New Again: Emilio Pucci

By
Photography Christopher Makos

Published March 25, 2015

Last week, Massimo Giorgetti was tapped as the new creative director of Emilio Pucci, following the departure of previous creative director Peter Dundas. Giorgetti, known for his brand MSGM, is expected to bring a fresh look to the label, and his appointment follows the recent trend of younger designers taking over classic labels (in the last month has seen Dundas move to Roberto Cavalli, Alessandro Michele to Gucci, and Alexis Martial and Adrien Caillaudaud to Carven, among others). Both Pucci and MSGM are known for color and geometry, and Giorgetti’s first collection for Pucci—owned by LVMH—is set to debut this fall, during the Spring/Summer 2016 show.

To celebrate the legacy of the fashion house, we revisited a 1974 interview with the original Marchese Emilio Pucci di Barsento, in which he discusses the meaninglessness of luxury, his time in the Air Force, and what he looked for in a lady.

If You Knew PucciBy Francine Schiff

Forgetting jokes that rhyme with Gucci; forgetting ash blonde Miami-mammas; remembering just how chic it was to sport that Pucci label, Interview interviews the Marchese Emilio Pucci Di Barsento artist and designer, marketer of fine wines and famous perfume.

FRANCINE SCHIFF: In the ’60s, to have a Pucci blouse, a Pucci scarf, a Pucci dress, was a complete status symbol. One couldn’t appear in St. Tropez, Palm Beach or The Hamptons without one. How did this happen to develop? Did you consciously plan to create a status symbol?

EMILIO PUCCI: The answer is this: that I didn’t even know what the meaning of status symbol was until very recently.

SCHIFF: And so you created it!

PUCCI: I didn’t know that then. In a way, I think that perhaps it’s something of the past. I don’t think people today need to derive security from possessions. I don’t think so.

SCHIFF: Do you think that this was something indicative of the ’60s?

PUCCI: I don’t think so. I think it was indicative of a developing society, of an emerging society where the kind of car and whatever you had was an indication of the level you had reached.

SCHIFF: Keeping up with the Joneses, the period stemming from the conspicuous consumption?

PUCCI: If you talk of status, I would say no. I would say that probably, if you were to interpret it for someone who doesn’t know, you mean that people have reached a certain level, by the way they live, and the way they look. So it’s exterior much more than interior. Much more the way you look compared to the way you are as a person. I think that’s something of the past.

SCHIFF: Thank God.

PUCCI: Thank God, you’re perfectly right. Thank God it’s something of the past. I think that perhaps the greatest blow to all has been given by the blue jeans.

SCHIFF: I wanted to ask you about that. I’m glad you brought it up.

PUCCI: That is just as contrary. It’s another stage of symbol, if you want. But a stage symbol of people who do not care how they look. They don’t want to look different.

SCHIFF: But the same woman who wears blue jeans might wear a Pucci scarf with it.

PUCCI: Then you are talking of something psychological. You are talking of security and insecurity. At this point we could go on for hours. I would say that if something has an aesthetic value and it is pleasing to watch or to wear, it may in fact have nothing to do with status symbol. You just like to wear it.

SCHIFF: Did you think at the time when you were designing that you actually felt that you were conspicuously creating something that would become a symbol? Or was it quite accidental?

PUCCI: No, I’ve never thought of it that way. I’ve always tried, and I go on trying to do things which visually to me represents a significance in the times in which we live. And I have a feeling, and I’ve had the feeling for years, of what you call today ecology, of people living in cities—in grey cities.

SCHIFF: That’s why you use all these vibrant colors?

PUCCI: What I have done, and what I am doing, is in a way an evening up, a balancing up between what I like—open air life, nature and constriction of the city. The whole casual way of dressing today probably derives from much of my work because I’ve always made casual clothes, even to wear on formal occasions. These fabrics are cut and put together to move with the person. These fabrics demand a good body and not contraptions that show through.

SCHIFF: In a sense, you were the first anti-couture designer. You developed easy clothes that were both functional and beautiful. How did the public react to this at first? Did they think you were crazy, starting this trend?

PUCCI: Exactly 20 years ago, 1954, Sally Kirkland of Life magazine bought a dress, and Billy Marcus got another one, but buyers said no American women would be caught dead in jersey.

SCHIFF: Who was the big rage then? Which designer was the most important?

PUCCI: I would say Dior, but then I went in my own direction, which, then, so many people followed and today are following. And I am still doing what I did. But it’s not done with any purpose of the kind that you’re thinking. I think that I’m trying to do something valid. The word “valid” is an important word.

SCHIFF: Do you think there is a formula or a sense of ingredients in creating a status symbol?

PUCCI: If you believe that through affluence, there was for the first time in history a great emerging class, that there was not the upper class and the lower class as before, but a great emerging middle class, a middle upper class. This can be traced economically.

SCHIFF: When did this happen?

PUCCI: In the ’50s and the ’60s. At that point, from middle class people came upper class. What do people do when they emerge from one situation to another? Things must look a certain way, homes must be showplaces, etcetera. This is typical. I think that every time there has been an emerging class in a country, the people have to identify with something to show they have reached a certain goal. Anyway, in Russia it’s done with medals. You put on all these medals to show who you are.

SCHIFF: You mentioned the blue jeans. Now what else would you consider the status symbol of today, or is there no such thing?

PUCCI: There is no longer an emerging class today.

SCHIFF: So you can’t think of any designers to choose from?

