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This Italian Fashion Giant also Lead One of the 20th Century’s Most Exciting and Daring Personal Lives

by: Geoff Ficke

Emilio Pucci, the Marquis of Barsento, was born in 1914 to an ancient family of Florentine nobles. He would live and work for most of his life in the Pucci Palace in Florence. A keen athlete and sportsman he was a member of the Italian Winter Olympic team at the 1932 Lake Placid, New York games.

As a young man he studied at the Universities of Milan and Georgia in the United States. He won a skiing scholarship to Reed College in Oregon and then furthered his education at the University of Florence, earning a doctorate in Political Science in 1937. It was during his student years that he became involved in Fascist politics.

During World War II Pucci enlisted in the Italian Air Force and became a bomber pilot. He rose through the ranks and was decorated numerous times for valor. He had become a close confidant of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini’s daughter Edda. As the war turned against the Fascists, Edda’s husband Count Galeazzo Ciano, the Italian Foreign Minister had attempted to intervene with the Allies to remove Mussolini from power in 1943. Ciano was imprisoned and tried by the Fascists.

Pucci attempted to smuggle Edda Mussolini across the border to sanctuary in neutral Switzerland. While he was successful in saving Edda, he was captured by the Nazi’s as he tried to use Count Ciano’s secret papers to barter for Ciano’s life with Nazi SD General Wilhelm Harster. The attempt failed and the Nazi’s tortured Pucci in an attempt to discover where Ciano’s secret document trove was hidden. Pucci did not break under the abuse.

The Nazi’s decided to try a different tact. They sent Emilio Pucci back into Switzerland to advise Edda Mussolini that she would be killed if she released Count Ciano’s papers to the press. Pucci sat out the last months of the war in Switzerland and returned to Italy after surrender.

In 1947, skiwear Pucci had designed for a lady friend that she was wearing on the slopes in Zermatt was photographed randomly by Harper’s Bazaar. The magazine was so impressed by the fit, color and design that the editor approached Pucci about shooting a full collection that he would have to create. This was the beginning of his iconoclastic fashion career and fame as a couture pioneer.

Pucci’s sleek designs caused a sensation. He was experimenting with early stretch materials which increased skiing performance times but also flattered athletic body types. He followed this with a line of swimwear that became the rage at chic resort wear shops. All of Pucci’s designs featured bold colors co-mingled in crisp geometric patterns. He quickly designed a line of silk scarves which complemented designer suits and dresses.

Stanley Marcus, President of Dallas, Texas based Neiman Marcus approached Pucci and suggested that he design a line of silk blouses and dresses. Throughout the 1950’s his fame grew, international fashion awards were garnered and sales exploded. Marilyn Monroe became a fan and was often photographed in his form flattering dresses (She was buried in a Pucci dress). Fashion icons from Sophia Loren to Gina Lollabrigida to Jackie Kennedy all wore Pucci. Contemporary pop-icons such as Madonna wear Pucci designs today.

In the 1960’s Braniff Airlines decided that they needed to elevate their image and separate their brand from the many bland corporate looks favored by the many  competitors of that time. In one of the first campaigns of total branding by an airline Braniff re-designed every element of their service from the outer skin of their plane fuselages, to their terminals, lounges and staff uniforms. Pucci created the first of his seven stewardess uniform designs that took the industry by storm for their unique color, variety and fashion flourishes. The Pucci-designed Bubble Helmet, designed to protect the stewardess hair in inclement weather, became a sensation. Famously, even the Barbie Doll collection licensed Pucci’s Braniff uniforms for the Stewardess Barbie.

Always an active participant in politics, Pucci served in the Italian Parliament as a delegate representing the Florence-Pistoia region. He was elected in 1964 and served until 1972.

The distinctive Pucci geometric colored-motif logo was licensed for use in many luxury goods categories. I was very fortunate to be the American distributor for Pucci Fragrances in the early-1980’s and on several occasions enjoyed the opportunity to meet the gentile, elegant Senor Pucci. He was always a supremely dignified presence as his annual collections were unveiled at Villa d’Este on Lake Como.

In 1992 Emilio Pucci passed away. His name, brand and unique geometric color palette lives on after being purchased by luxury goods giant LVMH. Today Pucci couture can be found in Pucci and Rossignol boutiques as well as at many fine international department stores and resort shops. His was a life of adventure,