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Ralph Pucci - Talent Scout, Entrepreneur, Network Operator

Inspiration Magazine December 2004

Ralph Pucci - Talent Scout, Entrepreneur, Network OperatorRalph Pucci - Talent Scout, Entrepreneur, Network OperatorRalph Pucci - Talent Scout, Entrepreneur, Network OperatorRalph Pucci - Talent Scout, Entrepreneur, Network OperatorRalph Pucci - Talent Scout, Entrepreneur, Network Operator

His recipe for success is simple: find a genuine pool of designer talent, convince them of the value of your own concept, carry out the project together and - hey presto! - the success of the new product is virtually assured. The difficulty merely lies in finding genuine talent.

Ralph Pucci has a keen sense and a good eye for the type of people who will fit into his business concept. Closer inspection reveals that he operates a network built upon the skillful interaction of artistically engaged people who design his mannequins. Pucci sets out his aims, and the path towards achieving them is mapped out jointly by the contractor and the client.

As is often the case, the company actually started out quite differently. The story began in 1954, in the basement of Ralph Pucci's parents' house outside Manhattan. By day, his father repaired mannequins, and, by night, he worked for the US Postal Service. Meanwhile, Ralph Pucci's mother was busy making new wigs for the mannequins. In fact, she still works in Ralph's office every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and continues to be one of his most valuable and trusted advisers.

Even though Ralph was surrounded by these inanimate objects of human apperance from a very early age, he did not show any particular interest in following that path, preferring instead to concentrate on a career in journalism. At college he discovered music, especially pop and rock. He became a drummer and explored everything that music had to offer.

Somewhere around 1976, it dawned on him that he was not the kind of person who could confine himself to pursuing just one artistic direction; music for him was not an isolated activity, but rather something to be coupled together with painting, sculpture, architecture, and his work on finding the right form. He felt that things only made sense if they were linked, and fashion took on the role of a common denominator of rhythm, colour and form.

All at once, Ralph Pucci was seized with a longing to join his parents' trade, to produce mannequins himself and to make them look completely different to the idealizing trend dominant at the time, where mannequins were still bound to the prevailing beauty ideal of long legs, slim waists, and perfectly manicured hands, all channelled into elegant poses.

Pucci dreamed of athletic figures playing golf or jogging. His 'Workout Collection' took the market by storm, partly thanks to the superb timing of its release, just as Calvin Klein was creating a sporty look for men. He banished the elegant tie and striped shirt to the hinterland of fashion and created a sporty male figure in its place. Though this concept had been around for a long time, it had not previously been used as a product in the world of advertising; the new image still had to be defined. With their natural, perfectly formed poses, Pucci's top-quality mannequins went straight to the top of the mainstream charts.

At that time, the company was still based in Soho and was already working with a variety of as yet unknown talents. Ralph Pucci considers his breakthrough to be Barney's commissioning of Andrée Putman to renovate their downtown department store. As part of the job, Pucci was asked to produce some suitable mannequins.

This extraordinary collaboration between a mannequin producer and an interior designer produced the 'Olympia Goddess', which would very soon be wearing clothes by Montana, Dior and Yves St. Laurent.

Pucci subsequently worked with two other artists who were still relatively unknown at that time, namely the husband and wife team of Ruben and Isabel Toledo. Ruben designed a half-bird, half-woman display, which found a ready market in the jewel merchandising arena, but which is not exactly recorded as a commercial success in Pucci's company history. However, he soon made up for this by modelling the 21-year-old Christie Turlington, something that attracted a great deal of interest and eventually found its way into the Costume Institute. Ruben is nowadays regarded as one of the most sought-after illustrators around, and Isabel has forged a career as a fashion designer.

Pucci's next inspiration came from a quite different source; Maria Kalman writes children's books, and Ralph read to his children from two of her books, 'Max Makes a Million' and 'Max in Hollywood, Baby'. The stories featured a dog, a poet and other colourful figures, and Pucci realized that these provided the perfect inspiration for some unusual mannequins. Maria gave her blessing to the project and, in the truest sense of the word, the mannequins became a storybook success that continues to the present day. There was still more creative collaboration with artists to come:

Kenny Scharf, a painter influenced by Surrealism, presented Pucci with a three-eyed, marvellously wrought mannequin, whose unusual appearance, which was so totally different to anything seen before in this profession, ensured it a place on the front page of the New York Times and a spot in the Wall Street Journal: the kind of publicity that is not to be sneezed at!

Pucci's showroom offers unparalleled opportunities in Manhattan. Located on the 12th floor of an old factory building on 18th Street, it is a giant loft with an amazing, panoramic view. The showroom provides the perfect environment for artists such as Robert Clyde Anderson, Ruben Toledo and Joseph Astor to exhibit their work; impressive black-and-white photographs of mannequins from the past, magically highlighted by David Weeks' imaginative lighting, plus a selection of Pucci mannequins arranged among Chris Lehrecke's unconventional, elegantly proportioned furniture, clad in remarkable designs by Sharon Wauchob, a fashion designer from Ireland who is yet to become known in the USA, and whose official New York debut took place in spring 2004.

Ralph Puccis's synergetic concept of cross-border collaboration between talented figures from a wide range of artistic backgrounds, who are brought together at the right time, for the right moment, has proved its worth over a number of years and has led to some astonishing results. It is based on the principle of give-and-take by all participants, and it has the capacity to imbue the participants with a feeling of deep and genuine satisfaction, not only in the developmental phase of their projects, but also upon the project's completion, the kind of feeling that far exceeds the pleasure obtained from a purely commercial success.