Ralph Rucci's Great American Couture

By Constance C. R. White


Because it’s time, yet again, to gorge on this fashion feast-for-the-eyes.

The biannual couture shows began on Sunday in Paris and we expect opulent and dizzying displays of designer creativity — not to mention a level of artisanal workmanship rarely seen anywhere else in fashion. Haute couture is a French artistic institution ranking somewhere between the Louvre and Catherine Deneuve.

To drink in the cut and fit of a Ralph Rucci jacket is to be schooled in the difference between a serviceable piece of clothing and a collector’s item.

So it was a big deal when in 2002 designer Ralph Rucci was invited to show his Chado Ralph Rucci collection during the haute couture shows. Rucci became the first American to present a haute couture collection in Paris in over 50 years.

It was a well-deserved honor. Rucci, you see, designs exquisitely detailed clothes that exhale luxury rather than scream it from a logo’d handbag or corsaged jacket. He believes in grown-up, sophisticated style for grown-up, sophisticated women and he was known to rail against a fashion industry he believed was designing for girls. He wasn’t wrong; the industry is indeed youth-obsessed. But in recent years there’s been a turn toward more fashionably flattering clothes for real women and their real lives.

Still Rucci, who is 56 and launched his company in 1994, helped create a little revolution with his provocative outspokenness and his extraordinary creations which have a voice all of their own. His masterful dressmaker details and signatures include billowy hand painted dresses, slashed and finished openings in fitted coats, and sleek leather inserts and bodices on double-face wool dresses.

Model for Ralph Rucci

Fashion’s Other Ralph

Source Getty

To drink in the cut and fit of a Ralph Rucci coat or jacket is to be fully schooled in the difference between a nice, serviceable piece of clothing and a collector’s item. Fittingly, Rucci’s designs have been highlighted by several museums around the country including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Costume Institute at Kent State University and the Phoenix Art Museum. And yet, the clothes are alluringly wearable. Of course, Rucci’s designs come at a high price. 

Rucci ended his haute couture run a few years ago. But thankfully, the Philadelphia native continues to create and show his ready-to-wear and custom designs in his New York design studio and during Mercedes Benz Fashion Week.

Take a sip of Rucci from his fall/winter 2003 haute couture show where, as in all Rucci shows, the people-watching is good: top editors from Harper’s Bazaar’s Glenda Bailey to Andre Leon Talley. That’s Lee Radziwill in the white pants suit next to Talley. Deeda Blair, the powerful socialite and businesswoman, is on the right with the chic gray streaks in her hair. And the whole scene is delicious.