Nina Ricci born Maria Nielli was born in Turin, Italy, in 1883 and her family moved to Florence when she was five years old. Subsequently, her family moved to France in 1895 when she was 12 years old. At the age of 13, she was apprenticed to a dressmaker and by 18 had become the head of the salon and by 22 it’s chief designer. In 1904 she married a jeweler named Luigi Ricci and they had a son named Robert in 1905.
n 1908 Nina joined the house of Raffin as a designer and remained there for 20 years. In 1932, at the age of 50, Madame Ricci decided to open her own house, and she and her son set up the House of Ricci. There Madame Ricci created the garments and Robert ran the business. It grew rapidly throughout the 30’s till it occupied 11 floors in 3 buildings, all on the same street as their original one-room maison de couture. Working directly with the fabric on a mannequin, Nina Ricci created elegant, sophisticated clothes in classic style. She was noted for her high standard of workmanship and became a popular designer for older society women.
She was skilled at making the most of a print, cutting a plaid for an evening dress on the bias, echoing the X-cross in the skirt pattern in the surplice, crossed-over treatment of the bodice. One daring dress in 1937 had a halter neck open between the breasts from neck to waist. Day and evening dresses alike drew attention to the figure, by being fitted to below the waist and featuring much shirring and drapery. In 1945, after the war had ended, it was very necessary to revive the glory of haute couture as well as raise money for war relief. Robert Ricci had an idea which Lucien Lelong, President of the Chambre, put into action. 172 dolls from 40 Paris couturiers, including Balenciaga and Madame Gres, were dressed in the latest fashions and an exhibition was held at the Louvre, in Paris. It was a great success and subsequently toured Europe and the USA. By the early 50’s, when Nina Ricci was nearing 70, she ceased to take an active role in design, just keeping an eye on the house. Her son brought in a new head designer in 1954, the Belgian Jules-Francois Crahay, whose first collection for Ricci was a great success being feminine in the extreme – beautiful of colouring and fabric, unbizarre and elegant.
Nina Ricci designed gowns while Robert managed the business and finances. She worked with the fabrics directly on the mannequin to ensure they had shape once they were finished. Nina Ricci designs soon became known for the refined, romantic, always feminine feeling Maria adds to all of her collections.
In 1945, with the war over, designers were casting about for a way to revive the infatuation women had formerly had with haute couture, while raising money for war relief. Robert Ricci had an idea which Lucien Lelong, President of the Chambre, put into action. Over 150 mannequins from 40 Paris couturiers, including Balenciaga and Madame Gres, were dressed in the labels’ best fashions and were placed in an exhibition held at the Louvre, in Paris. After a huge success in Paris it toured Europe and then the USA.
In 1946 Robert created his first fragrance, Coeur Joie. In 1948 Robert came up with another fragrance, L’Air du Temps, the brand’s most popular fragrance, which continues to be a top seller today. Several Flight Attendantuniforms were designed by the Nina Ricci brand. Nina Ricci is also a pioneer of licensing their designs before the rise of Ready-to-wear. As early as 1960, they started licensing their patterns to upscale boutiques such as Chez Ninon in New York and Betty Clemo in Hong Kong for ‘line-to-line’ reproduction.
By the early 1950s Nina Ricci was nearing 70 and she slowly ceased to take an active role in design, choosing to just keep an eye on the house. Her son chose the new head designer in 1954, the Belgian Jules-François Crahay.
Crahay left Ricci in 1963 to go to Lanvin, and was immediately replaced by Gerard Pipart, who had worked at Balmain, Fath and Jean Patou prior to his new job. He continued to carry on the name of Ricci with beautiful and elegant dresses.
After Maria Ricci’s death in 1970, Crahay was appointed head of the house. Robert continued to excel in perfumery and business until his death in 1988.
Massimo Guissain’s family purchased the house of Nina Ricci in 1998 from Crahay. Massimo Guissain worked as a designer, but Nathalie Gervais had been the chief designer for the house for several years. She presented her last collection in Fall 2001. In May 2002 American designer James Aguiar took over as chief designer and designed for the House of Ricci for two seasons.
In 2003, Lars Nilsson took over the house of Ricci with shaky reviews from critics. He made a sudden redesign in early 2006, and then in September announced that Brussels-born designer Olivier Theyskens of Rochas would take over the role as head of the label. In 2009, Theyskens was replaced by designer Peter Copping, who had worked for Louis Vuitton. In 2015, after Peter Copping left the house, Guillaume Henry took the place of Creative director.
During a 2013 fashion show, Ricci designs were targeted by bare-breasted Femen protesters, who grabbed model Hollie-May Saker.
Nina Ricci’s most famous perfume, L’Air du Temps, created in France in 1949, means “Air of Time”, capturing the passion and elegance of an emerging generation Maria and Robert Ricci headed. Robert worked with master perfumer Francis Fabron to create a scent with as much elegance as Madame Maria Ricci’s clothes. Marc Lalique created the graceful twin-dove crystal bottle. Other classic Nina Ricci perfumes have included “Farouche”, “Capricci”, “Fleur de Fleurs” and “Eau de Fleurs”; each has had its own unique Lalique crystal pure perfume bottle. Men’s fragrances have included “Signoricci”, “Signoricci II” and “Phileas”. More recent perfumes have included two different fragrances, both with the name “Nina”, and a series of three perfumes under the name “Les Belles de Ricci”. Furthermore, there have been additional fragrances with the name “Ricci Ricci”, “Love in Paris” and “Premier Jour” which means “first day”.