Ralph Pucci brings new life to mannequins and tableaux
By Jennifer Moore Stahlkrantz
Half a century ago, Ralph Pucci's parents started a mannequin-repair company in the basement of their Mount Vernon home, but when Ralph joined the company 20 years later, he saw the opportunity to move from repair to fabrication, and his vision did not include the ladylike, mid-century mannequins of old. 'When i decided to take the company in a new direction, I immediately wanted to seperate us from the bland, classic mannequin and move toward athletic, more sculptural objects,' recalls Pucci. 'It was the American bicentennial era, the Olympics were a big news item, and Calvin klein's ad campaign was everywhere. In design, you have to be in touch with the times you're living in, so I had a hunch that a more casual look would be important to embrace.'
Pucci pitched the idea of a new generation of mannequins to several potential clients and got more than just a thumbs-up response-Macy's San Francisco bought almost 40 high-gloss men's mannequins to use as a sculpture exhibit. And then the veritable sign of success in the design world: Barneys New York came calling. As the casual-wear industry began to explode, Pucci brought in up and coming artists like Ruben Toledo and Andrée Putman to design his early lines of mannequins in casual poses and avantgarde colors and textures. It was Putman, a French Designer of everything from furniture and fragrance to tableware and textiles, who suggested Pucci expand his business to include furniture, proposing that it would be a beautiful backdrop for the mannequins. ' I am always looking for what is next- keeping my eyes and ears open- so I decided to take a chance with furniture'.
Explains this father of three who called Pound Ridge home for almost two decades. His 15,000 square foot New York City showroom includes furniture from a select group of designers like Chris Lehrecke, India Mahdavi, Jens Risom, Kenny Scharf, plus mannequins (which still account for 50 percent of the company's revenue), sculpture, and fine art by names such as Anna Sui, Patrick Naggar, and Paul Mathieu. 'I represent the artists, which means I exhibit their work, advertise, and sell it. If I commission a line of mannequins, I have a lot of input, but I leave the furniture design to the experts.' When his artists' work sells-which it does with surprising frequency given the high-end price range- Pucci's cut is a gallery owner's standard 50 percent for designers who manufacture their own work. (Artists who design but do not manufacture hand over a Larger percentage.)
With revenues exceeding $20 million per year, it seems Ralph Pucci's eyes and ears are working quite well, thank you. Pucci's aesthetic is modern and simplistic but not trendy or funky, and his home reflects the same sensibility as his studio, 'Our family home is welcoming and a traditional home first, not a museum. We have a lot of Pucci furniture- a mixture of all my designers, with clean, open spaces- but it's not at all minimal. I believe that the spacing and placement of timeless furniture should create a quiet ambiance that can last forever. It shouldn't say 'Wow!' or be theatrical.' What's next for Ralph Pucci? ' I work with talented, creative people. I have well-received products that appeal to a narrow niche of customers who want different things every year, and that keeps things interesting. I'm going to Berlin to scout out new artist. Down the road, maybe I'll open a gallery in London,' he says with a smile. 'I'm living the dream.'