When Ralph Rucci left his namesake label in November 2014, after more than two decades in the business, he did not necessarily intend to return to fashion.
"People kept begging me," he said at the debut of his new label, RR331, at the Mercantile Annex in Manhattan Tuesday night, where longtime Rucci fan Martha Stewart rubbed shoulders with some of the industry's most esteemed buyers and editors, including Linda Fargo and Cathy Horyn, all angling for a look at the 23 mannequins arranged around the space. The mannequins were sheathed mostly in black, in luxurious materials ranging from simple wool crepe to double-faced cashmere to hammered satin, with the occasional monochromatic print and shot of brown sable or mink. The garments' uniformity of color and lack of embellishment, coupled with the perfection of their construction, made them look almost like toiles in a courtier's studio — a comparison Rucci, the only American to have ever been invited to show couture in Paris, is more than worthy of.
And in a way, toiles are almost exactly what they are. Rucci expects his new business will be largely made-to-order, and clients will be able to choose (with Rucci's firm guidance, of course) the fabrics and colors his designs are made up in. He is hoping a retail partner will allow him to produce ready-to-wear versions as well, he said.
The circumstances surrounding Rucci's departure from his namesake label a year and a half ago have not been well publicized. What we do know is that he took on an investment from billionaires Nancy and Howard Marks, the founders of Oaktree Capital Management, in 2012, and that he left just six months after they appointed Joey Laurenti, formerly chief executive of showroom Goods and Service, as CEO. At the time of his departure, the company said it would replace Rucci with a new creative director; instead, the Marks have thrown their support behind a new label from Sander Lak, Dries van Noten's former head of design.
When asked whether he had a financial partner for his new label, Rucci demurred. "Who would be funding this?" he said, gesturing at the mannequins around him. "Seriously."