When roots take wing

Although the merger among high fashion, sportswear, casual wear and street wear is considered to be the hottest trend, for us it actually traces back to as early as 1947, the very beginning, when Emilio Pucci designed a ski collection for the American market thus marrying luxury to sports. The Pucci legacy tells us a …

Although the merger among high fashion, sportswear, casual wear and street wear is considered to be the hottest trend, for us it actually traces back to as early as 1947, the very beginning, when Emilio Pucci designed a ski collection for the American market thus marrying luxury to sports. The Pucci legacy tells us a lot about fashion and Florence’s history, but what is more important, it shows how the past can be applied to innovate the present.

“The Pucci family’s Palazzo is located in central Florence and, as my father used to say to his American clients, we haven’t changed our address over the past 600 years. I was born in history; I had so much of it around. My problem was not or is not to honor history, but to give it wings and project it into the future”, explains Laudomia Pucci, the daughter of the brand’s founder and the current Deputy Chairman and Image Director, during her speech at Polimoda Rendez-Vous, a guest lecture series where industry insiders share their expertise with students. After the event we had a unique opportunity to talk to her about what steps she believes necessary to both preserve a company’s heritage and make it relevant for the contemporary world.

The identity of the Pucci brand is inextricably linked to the legendary personality of your father, Marchese Emilio Pucci di Barsento – aristocrat, sportsman, pilot, adventurer, entrepreneur, designer. How was he in the day-to-day life?

For me, first and foremost, he has always been and remains my father, a man who valued his family very much. He tried to teach us sports (he loved swimming and skiing) and gave high priority to languages. In a day-to-day life he was very curious, giving and generous, with a strong charisma and a great sense of humor yet very strict and quite uncompromising on his views. He was very hands on and he taught me to work with his colors, to be disciplined and demanding professionally yet always remain humble about what you do. At the same time, he imparted in me his passion for work and how to have fun with it.

One episode explicitly portrays his personality. When he was commissioned to design the logo for the Apollo 15 crew, he was very proud and excited. He didn’t ask for any money for his work but instead he said that he would like to have little coins for every single astronaut of the crew, every member of his family, for the Pope and for the Moon. Coins that featured the name of the owner on one side and his logo design on the other, travelled to the Moon and back with the astronauts. I still have my coin in the drawer, while the coin made for the Moon remained there, up among the stars. Whatever my father was doing, he was doing it for the sake of joy, so you can find traces of his passions and personal life across everything he has ever created.

Are you similar in character to your farther?

This is a compliment… probably I am as hardheaded as he was and maybe uncompromising as well… I have the same curiosity he had for young people, different cultures and travels.

Could you share with us a story about him that you always remember and that makes you smile?

There is one story that my father used to tell and every time he could not help but giggle. When he had just opened his boutique in Capri, people who knew him would pass by the store looking embarrassed because back then it was unacceptable for a member of an aristocratic Italian family to work as a designer. Yet instead of giving off any sign of embarrassment, my father would push the boundaries even further: once he saw familiar people approaching the store, he would take a bucket of water, some soap, and would start cleaning the floor and addressing the passers-by: “Oh, hello! So nice to see you here today!” This would make people even more uncomfortable and my father would laugh so hard, he loved provocation!

Laudomia Pucci for Polimoda Almanac

Have you always been willing to link your life to fashion and work in the family business?

I never imagined working with my father and working in fashion, I was actually attracted to political science that I enjoyed enormously and received a degree in it. Probably this is another passion that I inherited from my father… let’s not forget that he was a political figure in Italy for quite some time, first as an MP and then as a member of the Florence City Counsel. To be honest, I think if I had not grown up in fashion, I would have probably done something else, however this is the incredible strength of family business…you inherit also the passion. And when my father, unfortunately, fell sick, and I was 28, I started running the company.

As the image director of Pucci, what guidelines do you follow when it comes to ensuring continuity with the brand’s heritage while ensuring the product’s ability to speak to a younger target?

Maintaining the bond between past, present and future is extremely difficult. If you move too slowly, people will say you’re nostalgic, while if you go too fast you won’t be understood. It is a very fine line and I believe that you need two ingredients to keep the balance: somebody who deeply knows the brand and somebody with a lot of talent who knows how to spot trends and keep the product relevant.
To implement this vision, together with a team made up of young graduates fresh out of fashion schools such as Polimoda and CSM, we are working on a new heritage project in Florence to create a modern interactive space inside Palazzo Pucci able to narrate the brand’s history but also showcase our current projects and collaborations.

