The Villa Granaiolo in Castelfiorentino, once a 13th-century fortress, is where the Marchese di Barsento Emilio Pucci and his wife, Cristina, used to host glamorous parties in the 1960s. Visible from the green steps of the villa is the former convent where the Marchese’s daughter, Laudomia Pucci, was married in the family chapel and where she has created a home for holidays with her husband and three children and established a Pucci museum. Laudomia, as was her father, is tall and thin with exceedingly expressive eyes. Her voice is cheerful and kind; her manner always animated. She speaks about tradition, Renaissance, and politics with the ease and familiarity of ordinary conversation, and her irresistible enthusiasm draws you into the colorful world of Pucci.
Walking through Elements, the museum’s exhibition curated by Maria Luisa Frisa, Laudomia explains, “The layout was inspired by a scarf that my father had designed.” Indeed, it’s as if the curator has managed to decipher the code that Emilio had secretly embedded in the scarf’s pattern of geometric shapes borrowed from the dome of the Duomo in Florence. The first gallery has podiums of different heights and different colors, arranged in the rhythmical fashion of a music score. On these podiums mannequins illustrate all the key moments of the history of the Florentine fashion house – the jumpsuit, the scarf, the skirt – most of them in dazzling prints that have the same hypnotic effect as Ugo Rondinone’s circular artworks on the wall. “When I first got them, I didn’t know where to put them. They were just too big. But when the idea of the museum came up, I thought that they would look perfect here.”
In the same gallery three cupboards from the very first boutique in Florence stand against different vibrant backdrops to form three playful sets illustrating Emilio’s striking colors. The interior of each cupboard was repainted with a non-acid paint “so it does not eat the color” and two racks were installed to hang the original pants from the 1960s all arranged in a spectrum. “Today the colors of fabrics do not hold that much because our coloration is not so strong. In the beginning, you could use anything when you were doing colors, mercury etc, all these strong chemicals. Today you can’t, thank God.” On the glass doors is the index of the colors with names like rosa bonbon or geranio followed by a number. “I call it the alphabet of Pucci. Most of them were discovered by my father, when he was taking pictures of the sea or the bougainvilleas in Capri. Seeing them all together is pretty much seeing the Italian summer.”
In the next gallery accessories are displayed in bubble shaped cases like oxygen free capsules wishing to preserve them through time. Under one is a shoe beaded with stones designed by former Emilio Pucci designer Christian Lacroix. Under another is a hat featuring the Pucci pattern designed by Phillip Tracy, and yet another covers a small bag in the shape of a peeled clementine. The old wooden machinery in the background is in stark contrast with the futuristic display, but Laudomia has kept it there as a reminder of what this place used to be. “We used to produce wine here. And this is an olive press.”
Hanging high up on a wall in the third gallery, the mission badge for Apollo 15 reflects how harmoniously Emilio, a fighter pilot in WWII, merged aviation and design. Below the badge, mannequins pose. Some are dressed in luscious velvet dresses, others in beaded dresses, designs by Matthew Williamson and Peter Dundas, and one in Emilio Pucci’s trademark chiffon dress that is as airy as the light that comes from the window. More pieces are stored in the oak closets like precious gemstones. “Very often when I talk about Pucci, I say whatever you say is right. You say it’s print, yes. It’s solid, yes. It’s fashion, yes. It’s classic, yes. For me it goes back to my father’s personality and the way he could adapt to different realities.”
Laudomia’s goal is not only to preserve her father’s legacy, but to create the new. Next to the installation is a talent center that serves as a studio with big drawing tables where LVMH, which acquired 67% of Emilio Pucci in 2000, organized Les Journées Particulières, an open house weekend initiative for all its brands where experienced artisans showcase their savoir-faire to the public. “We had print design and pattern making, with approximately 2500 visitors.” Les Journées Particulières occurs only every two years, but every year students from Polimoda (Florence), ECAL (Lausanne) and Central Saint Martins (London) are invited to see the archives and, inspired by those, to come up with new ideas. “At one point I was wondering, is it interesting only for me, the archives? Is it passé? Is it museum stuff? So the only way to get a clear answer was to go to the very young and see what they would tell me… and there I realized that the archives are relevant not only for me, but for a creative group of people. We found young talent who now work for us.” Some of the prototypes are on display such as a Pucci skateboard or an interactive scarf, designed by former ECAL student Pauline Saglio, that lights up and plays a melodic tune.
