HATS OFF TO YOU: Caps and gowns are in abundance this week as several New York City colleges and universities are sending their graduates out into the working world.
At the Fashion Institute of Technology’s commencement early Tuesday afternoon in New York City’s Central Park, designer Ralph Rucci gave the outgoing students some career advice, before receiving an honorary doctorate degree. Frank in his remarks, and at points critical of the state of the fashion industry, Rucci impressed upon students the importance of lifelong research, humility and self-imposed standards. He was among the keynote commencement speakers for this year’s five undergraduate ceremonies.
Introducing the designer, FIT president Joyce Brown informed the soon-to-be graduates how after picking up his diploma from the school in 1980, Rucci showed his own made-to-order collection within a year — “guided by his own unique vision, high principles and commitment to excellence.” Some of his designs are also housed in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Museum at FIT, among others, Brown said.
Asking and removing his cap, due to the warm temperature, Rucci quipped, “If there’s one thing you have to know about yourself, it’s what you look good in and out of.” To emphasize that point, he mentioned how when he ventured into a licensed fur line, he always wanted a fur hat but realized they looked horrible on him.
The designer explained how studying literature and philosophy led him to be bit by the bug of fashion through research. Stressing the importance of research regardless of the professional field that students choose, Rucci said it is a vigor that must be done every day of an individual’s life. “It’s part of the self-teaching process that never stops until you’re gone.”
Naming Cristobal Balenciaga, Hubert de Givenchy, Madame Gres, Coco Chanel, Jean Patou and James Galanos as his personal designer favorites, Rucci encouraged the fashion students that they know everything about the profession and the people who created the field. Recalling his willingness as a student to explore design experimentation, Rucci advised students to “experiment. Find your voice. These are the things that are going to keep you afloat. They will keep you afloat when you have to weather the storms. I’m sorry to say that after the storms that crashed against Seventh Avenue several years ago, there’s virtually nothing left. But there is possibility,” he said.
Raving about his early job at Halston, where he earned $125 weekly before taxes, Rucci described how that enabled him to observe and how it was the “heart of the universe, the most extraordinarily chic and important house in the U.S.” Describing himself as “very impatient and with a very moral mind,” the designer said he did not like what was going on there and ventured out on his own. “I started to set a precedent. There are those who respect me today — thank you, God — and there are those who think I have a big attitude about it because I set a standard. And I am the only one who can judge the work before I open the door and allow others in,” Rucci said.
Advising students to embrace that concept and not see it as egotistical, Rucci suggested that they see it “as a standard by which you go forward and you learn in whatever field that you’re in.”
Having been in business for 41 years, Rucci said his greatest accomplishment was being invited as the first American house to be on the official haute couture calendar. Making the point that “it wasn’t just I,” Rucci explained how his label was then called Chado, a reference to the 14th-century Japanese chado tea ceremony that required taking 331 intricate steps before finally presenting someone with a cup of tea — “the pageantry, the humility, the simplicity and then the final presentation.”
He continued, “I’ve always been sick, tremendously sick, about the pretension of this industry. I’m sorry it just is. So I haven’t really participated a lot, but I put that on the label as a symbol of what we really represent.”
One of the takeaways Rucci impressed on the students was that an award means absolutely nothing. Usually, if you feel a sense of accomplishment, you celebrate that with your loved ones, your team or quite frankly by yourself in a very quiet space. “The most important thing that you can maintain is your humility…be original. Take chances. Always go into yourself to seek the conclusion. Don’t listen to too many opinions. They’re not worth it. You waste time doing that.”
In closing, Rucci told the crowd, “There’s no such thing as failure. If you fall a couple of steps back [he shrugged], I am telling you there are years ahead for so many things. Never ever become remorseful. What’s the point? God bless you and the best of luck to you.”