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  • Judy Rumbold

Pucci prints and the acid flashback – fashion archive, 1990

Subtly matched colour schemes of the kind seen meandering through newscasters’ toupees and in M&S sandwich fillings were always anathema to the designer who, in 1940, made into a desirable fashion statement what was traditionally rejected as exceptional bad taste. The Marchese Pucci di Barsento of Florence signs his printed cloth with a modest Emilio, otherwise his name would form spontaneous go-slinkier stripes up the sides of trouser legs and sleeves.

More familiarly known as plain old Pucci, his designs were so well loved that Marilyn Monroe asked to be buried wearing his clothes. Among the living, on the other hand, there are many who wouldn’t be seen dead in it.

“Gaiety is one of the most important elements I have brought to fashion,” Pucci said. So gay are his prints, in bright fuchsia, geranium, turquoise and yellow, that looking at the barrage of swirling psychedelia for too long would put to shame the promises made by most black market hallucinatory drugs. Add to that the visual roller-coaster ride afforded by the undulations caused by a moving body therein and the appalling out-of-register colour printing of the kind seen in so many newspapers these days begins to feel like a retina’s holiday.

Pucci started in the business by lending a ski outfit he had designed for himself to a woman who was then photographed in it for a fashion magazine. There followed large orders for the stretch ski pants, parkas and sweaters. Then in 1949 a small collection of resort clothes he’d designed for a friend who had lost her luggage became an enormous success among the dolce vita set along the Mediterranean coast.

Pucci was bombarded with orders and subsequently set up a shop in the Palazzo Pucci in Florence.

By 1960, Pucci was the name to be seen in. Lauren Bacall, Gina Lollobrigida, Jackie Kennedy, Ann-Margret and Elizabeth Taylor wore his clothes and not always in those pre-Betty Ford clinic days to stunning effect. However, part of the appeal lay in the slinky, crease-resistant silk jersey fabric which felt sensual against the skin. And it travelled well - so well that Braniff airlines commissioned air stewardesses’ uniforms in layers of Pucci that could be pulled on or off as the temperature dictated.

It is perhaps due to Pucci’s traditionally staid, office-bound history of employment in the Italian parliament, air force and political science that he overcompensated for lost creativity in clothing design. Think about it: here are several years’ worth of the kind of absent-minded doodles most of us do hundreds of every day all concentrated on one garment.

However, Pucci (now 75) probably likes to think there is still something of the educational scholar in what he does. For instance, the resurgence of popularity in his prints has forced latter-day fashion commentators to learn how to spell words like psychedelic and kaleidoscopic. With the renewed demand for Emilio’s special brand of mismatched sartorial delirium, there exists feverish competition among the fashionably inclined to out-Pucci each other with original 1960s designs versus new ones. Last summer, Paloma Picasso bought five Pucci shirts in one day. Prices for vintage Pucci scarves, bags and blouses are beginning to out-price a new range of leggings, shirts and headbands on sale at Browns.

But for people hoping to recreate a cheap alternative, Pucci style is not simply a case of rehashing old sixties and seventies psychedelic hippy gear. To do bad taste properly, the juxtaposition of screaming colours and clashingly loud prints has to be just right. And it helps if there’s a designer label to blame if you get arrested for noise pollution.

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