Today we have lost the capacity of doing everything, no matter how important you are.Laudomia Pucci
This tune becomes the soundtrack for a strip of black and white photos on the wall across from the interactive scarf. Like a short film, the strip tells the story of the Florentine house in one glance. It starts with a picture of her father leading the Calcio Storico parade. “He did this three times a year. It’s a kind of rugby dressed in costumes from the Renaissance. It’s hilarious!” Another picture shows an elegant outing to the theater with his wife, followed by a photo of him in boots. “Many years ago, there was a big flood that hit our workshops. And there you see him washing his fabrics. Today we have lost the capacity of doing everything, no matter how important you are.” More pictures show his political speeches, the glamorous shows, him with his daughter, and, ending the series, the Marchese in older age. “A classical man that had all that life and creativity.”
In the house portion of the complex, Laudomia has paired a large, austere family portrait of the 16th century with a vibrant Pucci rug and her father’s mannequins. “I am not a fan of these portraits, but of course they are interesting from an historical point of view.” Her family were political advisers to the Medicis, her great-grandfather was mayor of the city of Florence, and her father was an MP for 15 years. Laudomia was seduced by the idea of politics (“In the family there has always been this fil rouge of politics”) and wished to pursue an academic career, but there came a time when she faced an ultimatum: either get married or get in the family business. She chose the second. She worked first for Hubert de Givenchy, “Hubert was like a second father to me.” Then she joined the family business. Recalling her father’s energetic personality, she says, “I have never heard of anybody in a family business that had an easy ride. I think it’s kind of normal. It’s almost 25 years since he’s gone. You remember the laughter, the skiing (The Marchese skied for Italy in the 1932 Olympics), the swimming, all the sports life we had.”
“My aesthetic is used to colors, so I go in that direction,” she comments in the airy living room bright with splashes of color. On the wall is a tapestry by Italian artist Francesco Vezzoli especially designed for her. “Francesco is an old friend. I have known him for nearly 20 years and he loves Pucci. One day I told him, ‘If you like it so much, why don’t you express yourself in terms of Pucci.’ And he did.” The tapestry brought two movements together. “Josef Albers as head of Bauhaus and abstract art and my father as the first kind of pop artist in fashion.”
Although not a collector, it is obvious that Laudomia loves art. “I tend to buy art that makes me happy.” For example, a sculpture by Niki de Saint Phalle. “Niki is totally in the spirit of who we are.” In a different corner, she keeps four Takashi Murakami paintings. “Some shapes of Murakami remind me of my father’s bubble print. I always thought my father was an artist, but he didn’t believe he was one. Dali once said to him, ‘I will do some prints and you will color them.‘ He said, ‘I am not an artist. I don’t want to do it.’ For him art stopped with the Renaissance.”
The Pucci family has been known as one of the most prestigious patrons of art since the early Renaissance. Antonio Pucci commissioned Sandro Botticelli to paint the tale of Nastagio degli Onesti. In the 16th century Tuscan mannerist architect and sculptor Bartolommeo Ammanatti designed Palazzo Pucci on via Dei Pucci in central Florence. It is here that Laudomia has her office. The iron gate decorated with the family crest opens into a beautiful stone paved courtyard. To the right are three galleries dedicated to the archives where some valuable pieces are displayed in bottle-shaped glass cases. Up one floor, Old Master paintings hang on the walls in the company of Murano chandeliers and Pucci rugs. Her office boasts a beautifully decorated ceiling, 18th century richly carved Venetian chairs upholstered in muted hues, and a contemporary carpet vibrant in color and optical designs. Her desk is simple, supported on four beautiful cabriole legs. She wears a printed dress and a black jacket with a tie belt that communicate creativity but also authority. She leans towards the window that overlooks the neighboring buildings. “As my father used to say, how can you create something ugly from here?”
Florence, 2017. All photos © Alexia Antsakli Vardinoyanni www.artflyer.net