PARIS — Christian Lacroix has a million and one things to do — most pressingly, the winter couture collection he will present here July 9. “All the sketches are done, but we have still not done fittings,” he confessed sheepishly Tuesday over coffee at the Bristol Hotel here. “We will start today.”

This story first appeared in the June 6, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

And then, of course, he also has this other design project known as Pucci — the famous Florentine fashion house that his backer, luxury giant LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, has charged him with rejuvenating. LVMH bought control of the jet-set label in 2000; annual sales are about $15 million. Lacroix was named Pucci’s artistic director last April, succeeding Julio Espada, and will show his first collection in Milan this fall.

But instead of feeling overwhelmed or daunted by his enormous workload, Lacroix is newly energized, describing the Pucci challenge as a “pleasure.” Just back from his first visit to the Pucci palazzo in Florence and its factory in Bologna, Lacroix shared his first impressions with WWD and gave a thumbnail sketch of his plans for the house.

“For me, it’s something other than just fashion,” he said, dressed in a cheerful gingham suit and shirt with New Balance sneakers. “For me, it’s working on a way of life much more than trends. It’s a brand that has to have its own world. It’s like Hermes. It’s an attitude.”

Hardly a stranger to the Pucci world of silk jersey and graphic prints, Lacroix comes to the job with a hefty admiration for its late founder, Emilio Pucci, and a long fascination with his design history. A pilot and sportsman, Pucci showed his first collection of skiwear in 1947 and founded his house a few years later.

Lacroix recalled his visit to a Pucci retrospective in Florence in 1996, which opened his eyes to the early figurative style of Pucci prints. “There were also all these handpainted things he did that were the real start for the prints we know,” he said.

Even though he now has access to the house’s vast archives, which span complete collections, fabric samples and paper documentation galore, Lacroix said he plans to dip into it rarely, selectively, and only as his fashion instincts guide him. On his first visit, he requested only a few looks and fabrics be brought up.

“I’m not here to do vintage,” he stressed. “Why not have a corner with real vintage in any boutique? Pucci was so modern. Only a few people know he did a logo for NASA [the Apollo 15 moon mission] and that he designed a car [the Emilio Pucci Lincoln Continental Mark V]. I love this modern approach. The most modern spirit in the work is this sportswear idea, even for people who don’t do any sports. Yes, you can have a foot in the past, but you have to plant one foot in the future, too.”

That’s why Lacroix arrived in Florence with specific “impulses” for his first collection. He wanted to do a bicolor print, and behold, the house had a perfect one from the milestone 1954 “Palio” collection that won Pucci an award from Neiman Marcus. Lacroix is also drawing inspiration from the family crest, which has a moors’ head, and also the pageantry surrounding the horse races in Tuscany and Sienna that originally inspired the Palio range.

“As a designer, you have to trust your gut. The first impulse is always the right one,” he explained. “You have to be very clear in your mind [about what you want to do] before you go into the archive, or you could be swallowed by it.”

Lacroix said one of his future challenges at Pucci would be to create a winter image for a brand with “more of a summer feeling.” And he sees lots of other opportunities for expansion. For example, “I would love men’s wear: shirts, ties and why not even underwear?” he asked.

At present, Lacroix is directing his efforts on the spring-summer collection, which will be shown to retailers beginning next month. Although it was already in progress when he arrived at the house, Lacroix chose new prints and colors and submitted fresh sketches. He assured that certain signatures of the line will be preserved — the blouses, Capri pants, the silk jersey — but with a new vision.

Lacroix recognizes the need to make a big splash at Pucci. Given his status as one of Paris’ star couturiers, his audience has high expectations. And so does he.

“Just to go step-by-step carefully would be wrong. I think that we will have to be quite strong in October,” he said. “We want to mix the future and the past. We are very lucky to have a brand that is still appealing for sophisticated ladies, and also, we hope, the newcomers.””

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