From mannequin maestro to modern medici, trendsetting entrepreneur Ralph Pucci gives artists and designers room to explore
Lorenzo de' Medici couldn't paint, Sergei Diaghilev couldn't dance, and Ralph Pucci can't craft a piece of furniture. Yet in the field of high end design, Pucci plays a role as pivotal as that of his predecessors. Both patron impresario, for more than two decades he has presided over a flagship showroom in New York known for everything from groundbreaking furniture and lighting to paintings and mannequins.
Collaborating with some of the biggest creative names (Vladimir Kagan, Herve Van der Straeten, Stephen Sprouse) and often inspiring them to experiment with different genres, he has routinely ignored the boundaries between design, fashion, and art. 'Ralph's a Renaissance man,' interior decorator Vicente Wolf says. 'He's not one to be guided by trends - he makes his own trends because he has the vision to see possibilities where most people don't.'
This career of creative cross - fertilization is now being celebrated in an expansive new book, Show (Glitterati). Filled with striking images by photographer Antoine Bootz, it highlights more than 15 years of Pucci's innovative installations that mix high and low, elegance and wit, modernity and classicism.
He began work in 1976, assisting with his parents' mannequin repair business in the basement of their home in Mount Vernon, New York. Eventually Pucci moved the company to Manhattan, hired a sculptor, and began producing the firm's own distinctive figures. He practically reinvented store display at places like Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus with dynamic models that struck rock-star poses, featured sci-fi heads, and emulated the yoga-toned body of Christy Turlington.
And he managed to convince a diverse range of talents to design mannequins for him, including artist Kenny Scharf, fashion designer Anna Sui, and author illustrator Maira Kalman. The influential tastemaker credits his breakthrough into high end furniture to acclaimed French interior designer Andree Putman, whom he first met in 1985 when she was decorating Morgans Hotel in Manhattan.
After working together on a series of mannequins, she asked Pucci to represent her furniture line, Ecart International. 'When you meet Andree, 'He says, 'you meet the world. Everything just opens up.'
Before long he launched his showroom (now comprising 25,000 square feet on two floors) and was producing and displaying the roughhewn stools and tables of Chris Lehrecke, the sculptural daybeds of Paul Mathieu, and the poetic sofas and lighting of Patrick Naggar. 'We create a sofa the same way we would make a sculpture,' Pucci says. 'Every piece is like couture. People want quality. They have eyes. They can see when something is special.' Today his roster of designers has expanded to include such standouts as Wolf, Kevin Walz, and Christophe Delcourt, among many others.
And Pucci has almost single-handedly revived the careers of modern masters Kagan and Jens Risom. But part of his success stems from his enthusiasm for emerging talent. 'I always have my eyes open and try to surround myself with young designers who are five steps ahead of the game,' he explains. 'Creative minds inspire me.' He discovered lighting maestro David Weeks, for instance, at a tiny booth at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair, and gave him his first solo exhibit. Ralph pretty much put us on the map,' Weeks says. 'Just by the scale of his showroom and what's displayed there, he made my work more important.'
As excited as Pucci is about his latest project, Show, he has no intention of resting on his laurels. 'I like to think of it as a midcareer survey,' he says with a laugh. 'Now I want to take things to the next level. I want to do dance performances, Live music, art installations. I still have a lot more to offer.'
By Michael Boodro