. I approach fashion design as an academic. I wouldn't dare sketch a jacket without researching the history behind it."
According to Rucci, fashion design can take two routes: creating style or changing trends. He said he has chosen to make his career about the former, drawing on historical, iconic and artistic references in his designs.
"It's not just about finding the vocabulary," Rucci said. "The vocabulary has to do with the images that never leave me."
Those images come from legends in his field like Halston and Balenciaga, who "gave us a vocabulary of technique and behavior," according to Rucci.
"When I discovered Cristóbal Balenciaga, it was as though something was released in me and I had a future," Rucci said. "It's important, especially in fashion, to pay homage to the people who laid the groundwork. There is no such thing as anything dated, if it is important and inspirational."
Women, from style icons to his clients today (and the rooms in their homes), serve as another source of inspiration for Rucci. He pointed to Pauline de Rothschild, Tina Chow and Diana Vreeland as examples of women "who possessed great originality."
"I think about women a great deal," Rucci said. "Where did the idea of grace and finesse go?"
Art, which Rucci defined as "an attempt to understand unconscious elements in a visual, three-dimensional level," also finds its way into Rucci's own art, currently on display at the Museum at FIT. Da Vinci's pencil drawings serve as a regular source of inspiration for Rucci. In fact, the Chado Ralph Rucci label, a circle within a square, "emulates and pays respect to that image from da Vinci," the designer explained.
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