Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Focus on Fashion: Emilio Pucci

Emilio Pucci was born in Florence in 1914 into one of the oldest and noblest families in Florence and he would live in the Pucci Palace in Florence for most of his life. He was a keen sportsman, who swam, skied, fenced, played tennis and raced cars.  
After two years at the University of Milan, he studied agriculture at the University of Georgia, where he became a member of the Demosthenian Literary Society.  In 1935 he won a skiing scholarship to Reed College in Oregon, received an MA in social science from Reed in 1937, and received his doctorate in political science from the University of Florence the same year. In 1938 he joined the Italian Air Force, and served as a bomber pilot during WWII, rising to the rank of captain and was decorated for valor by the time he left to pursue his fashion career.
His first clothes were designed for the Reed College skiing team, but his work came to wider attention in 1947, when he was on leave in Switzerland. Skiwear that he had designed for a female friend was photographed by Toni Frissell, a photographer working for Harper's Bazaar.  After seeing the pictures the editor asked Pucci to design skiwear for a story on European Winter Fashion, which ran in the winter 1948 issue of the Bazaar.  Although there had been some experiments with stretch fabrics in Europe before the war, Pucci's sleek designs caused a sensation, and he received several offers from American manufacturers to produce them. He set up a haute couture house in the fashionable resort of Canzone del Mare on the Isle of Capri.

Using his knowledge of stretch fabrics he initially produced a line of swimwear line in 1949, but soon moved onto other items such as brightly-colored, boldly-patterned silk scarves. Stanley Marcus of Neiman Marcus encouraged him to use the designs in blouses and then a popular line of wrinkle-free printed silk dresses.  As his business grew, Pucci added a second boutique in Rome.   By the early 50's, Pucci was achieving international recognition, receiving the Neiman-Marcus Award in Dallas and the Burdine's Sunshine Award in Miami.

In 1959, Pucci decided to create a lingerie line. He was advised to develop this line abroad, avoiding the difficulties of a decade earlier in matching available fabrics to the patterns of his first swimwear line. Pucci came to Chicago and gave the lingerie contract to Formfit-Rogers mills. The venture proved to be successful, and Pucci was made vice president in charge of design and merchandising for the company a year later. Also in 1959, Pucci was introduced to Baronessa Cristina Nannini, a Roman baroness, at his boutique in Capri. Pucci would later marry her, claiming: "I married a Botticelli".

In 1965, New York ad agency Jack Tinker and Associates was hired by Braniff International Airways to update their image. The agency hired Pucci to design new clothes for the hostesses. As the ads put it, it was "The End of the Plain Plane". Pucci designed seven complete outfits for the Braniff hostesses, pilots and ground crew between 1965 and 1977.   A mark of his impact was that by 1968 Barbie  doll had versions of all of his first four uniforms. These avant-garde creations were designed as individual components to be added or removed as weather dictated. 

The uniforms included turtlenecks, t-shirts, crop jackets and culottes.  Among the more unusual innovations was a "bubble helmet", a clear plastic hood worn by flight attendants between terminal building and aircraft to protect their hairdos from rain and the blast of jet engines.  Pucci incorporated the "BI" logo into some of his prints.

In addition to his work in fashion, Pucci contested the Florence–Pistoia district for the Italian Liberal Party in the Italian election of April 1963. He came second on their slate with 2,780 votes behind Vittorio Fossombroni, but the party only won one seat. However he succeeded Fossombroni in the Italian Chamber of Deputies in August of that year. He retained his seat in the 1968 election, but lost it in the 1972 election, despite being the district's top PLI candidate with 4,231 votes. 

After Emilio's death in 1992 his daughter, Laudomia Pucci, continued to design under the Pucci name. The French Louis Vuitton-Moet-Hennessy Group luxury goods empire acquired 67% of Pucci in 2000.  Laudomia became Image Director, while LVMH brought in major designers such as Christian Lacroix (creative director 2002-5), and in October 2005, Matthew Williamson and Peter Dundas from 2009. Other designers who have worked for the label include Stephan Janson and Julio Espada.


  1. Fabulous article, JC! Thanks for sharing. I adore that huge wave print in that first fashion photo.

    Here's a link to the Barbie Stewardess Hostess Outfits, FYI, courtesy of Dollreference.com:


    Left to right: Puccino serving dress in yellow/rose, Raspberry suit, Hostess culottes in blue, and Boarding outfit in lime green with a clear helmet.

    This site says they weren't manufactured by Mattel, but by Marx, and are made in Hong Kong. If they are NRFB, they are worth $3,500.

  2. I just loved this. He is one of my favorites!

  3. I absolutely love Pucci. I think he must be my favorite designer. And those scaled down Braniff outfits for Barbie...top of my wishlist!

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