Don Emilio Pucci, Marchese di Barsento was a Florentine Italian fashion designer and politician. He and his eponymous company are synonymous with geometric prints in a kaleidoscope of colors. Pucci began his design career with ski uniforms, then eventually expanded to designing most things from lingerie to swimwear to dresses. He was also credited with creating the three bird motif for the design of the Apollo 15 mission patch. After his death in 1992, Pucci’s daughter took over designing for the brand and in 2000, LVMH acquired a majority stake of the company.
Pucci was born in Naples, Italy on November 20, 1914 to one of Florence’s oldest noble families, and he would live and work in the Pucci Palace in Florence for much of his life. He was a keen sportsman who swam, skied, fenced, played tennis and raced cars. At the age of 17, he traveled to Lake Placid, New York, as part of the Italian team at the 1932 Winter Olympics, but he did not compete.
Pucci spent two years at the University of Milan, he later went on to study agriculture at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia, where he became a member of the Demosthenian Literary Society.
In 1934, he was selected to be a member of the Italian Olympic ski team. In 1935, Pucci was given a full scholarship to Reed College in Oregon in return for developing a college ski team. He earned an MA in social science from Reed in 1937, and was awarded his doctorate (laurea) in political science from the University of Florence the same year.
In February 1959, he married Cristina Nannini from Rome. They had two children, Alessandro and Laudomia. Alessandro died in a car crash in 1998, six years after his father. Laudomia continued to design under the Pucci name after the death of her father.
The first clothes designed by Pucci were for the Reed College skiing team. His designs came to wider attention in 1947, when he was on leave in Zermatt, Switzerland. Skiwear that he had designed for a female friend was photographed by Toni Frissell, a photographer working for Harper’s Bazaar. Frissell’s editor asked Pucci to design skiwear for a story on European Winter Fashion, which ran in the winter 1948 issue of the Bazaar.
Pucci was the first person to design a one-piece ski suit.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. Instead, he left the Air Force and set up a haute couture house in the fashionable resort of Canzone del Mare on the Isle of Capri.
Initially, he used his knowledge of stretch fabrics to produce a swimwear line in 1949, but he soon moved onto other items such as brightly coloured, 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. Pucci added a boutique in Rome as business thrived, helped by Capri’s role as a destination for the international jet set. By the early 1950s, Pucci was achieving international recognition, receiving the Neiman-Marcus Award in Dallas and the Burdine’s Sunshine Award in Miami. By the 1960s Pucci was further thrust into greater status when Marilyn Monroe became a fan. She was photographed by George Barris in a number of his items in what would be some of her final photographs.
As the decade progressed his designs were worn by everyone from Sophia Loren to Jackie Kennedy. And later day pop icons such as Madonna in the early 1990s. In fashion history, especially during the period of the 1950s and 1960s, Pucci was a perfect transition example between luxurious couture and ready-to-wear in Europe and North America.
In 1959, Pucci decided to create a lingerie line. His atelier in Rome advised him to develop the line abroad, avoiding the difficulties of a decade earlier in matching available fabrics to the patterns of his first swimwear line. As a result, Pucci came to Chicago giving 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.