No matter how chicly appointed, a one-bedroom rental apartment hardly presents an expected lodging for the works of Cy Twombly and Francis Bacon. Yet Ralph Rucci’s modestly proportioned Manhattan residence on the Upper East Side boasts the former’s Five Greek Poets and a Philosopher suite, and Bacon’s Cosmopolitan, hanging in the bathroom, no less. The generously terraced space also houses several sculptures the designer dates from single-digit centuries, including one with the initials B.C.
Ralph Rucci hones grand motifs to suit his circumstances at home and at his fashion house, its modest volume of $15 million achieved with clothing prices that can reach $32,000 for an off-the-rack coat, albeit one crafted to perfection from exquisite materials. He also offers made-to-measure, though no longer in a separate couture collection. Prices there exceed six figures at the drop of a hat.
No, scratch that. Nothing in Rucci’s world occurs at the drop of a hat. His is one of deliberation in which each nuance is thought out, considered, reconsidered and obsessed over. Between each of several meetings for this article, he reviews the prior conversation to clarify or reilluminate his thoughts the next time around. He takes a similarly exacting approach to design, “going underground” to focus on nothing but the clothes, dissatisfied with every sketch until creative enlightenment strikes. After “weeks of the trash can overflowing—I hate it! Hate it! Hate it!—suddenly it happens,” he says. “And that’s when I feel most in touch with God, because
I’m literally receiving this information. My life is ignited…. I don’t do this alone.”
Rucci sees fashion as both a spiritual and an artistic calling, complete with the inherent agony and ecstasy. Self-doubt has possessed him since childhood, which is why, after every show, while other designers might revel at their after-parties, he rushes home alone for repeated viewings of the video, scrutinizing it for mistakes.
He finds them, but he also identifies plenty worth celebrating. “There are moments when I say, ‘Look at that, it’s just extraordinary. And that’s why I do what I do,’” he says. “Extraordinary.” Rucci uses the word frequently, in regard to his work and the craftsmanship of his atelier. He’s not wrong. His clothes are, in fact, extraordinary; their materials, execution, attention to detail, technical innovation—such treatments as hand-fluting, braiding, a “suspension” technique—superb. “It’s the closest to couture that we carry,” says Ann Stordahl, executive vice president of Neiman Marcus. Typically understated and starkly linear in their precise cuts, the collections offer moments of high drama in such pieces as diva-worthy furs and stately infanta gowns. But even these project the calibrated serenity that has become Rucci’s hallmark, a mood that also defines his shows; after all, this is a guy who christened his collection Chado, after the Japanese tea ceremony.