PUCCI: No, I think that there is an intellectual and spiritual movement which is completely different. You can wear your hair long or wear a beard because you want to show that you are interested in thought, in psychological endeavors rather than appearance. I think it is a very strong and very good reaction to consumerism. The direction we are going in at this moment is the negation of material goods as being important and the great importance of spiritual values and sensations. Permissiveness, if you will. There is tremendous talk of sex and bi-sexuality.

SCHIFF: Everything is coming out in the open. Watergate is the beginning.

PUCCI: Yes it is a fact that people want to feel and need to be, that they don’t care how they look, and they want to show that they don’t care how they look, and I think they are perfectly right!

SCHIFF: Tell me about your boutique in New York.

PUCCI: It’s a boutique in which the perfume is displayed, and all the accessories are displayed. Plus, one thing that I think is very amusing, which is an all-purpose t-shirt in different styles with a tiny monogram, which can be worn with anything by anybody. There is also a very new thing which I developed, which I like calling a Bicycling Outfit. It’s an all-in-one, like a bathing suit, and very practical.

SCHIFF: Did you design a bicycle to go with it?

PUCCI: Practically. But there is a whole collection of bicycle things that I showed during the energy crisis when people weren’t allowed to use their cars. What I tried to do was what I call a primary type of clothing. It’s one thing you slip on which you build up. You put on a skirt; you put on pants; you put on a jacket or a sweater; you put a shirt under it or a turtleneck over it. It’s an all-in-one concept. It takes the place of panties, of a bra, everything. You just slip it on.

SCHIFF: Do you wear your own ties?

PUCCI: Of course.

SCHIFF: Is that one of your ties? It’s very chic.

PUCCI: Thank you. Today people are a hundred times more interested in the personality of the person they are with than the clothes he wears. Today—and it’s happening very rapidly—money, wealth, position, birth are of no importance at all. The thing that is important is the individual you are. If you have to sit the whole evening with the most famous person in the world and he is a goddamn bore, you will want to run away and if you sit with a person who’s completely unknown, but he’s fascinating, you are delighted. We are coming back to something which goes back to a very long, long time, which is an evaluation of people, of what they are, and not the incidentals. Which is typical of consumerism. Consumerism, what kind of car you have, what kind of house you have in the country and so on, and that is all very incidental when you examine the kind of person he may be. He may be a big bore, and then there is a person who hasn’t done a thing in the world and he is a fascinating person. And that is what is important.

SCHIFF: Recently, I went to the opening of your lithographs and rugs. They were absolutely beautiful. That’s where I had the opportunity to try your wine.

PUCCI: Tuscany is a name well known for wine and I’ve developed these grapes. If you do things badly and advertise it, you may get somewhere but not for long. This is another important point of our time. I think that in the end, the people are not fooled by promotion. They want to know that something works and is right. You’re wearing something which is a good piece of fabric and it’s cloth, and it’s there. It’s not stupid and a frilly kind of thing.

SCHIFF: I’ve never liked that sort of thing.

PUCCI: I think this is probably a mark of those years. We are in a very strange way going back to the mentality of the time when Americans went in covered wagons. I imagine they had a piece of cloth, and the piece of furniture they carried with them meant to be a good piece of wood, and sturdy. We’re going back to that.

SCHIFF: I think we are going back to that coupled with our new technology that is leading to a kind of computerized society, perhaps computerized functioning for fashion. In pioneer times, things seemed basic.

PUCCI: The girls wore very frilly dresses for the square dances to be pretty, so things weren’t that simple.

SCHIFF: How did you first get into designing?

PUCCI: It’s a long story, which I’ll tell in a short way. I would say, that as many Europeans and other people from other countries, I have been led into my present activity by a very specific American gift of trade.

SCHIFF: Called capitalism?

PUCCI: No, I would say that it is a trait by which Americans, searching for things which are different or new, seem to recognize the gift that people may have that cause people do to things. I think that this is a very important influence in the world today, which is not recognized at all. Americans are responsible not only for really starting a lot of things in a lot of countries, but also for giving people the confidence to do things they might never have thought to do. It would be very interesting to make a survey around the world, from wealthy countries to the most advanced countries to see what influence Americans have had. In a way, a man called Jean Jacques Servan-Schreiber, you know, the editor of L’Express, just wrote a very interesting book which was a best seller called The American Challenge, which shows American businessmen have taken advantage of the opportunities which existed in Europe and Europeans seem not to have been aware of. He extended this thing to a much more generalized people. I think you could say that Americans have started a lot of projects around the world and I am one of them.

SCHIFF: That’s an incisive insight concerning the American influence. What I would like to know is, how did you actually begin to design?

PUCCI: I was an Air Force One officer. During a leave I was skiing, and by strange circumstances some of my skiing outfits were commented on and then they were photographed by the American photographer called Toni Frissel. And then I got more comments and requests to do other things and that’s how it all started.

SCHIFF: If you saw a woman at a party, what would make her stand out?

PUCCI: I would say a clean face.

SCHIFF: Aha! Do I have a clean face?

PUCCI: Yes. And how!

SCHIFF: Do you mean because I wear little or no make-up?

PUCCI: No, I would say a kind of purity. Clean. There is a term, “a well-scrubbed face.” I think that is very important.

SCHIFF: What do you think makes an interesting man?

PUCCI: I think that an interesting man who has vision and who knows how to pull whatever gifts he has to work. Not a person who sits back. Someone who is with it, and an active part of this life.

THIS INTERVIEW ORIGINALLY RAN IN THE SEPTEMBER 1974 ISSUE OF INTERVIEW.

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