Obituary: Emilio Pucci

Emilio Pucci di Barsento, designer, born Naples 20 November 1914, MP for Florence (Liberal) 1963-72, married 1959 Christina Nannini di Carabianca (one son, one daughter), died Florence 29 November 1992.

EMILIO PUCCI was fond of saying that he was the first member of his family to work in a thousand years, a claim less exaggerated than it at first sounds.

The Pucci di Barsento are a noble Florentine family with roots so deep and a pedigree so blue- blooded that his ancestors of the early 15th century might with reason have regarded Cosimo de Medici and his heirs as parvenus. By the late 19th century, however, the great days seemed nearly over. Their fortunes had dwindled with extravagance, the vast palazzo was falling down and Emilio Pucci's grandfather was obliged to supplement his income by disposing of furniture and pictures. According to family legend he paid for his honeymoon in America with a Botticelli, having it cut down to fit into his trunk and selling it on arrival to a New York dealer.

Though it is said of Emilio Pucci that he achieved success due to the fortunate accident of his birth, one of his greatest achievements was to succeed in turning this inconvenient aristocratic inheritance to positive contemporary account. He leaves behind a palazzo restored, refurbished and refurnished, a thriving family business and an outstanding reputation as a man who contributed in no small part to the dizzy success of Italy in the post-war decades. He was certainly the most important figure in Italian fashion during the 1950s and the 1960s.

The early part of his upbringing was conventional: the Liceo in Florence, summers at Forte di Marmi, a good part of the autumn in the country watching his father shoot pheasants and cinghiali, then a dilatory year at the University of Milan. Aged 21, however, he travelled to the US, where he studied at two out-of-the-way universities, doing casual jobs to earn a living and pay his tuition. This American phase of his education seems to have helped him discard, while still a young man, the profoundly anti-commercial prejudices of his landowning background. Returning to Italy he studied at the University of Florence, graduating in 1941.

He enlisted in the Italian Air Force during the war, serving as a bomber pilot and achieved the rank of lieutenant-colonel. Charming, handsome, a talented linguist and a good skier, he acquired a reputation as a playboy and socialite. It was on the ski slopes, strangely enough, that his career as a fashion designer really began. In 1948 Harper's Bazaar published photographs of Pucci at Gstaad modelling ski clothes of his own design. He was soon showered with orders from friends. In Capri the following summer he designed hats, shirts and slacks which became the rage amongst a small milieu and he began to be talked of, to his surprise, as the innovator of a new, casual chic, 'resort look'. His comfortable, becoming, vividly coloured clothes had an obvious appeal to a generation that had endured the rigours and drabness of the war and sought an alternative to the rather stuffy formality of the fashions that had preceded it.

In 1950, to the chagrin of his parents, he opened his own couture house and showed at the International Presentation of Italian Fashion in Florence. Soon the atelier occupied the splendid, if dilapidated, piano nobile of Palazzo Pucci, his range became more ambitious and his clients numerous. As a designer his strengths were as a colourist and as an inventive user of materials. He preferred soft, slinky silks and satins, while his favourite colours were always turquoise, acid yellows and almond greens. These were first inspired, he said, by the landscape of Capri and the sea around it.

Pucci's heyday was from the mid-Fifties to the mid-Sixties, when his clothes were ubiquitous and considered the quintessence of style. His trademarks were sexy, narrow-legged slacks and comfortable loose blouses, sometimes nicknamed 'palazzo pyjamas'. In America he was the first Italian designer to achieve a considerable commercial success, winning the Neiman Marcus award in 1954. In these years he was seen everywhere - at parties in Rome and Paris and New York, where he had a Fifth Avenue shop and an apartment. Vogue in 1964 described him as the man who had 'personally invented the look of the moment'.

He once described himself as a man 'with lots of most important interests'. Certainly he did not think of himself as only a clothes designer. He stood for Parliament in 1964 on the Liberal list, and served as a deputy in Rome for nine years. He was also active in the city politics of Florence, leading the Liberal group in Palazzo Vecchio, a bold thing for an aristocrat to do at the time. These were the 'anni caldi' of Italian politics when the Communist Party held the initiative and the establishment was intimidated by the threat of assassination or kidnap. He made good wine on his estates, collected contemporary American painters in New York, commissioned rooms from avant- garde designers such as Gaia Olenti, and preserved through its purchase the Antico Setifico Fiorentino, a small firm in making silk brocade on 17th-century looms.

The beginning of Pucci's political career coincides with the stagnation of the business that made his name. In the 1970s and 1980s, the centre of Italian fashion moved from Florence to Milan, and new names like Versace and Armani emerged. Fashion design became more egalitarian, more metropolitan, more pop-inspired, and from these movements Pucci seemed isolated. The cycle of taste had turned full circle by the last year of his life, to make Pucci once again the epitome of fashion. The 1991 collections of Gianni Versace were little more than reworkings of Pucci ideas of the Sixties. This revival, however, seemed to give him little pleasure. He considered the Puccimania of the 1990s as at best the passing enthusiasm of a generation of designers that had already plundered everything else.

In recent years Emilio Pucci led an increasingly private life, leaving Florence only infrequently and then emerging rarely even from the palazzo. One of his last public appearances was in 1989, to inspect the teams playing calcio storico in Piazza Santa Croce. Astride a black horse, trussed in a velvet jacket, he seemed an immensely elegant and impressive figure, a proud part of a civic culture which he had done much to enrich.

(Photographs omitted)

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

HR Manager - HR Generalist / Sole in HR

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - HR Generalis...

Business Analyst - Banking - London - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Banking - People Change - Lond...

HR Manager - Milton Keynes - £50,000 + package

£48000 - £50000 per annum + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Shared...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home