Ralph Rucci didn’t travel to Paris this season for haute couture, but he has debuted his fall collection.
Despite not hosting a show or presentation there, Rucci timed the unveiling to fall within the spirit of the season. The New York-based designer hopes to return to the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode in January.
Noting how the federation requires that at least 25 designs be made to participate, Rucci said he opted out because he couldn’t afford to meet that quota and do a show in Paris. As was the case last season, Rucci worked with an illustrator to develop watercolors of his designs. “People loved it. As for the clients, it becomes another element of seduction,” Rucci said, adding that last season’s orders were predominantly based on the sketches as they had been designed versus requests for slight variations.
Referring to the most recent couture shows, he said, “We’re back to pay for play. Those front rows were filled with personalities being paid [to attend]. You didn’t see clients in front rows…people — and houses — seeking publicity are part of the pay-for-play story. If you’re showing up with your press agent and being followed by photographers, you’re not paying for clothes,” Rucci said, adding that many couture clients prefer not to be seen so that people don’t know how much they spend.
”I love giving things away but I never give things away for publicity — never have,” Rucci added.
The fall collection features a sleeveless leather jewel-neck dress that is embroidered in two patterns, with an over structure over the skirt. An amorphous duchess satin “creme puff”-type tunic paired with a narrow flared evening skirt with hand sewn grosgrain ribbon insets on silk organza is another favorite design this season, Rucci said.
Noting how a couture suit without any embroidery from a European house can in some cases start at $125,000, Rucci said his prices — which start at $25,000 and increase based on hand techniques, embroideries and fur — are “more reasonable,” despite the same process of selecting a design, making a toile, doing fittings, creating a basted garment before the final garment is made. With some designer ready-to-wear suits retailing for $35,000 in specialty stores, “Luxury ready-to-wear has become so expensive that there is more meaning to the logic of haute couture, not just clothes being made by hand to the level of perfection that is striking but the price structure is understood,” he said.
Once again Rucci worked with fashion illustrator Bil Donovan to create a look book. Photography and production was handled by 26Five. Donovan’s work will be the focus of an exhibition, titled “The Art of Elegance,” from Sept. 13 to 18 at Gray M.C.A. in London before moving on to Bath from Sept. 20 to Oct. 29.
Rucci works with Dean Harris for any designs that are related to jewelry such as a dress with South Seas baroque pearl buttons on the back. The designer plans to do more painting on his own in order to silkscreen some of those designs onto fabrics for next season.
After 41 years in fashion and nearing his 65th birthday, Rucci said, “I feel very lucky that I am able to do this with the same level of enthusiasm. I still love my metier.”
Acknowledging the social changes underway in the world, the war in Ukraine, the ebbing away of women’s and gay people’s rights, and other “apocalyptic problems,” he said, “There is no way for us to psychologically defend ourselves or prepare. Before Elsa Peretti died, she said, ‘The only way to deal with it is through beauty and art.’”
In the process of redesigning his art-filled apartment to be a three-room couture salon, Rucci said having clients come there will enable them to experience the process of couture and his art. “At one point in my life, I had a 16,000-square-foot office and salon and 67 employees. I don’t now but I am happier than ever to do what I want, the way that I want to.”
Despite the many headaches affecting designers brought on by sourcing tie-ups, fabric price hikes and other issues, Rucci insisted the couture client will always want refined designs and that he can take the heat. Before this week’s heat wave struck New York City, Rucci ordered two inflatable pools from Amazon and set them up on his terrace. One small one for his bulldog “Jimmy,” who is named for Rucci’s mentor James Galanos, and a larger one for himself. “Saturday I will get into the pool and just lay there — fancy couturier in a child’s blow-up pool,” he said with a laugh.