Ralph Rucci, By The Book

Ralph Rucci is the closest thing America has to a couturier. In fact, the designer – a favorite of well-heeled fashion lovers Martha Stewart, Iris Apfel, and Deeda Blair – was the first American designer in more than 60 years to be invited to show during Paris Couture Week by the French Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, which he did for several seasons earlier in the aughts.

His Chado Ralph Rucci ready-to-wear collection, which was established 30 years ago and is far and away the most technically advanced – and extraordinarily elegant – of any presented during New York Fashion Week, is shown in his SoHo studio to an eclectic crowd that has drawn everyone from Whoopi Goldberg and André Leon Talley (who wears custom Ralph Rucci capes when playing judge on America’s Next Top Model) to Fran Lebowitz and Patti Smith, all of whom come to experience the designer’s masterful creations in person.

So it was no surprise that many of these admirers, including Martha Stewart, Mario Buatta, Sandra Bernhard, Susan Gutfreund, Georgette Mosbacher, Charlotte Moss, and Deeda Blair, braved the rain last Wednesday night to help the designer celebrate the publication of his book, Autobiography of a Fashion Designer: Ralph Rucci, at a party held at the Paul Rudolph townhouse on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

While guests nibbled hors d’oeuvres and sipped champagne, Rucci sat at a gleaming white table in the back of the quirky modernist living room overlooking a verdant backyard, signing copies of his black fabric-covered, limited edition autoportrait. Inside was one lush image after another, shot by photographer Baldomero Fernandez, providing a kind of behind-closed-doors, “you are here” feeling for the reader, as filtered through the prism of the people, places, and things that the designer loves. Here is Rucci’s bulldog, Twombly, bounding down a hallway in his master’s lavishly appointed Upper East Side apartment. Here’s a photo of Chado Ralph Rucci patterns hanging like paper ghosts in his work room, followed by shots of his seamstresses and design team hard at work. And elsewhere, Rucci offers a glimpse of the objects that inspire him (from copper teapots and gleaming silver spoons to Chinese ceramics and books, books, and more books).

The result is an unusual and very intimate look at one of America’s most incredible fashion talents at home, at work, and everywhere in between.

“I was very gratified to work on the making of this book and am just thrilled with the result,” Rucci told me after the event. “I offer many thanks to Beth Daugherty of Bauer and Dean Publishers for conceiving the idea and bringing it to fruition, to my clients and friends whose support has no measure, and to my staff, the most talented and dedicated group of individuals on the planet. Without them, nothing I do would be possible.”

And without Ralph Rucci, American fashion would be a far less interesting affair.

Lauren David Peden writes for Rue La La as a Contributing Editor.

December 19, 2011