Interviews, Essays, Etc.
Couturier Ralph Rucci discusses his book, Autobiography of a Fashion Designer: Ralph Rucci, published in December 2011 by Bauer and Dean and inspired by artist Sol LeWitt’s autobiography told through objects.
Designers & Books: What led you to decide to create this book?
Ralph Rucci: My publisher, Beth Daugherty, approached me about one and one half years ago with the concept. I thought that it was an exciting and marvelous inspirational project that would allow me to take another step forward in personal growth, and give my audience a glimpse into my very deep, personal territory. I really had no idea that it would turn into the psychological exposé that it became.
Autobiography of a Fashion Designer: Ralph Rucci, 2011 (Bauer and Dean Publishers)
Beth wanted the book to be as personal as possible, so I made the decision to open myself, knowing that the more I gave, the more would come back to me in understanding myself, my life, my past lives, the whys, the problems, and all of the facets of my personality that I do not understand totally. I wanted to be able to stand outside of myself and observe the “me” in the equation.
D&B: What was the process of putting the book put together like?
RR: The concept, the art direction, the layout, and the essential quality were conceived and handled by Beth. My involvement, besides being the subject, was writing the text, which I did last July 4 weekend (2011). It was a total stream-of-consciousness process.
D&B: Your book provides intimate glimpses into your studio and also your home—its furnishings and the objects you collect—including books. How many books do you have in your library?
RR: NEVER count the books; NEVER enough. The books are all of the people that I have known, will know—all of the possibilities and heights of awareness that I have yet to ascend.
D&B: How are your books organized?
RR: The books are organized in terms of interiors, fashion, individual artists, periods, authors. There is no specific organization except the way that I find them most easy to access. But there are full columns devoted to Cy Twombly, Frances Bacon, Joseph Beuys, Antonio Tàpies, Cristobal Balenciaga, Tom of Finland…you get it.
D&B: What determines if you keep a book in your apartment or at your studio?
RR: All pure fashion and certain period books go to the studio. Now, sometimes out of an obsessive nature, I will have one copy at each location: a Franz Klein, or a book on Japanese basketry. But books go back and forth constantly, because sometimes I just cannot take the fact that a certain book is not at home for immediate use and reference.
D&B: Is there one that you find yourself frequently rereading?
RR: There are a few. Rose Tarlow’s book, The Private House, I re-read at least once a year. It is pure poetry and you can hear her voice. Lorenzo Mongiardino’s Roomscapes, at least once a month, as there is always a secret beneath. Billy Baldwin Remembers and Billy Baldwin Decorates, because they changed my life.
D&B: How old is that classic stove in your kitchen—which seems so quaint given the industrial-strength behemoths in many contemporary kitchens?
RR: I don’t know, the stove just looks so perfect, like a Chanel suit—timeless.
D&B: You hired interior designer Susan Gutfreund to help create your home the way you wanted it. Did you have her help with your studio, too?
RR: Susan put the apartment together so that it’s so comfortable, it is clearly me, and it has the depth and quietude and meditative quality that I need to remain focused. She also added suggestions of enormous luxury to the comfort: the curtains are not only curtains, but hand embroidered with French whipstitches to match the ceilings and the subtle embossed leather walls. And she gave me very comfortable chairs—perfect for a woman to look elegant in as well as for Twombly (my dog) to take a long nap in. Susan organized the office, too. She set the tone with warm brown flat carpets, and cast-bronze furniture which weighs one ton, but she found someone in Mexico to make it—a fusion of Pauline de Rothschild and Giacometti. We waited for it for over one year, and then had it upholstered in Taroni Black Duchess Satin. She used my existing 17th-century Japanese falcon panels as screens for room dividers.
D&B: Evidence of Elsa Peretti’s work shows up here and there in your book. What makes her special for you?
RR: Elsa is my touchstone of woman. She is also my touchstone for originality, beauty, style, and the confidence to not look left or right, just ahead. She also happens to be a genius who revolutionized jewelry. Last, she is a friend carved in my heart.
D&B: Diana Vreeland is also something of a presence in the book. Can you say something about her role in your life and what your most vivid memory is of her?
RR: Yes, she dwells. She had an enormous impact on me before I arrived in New York, and I knew that I had to know her. I studied all of the issues of Harper’s Bazaar and the incredible work that she created at Vogue, especially sending the photographer, Horst and his partner, Valentine Lawford, the journalist, to write about certain personalities. Some of the most inspirational were of Pauline de Rothschild, Cy Twombly in Rome, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor in Paris, and extraordinary apartments and homes of tastemakers that shaped my own taste. I understood that Mrs. Vreeland possessed an insight into the world of style that asked one to let go and accept, or as she said—“refuse.” But in her thought process the two incongruent words are one and the same.
So now I arrive at the essence of Mrs. Vreeland—the hieroglyphics of thought. Saying one thing and meaning another, just to make sure that your audience is always on guard, and the juxtaposition of all things in life are in balance. I think that this philosophy has always influenced my home and my work, in addition to my thought process.
Diana Vreeland’s first exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, “The World of Balenciaga,” in 1975, blew my head off of my body. I had never seen anything so majestic and wondrous before in my life. I was in awe of the front room, which had the tiered black lace coat and satin pants. She sprayed Balenciaga’s fragrance “Quadrille” in all the rooms, which not only released a scent but also released my mind. Armored footmen stood next to mysterious mannequins that were dressed were in black velvet with small ice-pink satin belts. Mrs. Vreeland released the spirit and individuality within myself that had been dormant.
Years later, in 1986, I would meet her. She helped me so much, mentally, get through a trying time in my business. I made double-faced knitted cashmere bed throws for her since she did not leave her apartment, though had not yet lost her eyesight. She would shout at me to “pull my boot straps up and get on with it. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and give them what they don’t even know they want.”
D&B: Throughout the book there are many arresting images of artifacts from many cultures. Which culture do you find most inspiring? French? Chinese? Japanese?
RR: All of those. I have had very specific lives in all of those cultures, and have experienced various remembrances through past life regression therapy.
D&B: A publisher’s note says that your book was inspired by Sol LeWitt's Autobiography (from 1980). Can you say something about the similarities between your book and his?
RR: All of the images are extensions of my mind and references and create the influences that go into my life and my work.
All images taken from Autobiography of a Fashion Designer: Ralph Rucci, courtesy of Bauer and Dean Publishers. Photographs by Baldomero Fernandez. Book design by Matthew Egan
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