This retrospective exhibition, on view at The Museum at FIT in 2007, examined the two “hidden decades,” when Rucci quietly forged his profound commitment to perfection in the design and execution of every garment that left his atelier. The exhibition was also a celebration of the designer’s twenty-fifth anniversary of working in fashion.
Born in Philadelphia in 1957, Rucci earned an undergraduate degree in philosophy and literature at Temple University. Yet in his heart he longed to work in fashion, so he enrolled in and completed FIT’s fashion design program.
Since 1981, Rucci's subtle oeuvre evolved, garment by extraordinary garment. In 2002, he presented his first haute couture collection in Paris and was suddenly “discovered” by the international fashion community.
The most compelling of Rucci’s daywear garments are his tailored suits, assembled from thick, amoeboid pieces of double-faced fabric called “suspensions.”
Suspensions are usually cashmere from the Italian firm, Columbo; each one of them is individually cut, sliced along the sides, finished off by hand to prevent unraveling, and lined. They are then mapped on a muslin pattern and numbered.
The placement of each suspension is precisely calculated before they are joined using connectors made from modified French knots called “worms.” Part of the design, the worms are spaced approximately a half inch to one inch apart.
Suspensions began as small inserts sparingly set into standard-cut suits, but more than merely decorative or even technical exercises, they are functional and serve an essential purpose: they improve the fit. As a result, garments constructed entirely of suspensions are rarely symmetrical and most often are reserved for the haute couture.
Rucci’s fur coats and jackets are made with only the best quality pelts and are produced in collaboration with furrier Nick Pologerogis.
A coat accompanies a “serape” made of sable – Rucci’s favorite fur – turned inside-out and painted, and for his “capillary” jackets, Rucci cuts paper-thin leather into strips, then rolls them into tiny tubes and sews them together in open, lattice-work patterns.
Equally creative is Rucci’s use of feathers. Some pieces are executed by Lemarié, the last of the grand Parisian feather-working houses, or plumassieres; other featherwork is done at Rucci’s New York atelier.
An evening dress covered with spotted guinea feathers is one of his most lavish gowns, while quivering coq sprays trim his lace-topped, Mongolian lamb skirt.
An ideal example of Rucci’s surface treatments is found in his cardigan and matching shell, commissioned from Lesage. Their surfaces—encrusted with stone-like beads of various sizes—imitate the mottled quality of sharkskin, or shagreen, but with a three-dimensional aspect that resembles an aerial view of a beach covered in shells and sand.
A small number of highly specialized firms in France continually devise new embroidery techniques in order to achieve effects based upon Rucci’s aesthetic demands.
Rucci’s organza caftan is embroidered with tiny, matchstick-sized twigs, an image that recalls Japanese art: cerebral yet spiritually evocative depictions of gently cascading leaves and blossoms. Rucci’s embroidery likewise captures the fleeting beauty of nature.
Embroidery by the houses of Lesage and Ollier of Paris, and Jean Luca Bernardi of Lyon, allow the couturier to paint, bleach, ornament and otherwise embellish both the outside and the inside of a garment with the rarified details of exquisitely rendered clothing.
Rucci’s ultimate tribute to the artist Cy Twombly is a suite of gowns entitled "Le Quattro Staggione." Based on the artist’s 1993-94 series of four enormous canvases, the dresses are emblazoned with color, movement, imagery, and even text from the Twombly paintings.
The “Twombly Swan” gown is made of white silk gazar and embroidered by the house of Lesage. Tumultuous swirls of black, gray, red and ivory evoke the 1955 Twombly works The Greeks, Criticism, Free Wheeler, and Academy.
For an evening gown inspired by Francis Bacon, a painter he greatly admires, Rucci completely ignored figurative elements to appropriate only tiny slivers of the color palette: acidic green, aqua blue, and coal black. One would be hard-pressed to note the connection to Bacon without prompting, yet despite the selective abstraction of elements, Bacon’s artistic sensibility can be felt in the dramatic dyad of gown and matching stole.
Before he became able to buy the best textiles, Rucci yearned for deeply dimensional damasks, silk velvets from the Venetian firm of Bevilaqua—woven on baroque-era looms—and petersham, a stiff, quadruple-weight gazar. Rucci is credited with reviving interest in gazar, a costly and unforgiving material.
Rucci also commissioned textiles that were printed especially for him. Images of natural objects (planets, rocks), of man-made design (Chinese furniture, Indian architectural details), and even Rucci’s own artwork were printed onto silk organza, chiffon, and gauze by firms like Bucol and Luigi Verga.
The printed textiles were used to make gowns as well as large scarves and shawls. Occasionally, the more dramatic prints were further enhanced with embroidery.
Inspired since his student days by the fluid garments of the great couturiers, Rucci’s draped evening dress and hammered satin pajamas reflect Halston’s early influence.
The bodices of the two jersey evening gowns, and the one hanging on the wall, borrow a pleating technique known as fluting, perfected by Madame Grès.
Gauzy caftans, knitted jersey dresses, and chiffon evening gowns became staples of Rucci's collections, and his runway presentations came to routinely include a few significant flou creations. Rucci’s high-waisted, wool jersey dresses, ornamented with contrasting insets, were client favorites.
The process of making a Rucci Infanta begins with the silhouette: a jewel neckline, small, high armholes, a raised and canted waistline and similar hemline, and a skirt that forms a shape somewhere between that of a right and a scalene triangle, with greater volume in the back.
Proportions are mathematically calculated using the “Golden Mean,” a classic Greek formula. More complex algebraic equations, like the Fibonacci sequence, are utilized when calculating graduated insets for gowns such as the “Ripple Effect” Infanta.
A major challenge of the Infanta lies in engineering its voluminous skirt. Ever the modernist, Rucci dislikes heavy, cumbersome petticoats with rigid understructures that impede a garment’s fluid and graceful movement. In order to support the skirt, Rucci underlines each pattern piece with organza and Filogil, a fabric prized for being both lightweight and stiff.