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Playing Safe Is The Kiss Of Death

Object Magazine March 2008

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Above: 'Vessels' by Hervé van der Straeten in the Pucci showroom in New Vork.
Next: Ralph Pucci, who is always seeking timeless beauty. With his gallery in the heart of New Vork, he represents the acme of furniture design. Ralph Pucci also creates state-of-the-art mannequin dolls. In the background, a chandelier designed by David Weeks.

Ralph Pucci is the major force behind Ralph Pucci International. Not only is he in charge of the successful, high-end modern furniture gallery, he is also president of the Pucci mannequin company. OBJEKT©lnternational visits him in the home of Pucci: several floors in a building on West 18th street in New York, with magnificent views of the Empire State building and the New York skyline.

Text and photos: Corinne Korver

left: a large sofa by Vladimir Kagan.
Next: a daybed and a bookcase by Chris lehrecke.
Below: the unmistakable natural art objects made by Jéróme Abel Seguin combined with furniture by Jonathan Kline.
Right: a view of Ralph Pucci's furniture paradise, where timeless beauty is of the focal point. Here, the celebrated designers' interior produets have been given a place among the artworks.

In his Kingdom on 18th Street,the 12th and 9th floor are occupied by galleries that showcase art, sculptures, photography as well as lighting, furniture and furnishings by a variety of well established and new, spirited artists and designers. The 11th floor is the heart and hands of the mannequin business.

Twice a year new mannequin dolls, designed and made in this in-house factory, are unveiled. With these mannequins, Ralph Pucci's career began, as he started to work in the company founded by his parents in the 1950's. He created the action mannequin, mannequin dolls in positions that broke away from the old rigid forms, doing head stands and diving poses. His new vision continued with a collaboration with international interior designer Andree Putman. Pucci saw that the mannequins and furniture could easily be integrated.

He gained the exdusive rights tot the French Ecart collection, featuring the authentic reproductions of Pierre Charreau, Eileen Grey and Jean-Michael Frank and expanded the collections to indude designs of award winner Chris Lehrecke, Patriek Naggar, Paul Mathieu, Jérome Abel Seguin, Christophe Delcourt and the French design team Nathalie du Luart and Delphine Vendel.

He soon added the rug designs of Christopher Farr, whose artists indude Alegra Hicks, Kate Blee and estate of Gunta Stolzl. PUCCI later gained the rights to the classic furniture designs of multi-award winner, Vladimir Kagan, as well as the designs of Kevin Walz and Robert Bristow. Internationally known designer, Jens Risom's classic designs are part of the PUCCI collections. Soon to join were French designers Eric Schmitt and Hervé Van Der Straeten.

Nowadays, he is operating in the high end of modern interiors. As a curator, he puts together the team of artists. All their works are custom made, and exclusive for PUCCI. Unlike other design showrooms, here lighting design, sculpture, photographs and graphics are equally well represented. The visual arts are featured in a long connecting gallery, with frequently changing exhibitions of work by artists like Patrick Naggar, Bettina Warner, Chris Makos, Ruben Toledo, Maira Kalman, Hiroshi Tanabi, Mark Gagnon, Vicente Wolf, Antoine Bootz and Gail LeBoff.

What does Pucci look for in the work that he represents? 'What I typically look for is something that is timeless. Something that will live for a long time. Nothing trendy. The furniture I believe in is beautifully made. Like a pair of shoes that you absolutely love.'The pieces in the showroom are bathing in space. Pucci thinks that that is important, as they do not strike the viewer at the very first sight. 'I don't think anyone should walk in here and say 'wow, that is the most amazing sofa I have ever seen in my whole life'. It should be elegant and chic, and over time just become one of the most treasured pieces of art or furniture that you live with..' What makes the difference then, what is in his eyes the criterion for a very good design? 'For me, simplicity is best. And I think you just see it, at least I get it, I cant explain it. You just know.I hate over-designed things, obviously.

I like understated, I like good materiaIs, simply crafted. That poison kill, that one extra detail could ruin the design.' Ralph Pucci has featured many artists over the past decades.

