A Conversation with Ralph Pucci Architect Patrick Naggar

A Conversation with Ralph Pucci Architect Patrick Naggar

The French creative talks Ralph Pucci's collection of outdoor furniture.

The French creative talks Ralph Pucci's collection of outdoor furniture.

Text: Staff

The evolution of Ralph Pucci's family business in New York is rather unique, and thus inherently interesting. Having started solely in the realm of functional mannequin production, the business became an internationally renowned showroom of furniture, lighting fixtures, and avant-garde mannequins, many of which you've seen adorned with luxury clothing from Neiman Marcus, Saks, and Nordstrom.

Recently, Pucci put out a compelling and beautiful line of outdoor furniture, something people tend to focus less on due to harrowing weather conditions. We spoke with Patrick Naggar, one of the architectural masterminds behind the new pieces, during Fashion Week in Paris. Check out our conversation with him below, and take a peek at the manufacturing process here.

When you started, you were looking at houses and buildings in their entirety. How did you then narrow things down to furniture?

I was never interested in doing big buildings and commissions; that’s not my cup of tea. I mostly did private residences and very high-end stuff. I was very interested in decorating, and always have been, so I did a lot of decorating as well. For me, in the Italian way I was raised, the two go hand-in-hand. I grew up reading Italian home magazines and they don’t draw any lines between interior and exterior. This has become my philosophy. I don’t see any difference between a doorknob and something on the exterior. Of course, there is a difference, but when you have a designing eye it can be very obvious. I did a lot of city planning, and that element of personalization is important to my work. I always wanted to have time to have interest in other disciplines—art, movies, fashion. Architecture is like the main highway with all these side streets. Therefore, I’m not your typical architect.

I originally thought that it was all very separate because the skill sets are so different. Do you find that there are people who can do it all?

In Italy, they do it all. Every square meter, they have to do it all. There’s a lot of renovation, a lot of restoration of old buildings, and a lot of design. They are the country of furniture design, by far. There is this interdisciplinary approach to things, which is the method I have always used. You can choose to have a huge career and do big buildings and projects, or you can be free and continue to learn and explore other areas—painting, sculpture...

You brought up fashion, also. How does that play into your life and your work as an architect?

Superficially. If you keep your eyes open and you look at what’s happening, you get fed by everything. You get fed by the inspiration of the times, and fashion is a part of that. You get fed by everything.

It’s all fodder for inspiration.

Fashion is typically a reflection of the times. I’m sort of off-fashion, because I want things to last a little longer. It’s an ambiguous thing.

I assume that architecture can’t move as fast as fashion does. Fashion has become very commercial, and there are tons of seasons each year. It gets put on this treadmill.

You have to renew yourself every time. That’s the name of the game. If you don’t do it, you’re out.

Architecture gets to be a little bit slower—there’s not a demand for a new collection every few months.

Architecture is extremely attached to culture and memory. It’s a continuous line from ancient times, from archeology, to today. I have this panoramic view of architecture and I’m very attached to it and draw inspiration for that from the present.

When Fashion Week comes around, are you Googling the shows?

No, I’m not, to be honest. The same way fashion is inspired by events, by social situations, by music, by everything else, it’s the same story. It’s just not as fast.

Do you spend a lot of time in New York?

Yes, I do...I started going in the '80s. I had a contract with a company of antique dealers and creators. I wanted to leave Paris and try something new. It’s a lot of going back and forth. It’s changed immensely. The best time was in the '80s in terms of fun, movement, people visiting, people staying, lots of Europeans... how expensive it is now has really changed the city. There’s nowhere you can have a coffee anymore. Here, you can stop, have a coffee, have a conversation. In New York, there’s no conversation or coffee. You’re having lunch or dinner.

Can you talk about working with Pucci? Did you get assigned that?

Did you ever hear of a person called Andrée Putman? She was in fashion, in design, she was very famous in the '80s. She was a forbearer of many things, working with designers and working at a company where she produced furniture. She [reintroduced the work of people] like Eileen Grey, but at the time no one really knew about them. She wanted to have a place in New York, so she went to Pucci’s showroom and she loved it. It was a huge loft on the twelfth floor penthouse on the corner of 14th street, off of 5th and 6th. It’s a great space with 360 views, and at the time she asked if they would work with her. At the time, I was working with her, she was producing my furniture, so that’s how I landed at Pucci. Ralph was making mannequins, and he was wondering if he should have a team of designers for his showroom as well. It started with one season and then a couple shows, but now it’s gone on and on.

Did you start doing with mannequins?

Yes, I was doing mannequins for Pucci as well. This team of designers, we would do mannequins a little differently, which set us apart. We were doing artistic mannequins, and that was my launchpad. It’s limited in terms of what you can do, but I’d do it again. You can change a head and make it different. One of my mannequins at the time didn’t even look like a mannequin—it looked like a goddess with a vase for a head. Seldom do people buy that stuff. It’s an object or sculpture made to sell other things. It was only just at the Met museum where they showed the whole series of mannequins and it was very successful.

Now you’re doing outdoor furniture with them?

Yes, the idea was that you have this facility where we produce fiberglass mannequins with a whole team of guys. Why not do some furniture? It’s an interesting idea. Furniture right now is boring. It’s teak, or aluminum, or textile—I thought, "Let’s do something different." It’s working very well.

Why is it that not many people typically work with fiberglass furniture?

The thing is, it’s all handmade. They do plastic furniture—you’ve probably seen a lot of plastic furniture. It’s done with a mold, and the mold is very expensive to create, and it’s a quite complicated process. It’s done by numbers. With Pucci, it’s more small-production, more artistic, more assigned by people. The mainstream furniture business involves big companies, expensive molds, that kind of thing. With Ralph, we do it more sculpturally. It’s done in-house.

Is it a collaborative process or do you do a lot of it on your own?

I design. I’m not actually filling the molds [laughs]. It’s a very technical process that is not my thing. I draw, I design, I correct the designs, it’s a real process that takes time and is very interesting. I work with other companies, and I do experimental work as well. I keep an open eye and tend not to specialize. That’s where the architectural part comes in. You have the training, you’re not just drawing and seeing what happens. You have to know how it functions, and all the parameters. Italians produce objects as well as buildings because it’s the same process.

What part of Italy do you go to to see this?

In Italy, in general, the profession of architecture thrives. Milan is the place where they produce all the design. All the styling comes from Milan.

Patrick Naggar

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