Emilio Pucci was born in 1914 of one of Florence’s oldest noble families, and 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 travelled to Lake Placid as part of the Italian team at the 1932 Winter Olympics, but did not compete.
After two years at the University of Milan, he studied agriculture at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia, USA, where he became a member of the Demosthenian Literary Society. In 1935, he won a skiing scholarship to Reed College in Oregon, received 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. At Reed he was known as a staunch defender of the Fascist regime in Italy.
The first clothes designed by Pucci were for the Reed College skiing team. But 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. 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 an 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 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. She was buried in one of his dresses. As the decade progressed his designs were worn by everyone from Sophia Loren to Jackie Kennedy. And latter day pop icons such as Madonna in the early 1990s.
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. Also in 1959, Pucci was introduced to Baronessa Cristina Nannini, a Roman baroness, at his boutique in Capri. Pucci would later marry her, claiming: “I married a Botticelli”.
After Emilio’s death in 1992 his daughter, Laudomia Pucci, continued to design under the Pucci name. The French Louis Vuitton-Moet-Hennessy Group luxury goods empire acquired 67% of Pucci in 2000.Laudomia became Image Director, while LVMH brought in major designers such as Christian Lacroix (creative director 2002-5), and in October 2005, Matthew Williamson and Peter Dundas from 2009. Other designers who have worked for the label include Stephan Janson and Julio Espada.
Emilio Pucci clothes and accessories are sold through Emilio Pucci and Rossignol boutiques worldwide and in high-end department stores designed by Lena Pessoa, mostly feature the designer’s original brightly coloured, often swirly, prints or new designs in his original distinct style. The fashion house produces ready-to-wear clothes and accessories for women, in addition to a small range of men’s accessories. In the past, the house has produced a more comprehensive range of men’s wear, including a line in partnership with Ermenegildo Zegna, which included men’s jackets lined with Pucci printed fabric, especially for American department store Saks Fifth Avenue.