PARIS (AP) — The storied Florentine house of Emilio Pucci, which made colorful, kaleidoscopic prints world-famous and once counted Marilyn Monroe as a top client, is embarking on a new chapter.
The house has started an ambitious expansion campaign. It's opened up boutiques across the world's fashion capitals, including New York's Madison Avenue, Rome's Piazza di Spagna, and now on Paris' prestigious Avenue Montaigne. Designer Peter Dundas is meanwhile trying to match the momentum by moving the house in a younger direction.
But will Pucci, founded by the Italian aristocrat in 1947, succeed in shaking off that love-it-or-hate-it retro print that's garish for some, vibrant for others? "I think that having the strong heritage, yes, it's sometimes a challenge when you want to move forward," admitted Dundas in an interview.
"But I consider myself lucky. There's an advantage having this DNA — an opportunity to expand on it," he added. "The print is still an important part of the collection, but it includes solids and neutrals now," he added.
The tall, energetic 44-year-old is certainly not one to dwell on to the past. Dundas has made a name for himself since taking over the design helm in 2007 — and is known for his red carpet showstoppers and celebrity circles, dressing stars like Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Lopez.
Pucci's glitzy new direction is not everyone's cup of tea — especially in Paris, widely considered a more demure fashion capital than Milan. (Like other Italian houses, the Florence-based Pucci's womenswear designs are first shown during Milan's fashion week.)
"The new collections are too bling. I am French. I like the vintage dresses and the timeless Pucci style," said Laetitia Benita, 30, outside Paris' Pucci store. Chanel's caustic couturier Karl Lagerfeld was more harsh: "I think tattoos are horrible. It's like living in a Pucci dress full-time." Lagerfeld's Chanel boutique stares out almost intimidatingly from across the other side of Avenue Montaigne.
But with the new Paris boutique, Pucci, a house that's particularly popular in Russia, the Middle East and Brazil, will soon find its place on Paris' snooty fashion radar. The two-level store balances modernity and the house's rich history.
The family headquarters, the 600-year-old Palazzo Pucci in Florence, is evoked in the boutique decor with intricate bronze gilding and with colors on the wall taken from the Renaissance frescos. Elsewhere the Pucci archives are referenced, with the geometric flooring taken from a print called "Tower" and — in a bittersweet touch — the signature "Emilio" appearing as an inlay in the style as it appears on the house's print dresses and soft foulard fabrics.
Emilio Pucci died in 1992. His daughter, Laudomia Pucci, took over design in 1992 and remains as image director and vice-president. She spoke fondly of her father's legacy, and what she sees as a false perception that the house seemed almost fossilized in the past.
"Certainly my father's career was very strong from the early '50s to the late '70s, and he definitely defined a moment in fashion. We are still defined by that hot pot print," she said. "Many people who are not so much in the industry sometimes say 'Pucci is only defined by color and print!' Oh but there is so much more. We've just done a collection in black and white," she said, pausing. "But at least they know who we are, and that's something we can build on."
She also spoke openly about the house's close relationship with Monroe. "When (Emilio Pucci) first introduced the silk jersey, he took the thread and the American buyers said 'Mr. Pucci, an American lady will never be caught dead in this fabric.' And actually Marilyn Monroe was in Los Angeles, walked in a store and bought a dress, walked out after taking off her bra and bumped into Mr. Miller and the rest of the story is pretty obvious," she said, referring to Monroe's third husband, playwright Arthur Miller.
"They say that she was buried in Pucci," she added. In recent years she has tried to get a piece of the Monroe history back, by buying back pieces from the blond bombshell's wardrobe. "I have her knickers in my archives," she said.
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