Many of them return once in a while with a whole new collection, most of them are always represented in gallery with at least one piece. It seems that Pucci establishes a very close relation to the artists. 'I am very very attached to my team of artists. I constantly encourage them to grow, I'll take chances with them.' In spring 2008 PUCCI will launch the upholstery line of young lighting designer David Weeks. It will be the first time for David to do a very high end collection in a very high end, visible showroom like PUCCI. Although Week's lighting designs have been very successful, artistically but also commercially, Weeks does not want to be known just as a lighting designer. Most people would not give their artists this kind of chance, but Pucci does.

'David Weeks has had tremendous success here. To have him do upholstery is a gamble, but I do believe that the artist should spread his wings.

I believe in constantly giving my designers the opportunity to try something different. That is why I think I have the best designers in the world here. They are not just furniture designers - they are not furniture makers at all! Patrick Naggar is apainter and an architect. Paul Mathieu is also a painter, and has lots of different interests. Everyone has another hat or two. As far as looking for new talent, I am always looking for new talent. If someone has something new and fresh to say, as long as it fits into the PUCCI spirit, I am very very interested.' The PUCCI empire has an excellent reputation. Acclaimed by some to be the country's best modern furniture gallery, the company has created its own spot in the interior design world, for decades now, and is still going strong.

The risk of getting comfortably settled in is around, but at the same time is something Pucci is not worried ab out. He keeps an eye out, for new developments in the arts, fashion world and furniture design.

He looks with a marketing hat at the cross-overs in these genres, and keeps track of the audience's changing needs.

The secret for remaining fresh and inspired? 'First thing is: Never believe your own press. If you believe your own press, you are finished!

I do know that we are very well respected, by the designers that are showing here. Vladimir Kagan, Andree Putman, Jens Risen, Patriek Naggar, Chris Lehrecke, the best names in the world. I know we are one of the best, if not the best, because these people are with us.' But each day, each show, Pucci feels the need to re-prove himself.

He is very critical of his work, and his passion for the industry and the people he works with, make him try to raise that bar one inch higher all the time.

'There is a lot more out there to conguer. You just constantly have to have a craving to grow and evolve.' Does that mean that Pucci actively tries to steer away from playing safe?

Adjoining: a sofa by Paul Mathieu, a lamp by Patrick Delcourt and a leather carpet by Jim Zivic.Below: the elegant form of a daybed designed by the French designer, Paul Mathieu.Centre: an authentic reproduction of the chair by Eileen Grey from the Ecart Collection.

'Playing safe is the kiss of death! I have seen it in retail stores, I have seen it with well respected furniture companies. You have to always to go out and try to find something new and different. And its a challenge, we are financially a business and we are very comfortable selling this... but you have to move on'. And PUCCI is on the move. Over the last decade, PUCCI has expanded significantly.

A second floor in their building in New York was followed by showrooms in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and West Hollywood, California.

Then there were plans for a PUCCI hotel, which were recently put on hold as the investor took over the Hilton hotels and decided to refocus its enterprise. 'The hotel is an amazing concept. We put together five furniture designers, and photographers.

There would be jazz music, a fantastic New York restaurant, with Italian food'. Ambitious is something Ralph Pucci cannot be denied.

He readily admits: 'I am starting to think to bring PUCCI to Europe. We are in New York, in Los Angeles, in Florida. I start to believe that the next step for us should be possibly London. It is a very premature idea. But I think it is an idea that I want to pursue. Los Angeles took me 5 years to do. I do things slowly. I make sure it is right, I think it over so when we do it, it is successful. I never want to do something and then think 'Oh boy, I did not put enough thought in that.'

Back from the future to today, where Pucci spends 12-hour working days in his office, the gallery and the mannequin factory. With such a passion for furniture, art and interior design, and a gallery full of beautiful objects, his home must be a masterpiece. 'This here is a dictatorship. PUCCI is all my vision. At home it is a little bit different.

My house is very comfortabIe, it's unpretentious and it has enough of my furniture in it, but is more built for a family. And it is not all my vision, because I have a wife, who I want to be happy, because she is at that house more than I am. I am here 12 hours a day. She is at that house 12 hours a day. So there is input from my wife and now that my three children are older, my children have same say too..' His house was designed with Vicente Wolf, a very well know interior designer in the US. What was his briefing? 'I like less. My wife might like a little bit more. And Vicente Wolf put our ideas together and still made us both happy'.