This project involves in-depth archival research across multiple directions. The first one focuses on creating a structured database that we use for storytelling and, most importantly, to build up our corporate culture. We are an “old” company with strong codes and for us, given our unique heritage, it is of the utmost importance that our employees learn all about who we are as a brand and what we are trying to do. The second direction is creating the archive for the future: we collaborate with young people to implement projects, apps, skateboards and any kind of ideas. I think it is a very healthy way to develop talent and make the brand’s heritage relevant today.

Laudomia Pucci for Polimoda Almanac

What is the competitive asset that family-run companies have in your opinion?

In the olden days, laborers used to bring their children along to work and would let them play around the factory, occasionally involving them in the work process where they would naturally absorb the trade, so by the time these kids turned 20 they already gained substantial expertise. I remember visiting factories myself, talking to these men and women, the true artisans behind the product, who could tell you everything about production techniques because they had been mastering them for years, day after day after day. Within a family-run business, people absorb the personality of the company from a very young age, acquiring a language that words will never fully grasp. In Italy we are very lucky to still have family-run companies because by marrying their unique assets with an efficient structure they are able to create a winning combination and project the company into the future. This is the path I undertook to keep our business going strong and I would be happy to see other Italian families do it as well.

Pucci has always been about experiencing life first-hand yet today young people prefer to stay online, so the virtual world is steadily replacing the real one. What is your take on the advancement of the digital world?

Digital communication is a crucial part of the spirit of the time and we have to embrace it if we want to speak the same language of younger generations. A couple of months ago I met a few social media influencers in Hong-Kong; they were discussing their schedules and their lifestyles, how they are constantly travelling all over the world, not missing any single happening in fashion, finding a product and promoting it, writing about an interesting person, etc.. I was amazed by these young individuals doing so many extraordinary things in a very little time, which also implies a lot of sacrifice on their part. I believe that they are opening new paths and, what is more, I am fascinated by their healthy entrepreneurial approach as they are not waiting to receive things passively, but going out there and doing their thing. I believe this is a bigger choice for a bigger world.

Laudomia Pucci for Polimoda Almanac

In 1986, Emilio Pucci together with Shirley Goodman from FIT New York came together to create Polimoda. What was behind the idea?

I remember that trip to NY, I was there with him! During that period my farther considered to have achieved something in life and wanted to give back to the city and the youth. This is how he came up with the idea of bringing the FIT – Fashion Institute of Technology to Florence and that’s when I first started hearing the name of Polimoda. I think he would be very pleased and proud to see the school today.

You are currently mentoring one of Polimoda’s courses. In your opinion, what are the main skills and features that a school should help its students develop in order for them to make it into the fashion industry?

Education is crucial because money is easy to find while what is difficult to find is talent. Talent is fifty percent natural aptitude and fifty percent trained skills, so through education you make sure that a raw talent does not get lost. All studies need to be applied to reality and that is what the school has to provide – the hands on approach… what we call the execution part with budgets, timings and deadlines.

What is the future of Pucci?

One of our focuses is sourcing talent. I feel that the industry needs to give the youth more space, as they are the future. I want to offer them the same possibilities that, in a way, I had when I was very young. We are not giving them a chance to express themselves or make mistakes and, therefore, to be creative. Giving freedom is risky but essential – if you force them to fit into a predetermined structure, they will lose the energy necessary to do something different and break the rules. If Europe does not make an effort to empower its young, we will have a very big problem in the years to come. Thanks to this new generation, we are able to learn and speak the languages of technology while implementing innovative ideas. My dream would be to work with sustainable colors, for example, although I still believe that machines will never be able to do what hands can do. Execution should always involve creativity and that is why we firmly believe in being ‘Made in Italy’.

Laudomia Pucci for Polimoda Almanac

This article is an excerpt from Polimoda’s long-form publication Almanac, an expanded catalogue where courses and content collide to offer a comprehensive compendium of all things Polimoda. From interviews with cutting edge designers to essays on the future of fashion, we will be featuring a selection of the Almanac’s most interesting visual and reading material on our journal.