Rocky times are routine for millions at this point in the pandemic, but Ralph Rucci has hit his share of bumps in the past few months.
After having surgery for a prostate-related condition, the designer dealt with a painful recovery. Upon arrival in Philadelphia for his family’s Christmas celebration last month, he felt so feverish and ill that he did a U-turn, returning to his Upper East Side apartment in Manhattan and was bedridden for 14 days. Stricken with the Delta variant, Rucci said in a recent interview that he was still on the rebound. However, earlier this week he may have torn a bicep lifting his 63-lb. English bulldog “Jimmy” into a car. (The dog is named after the late fashion designer and his dear friend James Galanos, who Rucci said would have hated such an honor.)
In the midst of all this and the financial uncertainty triggered by the pandemic, Rucci pulled together a couture collection even though he was unable to travel to Paris as planned to take part in the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode-sanctioned schedule.
Taking things “day-by-day with positive energy” is his game plan, he said. “Listen, I’ve gone through worst storms in the past 40-plus years. This is not a storm I can’t handle.”
Having recently tested negative for COVID-19, the designer now has to wait 90 days before he can leave the country, contingent on another negative test. At that point he will also be able to get a booster shot. Unrelated to COVID-19, the designer may need a second surgery.
Noting that one of the qualifications for designers to be on the couture calendar requires that they show at least 25 looks in a live show or virtually, Rucci said he wrote a letter to the federation’s executive president Pascal Morand, explaining that “he has been terribly sick for a long period of time,” and that the financial repercussions of the past 13 months meant that the creation of 25 looks could not be done. “They understood completely, which was so wonderful,” Rucci said. “They could have said, ‘Well, you can’t be part of this.’”
Developing one look alone could cost $40,000, he said. In addition, the designer said that he was forewarned by The Ritz, where he typically shows in Paris, that people would not be able to convene in the suites. Despite not having anyone from his company in Paris this season, the federation will post his 30 or so sketches online at the designated time of his slot on the calendar Thursday afternoon.
Clients, many of whom aren’t yet comfortable traveling again, have taken to virtual appointments too and they respond to individual sketches instinctively. “The sketches become starting points, from which to build the design just for them. I love to work that way for two reasons. One — I can be outrageous in my suggestions of the sky’s-the-limit. You’re putting it down on paper and you’re not having to make it, which becomes so expensive. At the same time, you can suggest more when you sit down with the client,” he said.
Toiles are sent in advance of Zoom fittings, once the toiles are returned to his New York base, they are taken apart, alterations are made and the garment is made. Unfazed by the shifts underfoot in fashion, he said, “As Mrs. [Diana] Vreeland would say, ‘You need to pull those bootstraps up and get on with it.’”
None of Rucci’s couture clients traveled to Paris this season, but he was confident the virtual route will meet their expectations. “Don’t forget that this is an audience that has really been built on my 41 years in the business,” Rucci said.
As is always the case with his couture collections, day clothes are expected to be popular, especially ivory and white double-faced wool and silk styles, silk separates, tunics, pants and silk raincoats, he said. Having introduced a fur-trimmed collection that included a few sable coats under the Ralph Rucci by Pologeorgis late last year, the designer didn’t put any fur in his new couture line for spring because it is “just too heavy.” Rucci’s couture eveningwear has a lighter feel, too, thanks to the use of all-clear sequins on tulle or silk chiffon, and embroideries are primarily done with bugle beads that are cut and embroidered on the cross grain of the fabric.
Offering sharper opening price points than other couture designers is advantageous, Rucci said. All in all, though, the couture segment has not been affected by the financial difficulties weighing on some areas of fashion, he said. “A house like a Chanel can’t even keep the orders filled fast enough.”
Rucci has already booked his flight to return to Paris for the couture shows in July. He is considering a presentation that will be held in a suite at The Ritz. ”You have to always commit yourself to a healthy state of happiness in your mind. If you start to become swallowed by the issues, then you are going to lose what you’ve already gained,” he said.
In addition, as some ready-to-wear labels have increased prices, some consumers think that the investment in couture is starting to make more sense, he said. In the past season, Rucci gained two new clients in their twenties — one from Seoul and the other Moscow.
In the months ahead, maintaining business “in this vacuum called COVID-19 and illness” will be the greatest challenge, Rucci said. “Every time we have a surge [in cases] women are not going out to dinners or to restaurants. Couture is being worn at dinners and at parties in homes. It’s also being worn by very powerful women, who attend board meetings. If they put on a blouse or jacket from a previous season, because they are only being seen from the bust up [on Zoom], it’s fine. They don’t have to order anything,” he said.
As for the outlook for American fashion, he said that he is speechless at the lack of possibility and what the majority of the collections look like. “Someone said recently that a de-evolution is occurring in all aspects of the arts in the United States, if not the world — a de-evolution of culture and taste,” Rucci said. “We’re going through a period with a lot of people with the fantasy, but not the proper training. The clothes and accessories either look repetitive or unqualified. Price points are high. I’m shocked.”
Rucci disputed the idea that individualism and self-expression are at the forefront. “I think what the Trump administration and world gave us was fear of all that. Sameness, being homogenized and being fearful of being an individual is where we are at unconsciously,” Rucci said.