Sunday, November 16, 2014

Straight Talk: The Ralph Rucci problem, continued.

One has to wonder how a designer who's collection is on the same level or higher than the most important couture houses in Europe could remain almost permanently off the radar of fashion magazines the world over. With the exception of his ad campaign shot by Steven Meisel over the last 2 years, there is rarely if ever a sighting of his work in the editorial pages. Otherwise, one fails to see even that. The problem that irked me most was the almost deliberate refusal of these magazine and newspaper editors who had pride of place in the front rows of his shows. Anna Wintour was never in attendance, either here or when Rqlph showed the Couture in Paris.I have a problem with that as it makes little sense considering the description of her job.

The implied dismissal by a press that should know the difference between the mediocre and the divine, I know, big sweeping word, divine, but to many, including me, that's precisely what it IS. What were they so afraid of? Perhaps, his work would overshadow the formulaic contributions of others. Maybe modernity trumps the mundane. Possibly, it came down to whomever pays for ads gets to play on the swings. That rule is a very slippery one as so many exceptions are made. The Vogue Fund with its council partnership is just the perfect example. Check out the Ovation channel to see just how the "system" works.

My anger doesn't do anything but creates division and bad feeling, mostly for me. Ralph is a very Zen person. How can you create in the way he does and be anything but. His world is one filled with an appreciation for every single detail and element that conspires to be a thing of beauty. He's like a composer who's capable of playing every instrument in the orchestra. That is a wondrous thing to behold. It exists only rarely in precious few.

Perhaps this is an example of the new regime. Control is the new term for team playing. The owner rescues a struggling concern and then dictates without prior experience in the field. The designer must now march to the owner's beat or else... It happens everywhere now. The contract a designer signs serves management and benefits the designer, only temporarily. Management now controls the long game, the short game is the domain of the designing squirrels scrambling to get a nut.

It looks as though largess of the sort slithers from the hands of editors-in-chief to the head office of conglomerates. The tops of the mast heads "suggest" to the LVMHs, Kerings, Puigs to bestow plum creative directorships to the same stable of 10 spreading around their mediocrity.  Throw around a name often enough, move them through a few old and true design houses and you may even create a new brand in the process. Fashion clearly takes the backseat. Few people seem to see it that way and yet it's writ large on every surface, shop window and page. It's something to consider. The new mediocrity is here. All else left the building before the opening credits.

I'm sure Ralph Rucci will be fine, even better than fine, happy even. At least he no longer has to submit to the whims of people who are better suited as extras on some regrettable Fashion based reality show. The conversation appears to focus on who will replace him. High stakes fashion has become a blood sport. One gladiator is mauled by the Emperor and another is thrown to the lions.

It's unfortunate.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Straight talk: The Ralph Rucci Problem

Ralph Rucci Spring 2015
I've sat quietly digesting the events of the last week. I am not privy to the nitty gritty of the story but am imagining what possibly happened having known Ralph as a friend for the past 6 years or so. The departure of Ralph Rucci from his storied house sits in my stomach like a jagged rock. I doubt that I'm alone in wondering what went down. The press release states obliquely that he walked away willingly from his couture house to pursue other creative endeavors. Besides his furniture design for Holly Hunt, his painting and other activities such as speaking engagements, there don't appear to be any other creative pursuits beyond designing his eponymous collection. My impression from numerous occasions where we've spoken, dined, hung out and laughed is there is nothing in the world, nothing, that's more important to him than his chosen metier. Having had the privilege to witness 5+ collections seated in the audience, I can safely say there are precious few collections that have filled me with such wonder, amazement and satisfaction. And almost none where I felt that I was a witness to the very best that design and fashion in particular have to offer.
Ralph Rucci Fall2013

The audience at these shows would sit rapt in attention as every look came past. From the clothes, divine, to the accessories, unseen before, and the elegance of his models who never took center stage but showed the clothes with a quiet, hyper elegance transcending the almost banal concept of what a model is today. They were like a sleek army of reed thin Amazons doing battle with the status quo and then seducing a 1000 people huddled in a dark cavernous room. The ovations at the end were almost always standing and endless. More than that, one left feeling as though something important had just happened and we, the fortunate 1000, happened for once to be in the right place at a decisive moment.

