Ralph Pucci: Meet Design’s Agent of Change

Antoine Bootz

Set to open a new Los Angeles gallery, design dealer and mannequin impresario Ralph Pucci dishes about the twists and turns of his influential career.

Few in design can claim as much influence as New York’s Ralph Pucci. In addition to his mannequin business, which is known for its collaborations with talent such as Anna Sui and Kenny Scharf, Pucci started selling furniture in 1989 by representing the late Andrée Putman and hasn’t looked back since. In January, he’s moving his L.A. operation to a new, 15,000-square-foot space in Hollywood (1025 N. McCadden Pl.; 310-360-9707; ralphpucci.net). Here, he answers a few of our questions.

Despite your success in design over the years, you keep on bringing in new talent at a fast clip.
We’re touching a nerve at Pucci because we’re head of the curve. My designers are true visionaries, and I know they’re visionaries because they just think differently. It’s just a different breed. They’re not talking about decorating someone’s home. They don’t think that way. They think of sculpture, of shapes.

How do you identify this kind of talent?
We all seem to have the same kind of artistic heroes. Whether it’s Jean-Michel Frank, Brancusi, or people like that. The same museums, the same galleries. Even, sometimes, the same music. I’m not out there knocking on doors. I have so many openings, and a lot of the young people come to me. I know right away when they’re right. The person has to have soul, edginess. I’m not looking for perfection. I don’t want to sound pompous, but I knew Isabel and Ruben Toledo were going to be superstars 25 years ago.

How has the industry’s youth changed?
I see younger kids out there now who are trying to do too many notes. I see people trying to just be totally creative. They’re trying to invent, but the quality just isn’t there. But our people—like Hervé Van der Straeten or Patrick Naggar—their work is the future, but their materials are the past. They’re really something of true quality.

Who’s the one that “got away”?
I wanted to work with Keith Haring on mannequins. We worked in the same building downtown. I ran into him in the elevator and talked to him about making mannequins—a children’s collection. He was game, just like that. After getting started, I didn’t hear from him. I called him and he said, “I’m not sure this is going to work out. I’m not feeling good.” He passed away shortly thereafter.

Why such a big play for L.A.?
It has a great future. I see a lot of people gravitating to L.A. like they used to gravitate to New York. But I don’t think it’s there yet. I see a lot of the young kids, and that’s really important, from what I learned in the mannequin business. We surrounded ourselves with young kids when I first started out—not that they were that much younger than me—but people like Ruben and Isabel Toledo, David LaChapelle. We always surrounded ourselves with fresh talent, and their friends who were illustrators, photographers, or sculptors.

How have the tastes of Angelenos changed?
When I opened our first gallery in L.A., at the Pacific Design Center, the client was more vanilla. I’ve watched them getting edgier and edgier. It’s still a little off, but it’s right around the corner. When you have that kind of artistic talent gravitating there, anything can happen.

 

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