It was a very exciting start to the week with an opening at Ralph Pucci’s midtown showrooms on Monday evening. Ralph Pucci runs an international design company that has a reputation for exclusive furniture, lighting, ceramics, textiles and other design objects that are shown in tandem with photographic works. He is also a highly innovative designer and supplier of mannequins, a business he inherited from his parents in the 1950s. Of course, back then, mannequins were made realistically and wore wigs, makeup and false eyelashes but today, they are much more conceptual in design and Pucci’s mannequins are particularly renowned for their experimentation with form and style. His exhibition openings are apparently often accompanied by musical and dance performances that are choreographed to complement his new collections.
The Pucci showrooms are huge, occupying the 9th floor and the penthouse on the 12th floor of 44 West 18th Street. I wait in the lobby for Kathy (the manager of the Greene Street Studio) and her partner Sardi to arrive. Sardi is a photographer and it is courtesy of her that I am going to the event. I’m a bit early but I don’t mind the wait because I get to watch the other guests arrive and line up for the elevator. This is no ordinary people watching exercise – this is a parade of some of the coolest, hippest, most fashionable and eccentric people I have ever seen. They greet each other with self-conscious, over-exaggerated gestures – arms outstretched, fake kisses in the air, look at me, look at me! One woman stands out in particular – she’s wearing emerald green skinny trousers, lime green pointy-toed high heels, an elaborate brocade jacket and a very striking pale green hat. She greets a man with a pencil-lined moustache, and slim fitting suit who looks like he’s straight out of Mad Men. I wish I was bold enough to take out my camera and start snapping! Of course, not everyone is dressed quite so exotically – there are also people who look quite business-like or casual, but so many of them are truly walking works of art.
When Kathy and Sardi arrive, we head for the penthouse. It’s huge and fantastic with magnificent views across the city and the Empire State Building. The beautiful people are milling about a wonderful collection of modernist inspired chairs, sofas, cabinets, tables, rugs, glassware and lighting, all interspersed with black and white photography or graphic imagery. At one end of the space, a musician sits crossed-legged on a large table, playing a bamboo flute. I wander about in a state of overexcitement. I’m not actually very interested in the furniture – I’m much more fascinated by the people. I do have my camera with me, but I just don’t have the confidence to start taking photos with it so I use my iPhone instead. As I move in amongst the crowds, I discover three women performing in elaborate bronze and gold costumes that feature gloves with long, tendril-like fingers. They move about the showroom individually, slowly and deliberately, striking dramatic poses every now and then, and later, accompanied by funky jazz, they perform a dance as a trio. I move from one end of the showroom to the other, iPhone at the ready in camera mode, trying to find the woman in the emerald green trousers but she is nowhere to be seen! Kathy introduces me to Collette, dressed in a completely white costume with matching hat, and wearing dramatic makeup to match. Kathy got to know Collete in the 70s, when Collecte developed a reputation as a performance artist, assuming different personas inspired by art, fashion and music.
We move down to the 9th floor. It’s whiter and brighter down here, and also much hotter. I throw all caution to the wind and take out my camera, pretending to photograph the furniture, but actually trying to photograph the crowd. Kathy and Sardi introduce me to various people they know, some looking exceedingly thin and pale and interesting. A very handsome young African American, dressed in plus-fours, wanders about with a unicycle. There are large photographic portraits of Andy Warhol on the walls, and some beautiful images of Russian ballerinas. I also spot the woman with the emerald green trousers but it’s hard to get a good photo of her. I feel like I’m in a movie.
Produced by Brigita Ozolins