If it's spring it must be Pucci

Acid-bright, swirly-patterned leisurewear has never really gone out of fashion since Emilio invented it 50 years ago. By Tamsin Blanchard
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Indy Lifestyle Online
''That's $150 for the dress. It's Pucci." This is the weekend flea market on New York's Sixth Avenue. The dress I am looking at could hardly be anything else, with its acid-bright, psychedelic swirls of pattern and colour and the tiny signature dotted around it that reads "Emilio". At $150, (around pounds 90) the silk jersey dress, circa 1965, is a bargain. At Steinberg & Tolkein, the vintage clothing emporium on the King's Road in London, a sleeveless micro-mini from the Sixties sells for around pounds 300.

"I've been buying up a lot of it," says Mark Steinberg, who has sold pieces over the years to supermodels and even to Madonna. "I'm waiting for spring to bloom. It doesn't sell in the winter, but you never know what's going to happen with Pucci in the summer." Just as well that the designer is a perennial favourite: Steinberg recently had the good fortune to buy up dead stock from an old Saks Fifth Avenue warehouse in New York. Some of his dresses have the original swing tags on them. There are Pucci fanatics who will buy anything that bears the name to add to their collections. Fashion editors are suckers for the bold and striking prints - the unmistakable signature of a fashion name that has become a cult.

The thing about Pucci is that since the late Forties, when it was the thing to wear on fashionable ski slopes, and the Fifties, when Emilio Pucci opened his first shop in Capri selling swimwear and leisurewear, the abstract prints have never been out of fashion. It's just that sometimes they are more fashionable than at others. This spring is one of those times. Browns of South Molton Street is exclusively selling the Florentine label's latest offering, including the usual prints, in colours to make your eyes water.

The story of Pucci is similar to that of the other Italian clan whose designs have recently been discovered - the Missonis. The family-run business was founded by Emilio, Marchese di Barsento, an Olympic ski champion of the Forties and an international playboy. After being photographed for Harper's Bazaar on the ski slopes, Pucci was commissioned by the American department store Lord & Taylor to design a range. He turned his hand to resort wear when he opened his shop on the jet-set island of Capri.

A few pieces of vividly patterned Pucci were just what fashionable women, including film stars such as Liz Taylor and Lauren Bacall, felt they needed. Marilyn Monroe loved to wear Pucci because, she maintained, the rhythm of the prints flattered her curves.

Pucci enjoyed bringing a certain gaiety to fashion, as Elsa Schiaparelli, the other well-known Italian fashion designer of the time, loved to make fashion odd. The company is still run from Palazzo Pucci in Florence, with the collections now overseen by Emilio's daughter Laudomia. Emilio died in 1992, aged 78.

It is 50 years ago that Pucci was first photographed in his own skiwear. Over the years, the style has remained largely unchanged. Gone are the stretch body suits with full-length capes to match, from the Sixties. But the classics - the slim-cut Capri pants, the shirts and palazzo pyjama suits, the stretchy silk jersey - represented the first steps towards leisurewear as we know it today.

Laudomia Pucci, 35, is in charge of taking the family business into the next millennium. "Not everyone likes colour and prints," she acknowledges from Via de Pucci in Florence. The collection will always have a limited appeal. "My father did so much with abstract prints. He could have been an artist, painting on canvas instead of fabric."

Her job is to take the label to younger customers. She is introducing a line of underwear, soon to be on sale at Browns, and has plans to expand the range of sportswear, including more swimwear.

Pucci's prints have influenced designers such as Zandra Rhodes in the Seventies, Versace and, most recently, Prada. Every so often, the high street, too, follows the Pucci trail. Just take a look at your nearest branch of Kookai or Warehouse, and look for those tell-tale swirls of colour.

Whether you buy yours from a vintage clothing store, Browns or (if you are really lucky) from a charity shop, a little piece of Pucci is a sure investment. At the Pucci shop in uptown New York, as sure as daffodils are yellow, women are out in droves buying their springtime Pucci treat. "It makes you smile," enthuses the manageress. "It sparkles and makes you feel happy."

Who needs Prozac when they can wear Pucci?n

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