After a pre-trip COVID-19 test Thursday to clear him for travel, Ralph Rucci sounded more than ready to take flight for Paris.
Monday’s video presentation will mark his ninth trip to couture. Rucci said, “I’m just so grateful to participate and to be working again in the couture. It feels like we’re out of that fog, and that [sense of] where are we going and what is going to happen? There was virtually no business for 14 months and now we’re coming out of it. I knew the reawakening would happen and luckily it is happening. Clients are starting to call.”
The designer handled the voiceover and appears in the short film, explaining his creative process, which draws back the curtain on his metier. The designer offers such insights as, “You don’t need to use decoration. The quiet presence of a person in the garment makes the statement.”
During Thursday’s interview, Rucci said of the film, “It’s not about having look by look by look. I thought that would have become boring and repetitive almost like a fashion show. The whole format [of the film] is almost very personal, the way that you deal with a client.”
At Rucci’s last visit to couture, 40 looks were shown and only three were ordered as they had been presented. With specific events or occasions in mind, most couture clients start with a requested item. If suggestions of what has already been worked on in the collection don’t entirely work, Rucci sketches other options. “I always show too much because once I start there is ‘This and this and this possibility…’ And then fabrics so it becomes a very specific analytical process to come up with something so special and individual for that woman.”
The film depicts such intricacies as burnt ostrich feathers tucked into two layers of tulle. He always starts a collection where he left off for the last one, so cuts and colors are launching pads. Creating useful clothes for women to buy and wear is essential. Silk raincoats, a few furs, double-faced cashmere items, daytime and evening dresses and subtly designed pieces that belie the tremendous amount of handwork required for couture are in the mix. Rucci’s handwriting has been replicated in embroidery on daytime clothes. A painting he did a few years ago that includes an image of the late artist Joseph Beiys running has been silkscreened on gazar and cut into a garment, and the script is embroidered in copper micro bugle beads.
In addition to the film by Matthew Placek, the designer collaborated with fashion illustrator Bil Donovan to capture the feeling of what he does. Rucci’s working sketches, Donovan’s illustrations, swatches, more fabrics and sample designs will be on hand when working with clients in his suite at the Ritz. “I feel lighter. I’m not traveling with hundreds of things and trunks and carnet. I’m not weighed down with all that. It’s more of a laboratory of design, and I’m a traveling show. Couture can be presented very intimately and without a lot of drama. It is not a show. I am having a showing with myself and with a press person where we can talk closely about what I’ve shown, what I’m doing and what I’m offering,” Rucci said.
The setting of the Ritz is symbolic since Rucci presented his first couture collection there in 2002. Raving about the family-like service, Rucci said he has had shoes and boots stored there since his last couture collection two years ago. Books and blankets are tucked away, too.
As unburdened as Rucci feels heading into couture, he said, “I think we will return to shows with great excitement and anticipation because the show creates an anticipation that you want. The designer feels so correct, when you feel that anticipation from people attending. It’s a completion of the collection being made, and then put together and presented. And the audience loves it.”
However, spectacles and discomfort are all cliché, he said. Recalling how he once showed ready-to-wear in Paris, Rucci said, “It was like 150 shows in one week. Let’s not go back to that past.”
Despite that, the designer said he would still love to show during the New York collections at some point, as he did in the past. “I love going by my own schedule. I have for the past six years. It just feels right. I’ve decided to enjoy life as much as my work. When I’m ready, I’m ready.”
In a separate interview, Donovan described his role as bringing to life Ralph’s sketches, which are a little bit more technical as they need to be. By adding a touch watercolor, line and shape, Donovan said he is still maintaining the elegance, glamour and nuance of the designer’s vision. Some of the sketches are featured in the film that will be Rucci’s presentation and other ones will be shown to clients for a better understanding of what he is creating, Donovan said.
The duo have worked together in the past with Donovan documenting Rucci’s collections by live sketching. “This is on a whole different level, which is amazing. It’s historically how most illustrators worked with designers — Rene Gruau and Christian Dior, Joe Eula and Halston and even Antonio Lopez and Charles James. Antonio documented all of James’ work in the late 1970s and ’80s.
Fashion illustration suits what Rucci does, due to the intimacy that he creates, his clientele, his vision and his work, he said. Having sat in on a fitting earlier this week, Donovan said, “It’s just incredible to see, as an illustrator and a bystander, his process. And then he explains the origins of his designs with Taroni fabric and tells me about French knots. It’s almost like we’re both working on the same canvas at the same time. But I am more or less communicating his vision on that canvas.”