The financial strain was certainly a herculean weight on his shoulders but it never stopped him from doing his best. His best can not be compared to others efforts. Simply, because his mission started 30 years ago and never wavered from its original target. Schizophrenia just doesn't exist in his aesthetic. The thread is clear, taught and reinforced with steel cables. This explains a clientele as loyal to him as say the Balenciaga or Beene client. These women just don't see fashion as having any weight, vision or ubiquity unless it is from the hands and atelier of Ralph Rucci. When Diana Vreeland talked about Mona Bismarck at the time that Balenciaga closed his house, she said,
"Mona took to her bed for 3 days...You have to understand that when Balenciaga stopped it was the end of a certain part of her life".
I'm sure that the same goes for the Ralph Rucci client. I saw women at his shows who wore his clothes from top to bottom. They didn't believe there was anything else worth owning and wearing. What of those women who ordered countless outfits each season, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars? What becomes of them?

Ralph Rucci Spring 2014
I have trouble believing he left willingly. It seems more plausible that the new management (the Marks, Nancy in particular, Guy the CFO and "Joey" the CEO) took steps to encourage his departure. What did they want that he wasn't producing? Fast fashion? Price points in the $500-$1500. range? Maybe they wanted him to design the couture and put someone else in place for the ready to wear? The bottom line is there was no ready to wear. It was either couture lite or Haute Couture. Meeting them briefly, they appeared to be the farthest thing from managers of a couture house. Hooking up a caboose of start-up designers in a mass showroom under the aegis of "Joey" to the Rucci organization is like tacking a paper tail onto a Grand Prix dressage horse. Then consider him, Joey, as the new CEO over Ralph and calling the shots along with Ms. Marks who's experience in the couture is writing a check and putting on the dress. Who does that?

The last time I visited I asked in the workroom what the gowns were that were on forms with the bulk of the staff working feverishly on them. I asked if they were new designs for the show which at that time was about 6 weeks off. The answer that came sent a shiver down my spine. They were all for the new owner. It seemed that all important production, that bane to the existence of a new collection in need of equal attention. Yet, production was on hold as was the creation of the new collection and all for the needs of the new owner. Priorities appeared dangerously skewed.  The heat I took in my studio to start the new collection when production orders for the previous season caused shouting matches between me and my production manager. To stop all the works to make a number of very time consuming gowns for someone, instead, was met with a firestorm. It just didn't happen.

One doesn't expect this sort of behavior at a company as vaunted as Ralph's. But this is what looks to be the case. It's so unnecessary and wasteful in an age where nothing seems to hold any value. When investors come in to save a company and then turn around and strip it of its essence, Ralph Rucci, then the business model proves to be flawed and blind. The consequent exodus will prove this to be true. For the record, I've not spoken directly with Ralph since last week. This is solely my speculation.

to be continued....

Monday, November 10, 2014

Ralph Rucci to step away from his company.

For those of you who've read this blog on occasion or followed it over the past few years know how highly I regard Ralph Rucci and his incredible contribution to the increasingly rarefied world of Haute Couture and fashion in general. Here in NYC, America and the world at large, there's no one who can match his particular gifts. It takes only a moment to get a hint of the genius behind most every single piece of clothing he designs. Taking the language of classical design and construction, he has inverted and invented whole new techniques. The work is so alive, dynamic and provocative in a most quiet way, that it's hard to look at his clothes or watch a collection on the runway without being moved in a physical way. They challenge and they excite. Most of all they satisfy in a time where there is little satisfaction in fashion to be found on almost every level. Ralph is that rare exception.

Today, the company announced that Ralph has decided to leave the company and "pursue other projects". This is a tragedy and travesty. Ralph Rucci has given his life to his metier, his family of brilliant technicians and a muse that has brought many of us to tears more than once.  The pressures of maintaining an Haute Couture collection of such exquisite beauty, made of the finest materials, leathers, furs and embroideries has to be staggeringly expensive. Fortunately, or unfortunately at this juncture, a client who's husband is an industrialist bought the company and name, I fear, 2 years ago. The Marks control it now and have decided to remove him and reshape it in their image; pedestrian and soulless. They intend to name a new creative director in the next weeks and debut the re imagined RR collection for Resort 2015.

It's a sad day for many of us, especially his loyal clients who are practically collectors of his treasures. They will be flattened by this news. I'm stunned though I feared this was coming sooner than later, just not this soon. I hope that Ralph will continue to create if he chooses. More than anything I hope that he knows how much he is revered and admired. There is no one on this planet who can speak so poetically through fashion design as he. I miss him already.