NEW YORK — On Tuesday, Ralph Rucci will launch his new collection, RR331, in a 7 p.m. presentation at the Mercantile Annex on 517 West 37th Street, a location chosen for its convenience. “At 8 o’clock is my dear friend Narciso [Rodriguez]’s show, and everyone can literally walk across the street,” he explained.
Discussing his New York Fashion Week comeback, Rucci exuded a mix of calm reflection and palpable excitement. It’s been a tumultuous few years for the designer, known for his scrupulous, high-minded craftsmanship. In November 2014, he left the fashion house bearing his name, which he founded in 1994 and which had its fair share of financial struggles through the years.
Rucci expressed a desire to move forward with a new sense of clarity.
“I’ve spent the past year thinking, How have I evolved after 34 years in this fashion industry? What have I done, from being the only American to show couture in Paris….to creating luxury ready-to-wear [here in New York]? I’ve thought about what I’m best at and what I don’t know how to do well. It’s as if I’m starting again as I started in 1980,” he said, citing a “multiplicity of emotions.”
Rucci’s new made-to-order collection will be composed of 17 looks — shown in all-black silhouettes, or “templates,” which his clients can customize in other colors — as well as seven sable fur coats made with the same Pologeorgis furrier he has worked with for 20 years. The furs will be offered unlined; Rucci painted on the inside of each sable pelt with black ink.
Though in the past the designer has done up to 60 looks in a single collection, he aimed to create a streamlined wardrobe with RR331, hence the presentation’s tight edit. “I wanted each piece to be perfect for what it means in that area; whether it’s a raincoat, a tunic, a great looking dress or a terrific mohair jumpsuit,” he said. “Evening wear [includes] some very exciting pieces; one look is screened with the neck and face of a Pina Bausch dancer, another with the torques of a Richard Serra sculpture.”
The debut also marks a flurry of collaborations, such as stretch suede and satin shoes designed with Jean-Michel Cazabat and sculptural visors by the milliner Philip Treacy. As for the label’s RR331 moniker, “331” signifies the number of rituals in the elaborate Japanese tea ceremony known as “chado” — the brand was formerly known as Chado Ralph Rucci, of course — and is meant to symbolize Rucci’s exacting, procedural approach to clothing design. He tapped digital artist Pascal Dangin to conceive the label’s branding.
Surrounding the presentation will be a 70-foot-long piece of artwork made from 10 of Rucci’s individual panel paintings, meant to illustrate the collection’s developmental process. “The paintings, the fur, the clothes; it’s all unified. The way I approach fashion is where I am at this moment. It’s provocative and timeless,” he said, expressing an immediate distaste for the word “timeless.”
Price points will be comparable to those of high-end American luxury designers, though he shied away from specifics. He characterized his new business model as one part luxury ready-to-wear, two parts made-to-order. “The rest comes after that — my furniture, paintings, furs and accessories,” he added. “Might I get into less expensive stuff eventually? Who knows. I’m not going to catch myself with giving predictions.”
Rucci chalked up his evolution to a “complete, spiritual devotion” to his craft. “Thirty-four years ago, I thought, Where will I be? What will I do? I had all these ambitions. Now, almost 35 years later, I’m running around through the streets of the Garment [District] and I am myself again. I am enjoying the process of picking up a zipper,” he said. “If this work brings you one thing, it’s the recognition of humility….That’s how we proceed further [in this business]. If that doesn’t stay in your head, you’ve lost all.”