Question: Where does postwar meet psychedelic? Answer: In the brain of Italian fashion designer Emilio Pucci, whose 1950s silk print dresses, tunics, and shirts were at once an antidote to 1940s monochromes and a preview of 1960s Technicolor pop.

Pucci was an Olympic skier at Lake Placid in 1934, and it was skiwear that first launched him onto the fashion stage. In 1947, while hitting the slopes in Zermatt, Switzerland, “Harper’s Bazaar” photographer Toni Frissell admired the stretch-fabric ski pants that Pucci had designed. Frisell invited Pucci to create some women’s winter fashions for an upcoming feature, which led to inquiries from Lord & Taylor and others who wanted to manage Pucci’s output.

Instead, Pucci struck out on his own, opening a shop on Capri that sold a lot of his swimwear. Before long, though, Stanley Marcus of Neiman-Marcus suggested he make blouses and dresses. Cut from silk and other lightweight fabrics, these clothes became instant favorites of jet setters, who had little room in their luggage as they winged their way to the world’s sunniest, and most fashionable, destinations.

In addition to tops, Pucci designed slacks—Capris, of course—in vibrant solid colors. He also created scarves, silk handbags, and gloves. Today, for the vintage clothing fan who can’t afford a 1950s or ’60s Pucci dress, a vivid Pucci scarf tied to almost any handbag can make strong statement.

No wonder: Typical Pucci colors range from a relatively understated, geometric combination in purple, aqua, and white to dresses crammed with trippy floral patterns of pink, green, yellow, and orange.

At Pucci’s height, everyone from Marilyn Monroe to Jackie Kennedy to Gina Lollobrigida wore Pucci. In the mid-1960s he designed uniforms for Braniff airline stewardesses, as well as a bubble helmet to keep their hair from being mussed when outdoors. Even Barbie wore Pucci.

By the 1980s the label had fallen into decline, but in the 1990s Pucci was back, as women snapped up Lycra leggings covered in Pucci’s riotous designs. Madonna shopped at Pucci, while designers such as Gianni Versace never disguised the debt they owed to the great Italian designer.


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