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What Makes An Icon: Pucci, The Prince of Prints

Who would have thought that a fighter pilot in the Italian Air Force during World War I personally acquainted with the likes of Mussolini would be the creator of a fashion line so coveted that even Barbie couldn’t have a wardrobe void of his creation?

Even if you are not particularly interested in fashion, you have probably noticed the popularity of colorful, abstract prints on the runways and on the streets! Many people may think of this kaleidoscope of pattern and color as a retro ode to the 60s and 70s, a time when Yves Saint Laurent’s pret-a-porter (ready-to-wear) collection shifted the fashion focus from the craftsmanship of Haute Couture to the creative individuality of a more expressive range of fashionable style. But actually, it is the result of a serendipitous event in the 1940s, when an Italian aristocrat and Olympic skier was photographed by a photographer from Harper’s Bazaar Magazine wearing ski-wear of his own design.

Heir to one of Italy’s oldest noble families, Emilio Paolo Pucci dei Marchese di Barsento (Emilio Pucci, for short!), lived a life as colorful as his fashion line. Prior to his cotton agriculture studies at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia, he was a part of the Italian ski team at the 1934 Winter Olympics! His talent for skiing rewarded him with a scholarship to Reed College in Oregon where he ended up with an MA in social science. Pucci was photographed on the slopes in a ski suit that waved just as much panache as the skier. After catching the eye of the photographer for Harper’s Bazaar, the magazine, whose fashioned editor at the time was the legendary Diana Vreeland, asked Pucci to design ski-wear for a story on European war fashion.

Upon his arrival back home in Florence, Pucci was greeted with a letter he had been dreading — a government order to serve in the armed forces. It was during this time he was re-acquainted with a childhood friend, Countess Edda Ciano, the eldest daughter of Mussolini. After the war, Pucci was able to resume his interest in design. His streamlined yet bold look caught the eye of his jet-setting friends and he soon became known for his resort wear. Pucci went on to open his first store in Capri, the first flagship store to the fashion empire.

Sensational in its appearance, the Pucci brand became a must-have for the icons of the day. From Sophia Loren, Marilyn Monroe and Jackie-O to flight attendant uniforms and the Apollo 15 astronauts’ insignia, the Pucci influence circled the moon and back!

What I love most about Pucci is his manifestation of what art is — a reflection of its creator! Pucci was quoted as saying, “My MA at Reed, plus many other things I learned at Reed, are at the basis of my formation in my career…Designing today means understanding life as it is today—understanding social, political, and economic problems of the world at large and understanding people as individuals—and if you do, your designing has that universal quality which is the best mark of good design.”

With a man whose life was as colorful as Pucci’s, it’s no wonder his design is as eye-catching as it is! Next time you visit the Pucci store at the Shops at Esplanade, just think…each article of clothing you try on has a little more than one story to tell!

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