By SALI McSHERRY
I still lust after my cashmere Pucci turtleneck dress I discovered at Miss June’s thrift shop as a college student. The geometric design in shades of green was short and the hem needed mending, but it cost $5 in the early 1980s. I wore it like a uniform to a club called Café LMNOP, which had a flair for the avant-garde, secure in its underground culture — hosting surf punk bands and drag queen fashion shows.
As the years went by, this Pucci dress saw its share of mishaps — and in the end, in its last episode stuck in an attic it was attacked by moths and never recovered.
But my love affair continues with the designer Marchese Emilio Pucci di Barsento, who grew up an aristocrat, was a torpedo bomber pilot in the Italian Air Force in World War II, raced cars, fenced, won a skiing scholarship to Reed College in Oregon, earned a doctorate in political science from the University of Florence and was the man who married a beautiful Roman Baroness.
But it was an unexpected turn that catapulted him into the fashion world when a photograph of a sleek ski suit, revolutionary in 1947, that he designed for a friend found its way into “Harper’s Bazaar.”
The international jet set flocked to his first boutique in the early 1950s on the Isle of Capri and loved his bold patterned silk scarves, Capri pants and separates.
Imagine 1967 in Italy — film director Frederico Fellini in his hay day and Emilio Pucci models on the terra cotta tiled roof of Palazzo Pucci in Florence posing in palazzo pajamas, terrycloth capes and evening dresses in the designer’s distinctive wildly erratic kaleidoscope-style patterns.
Later he designed wardrobes for the Braniff International Airways stewardesses, pilots and crew including the bubble helmet — designed to protect flight attendants’ hair do’s from the elements — a clear plastic hood with a zipper or snap. He designed culottes, crop jackets, turtlenecks and T-shirts. Marilyn Monroe and Jacqueline Kennedy were nuts about his clothes. Celebrities still are.
Even Barbie had in her closet in 1968 four of his avant-garde flight hostess uniforms in, shall we say, a much smaller size.
A stunning coffee-table-style book that came out earlier this year by Vanessa Friedman called “Emilio Pucci” by publisher TASCHEN, recounts the Renaissance man who called himself a “dressmaker” not an artist. It traces his passion for the cinema, as well as the art and architecture of his home city Florence, and “his lifelong romance with tropical colors patterned in exuberantly rhythmic prints inspired by his travels in Africa and Indonesia,” Beyond clothes, his talent extended to interiors and accessories and his style became an inspiration for interior designers all over the world.
The author explained that Pucci’s style was based on his “adoration of the painters of Italy’s first renaissance, Fra Angelico and Botticelli, mingled with his highly selective borrowing of ecstatically kinetic color motifs from the psychedelic ’60s and the pop art ’80s.”
The colorful book, filled with photographs and illustrations from the family label’s archives is available by order through your local bookstore or through Amazon.com