EMILIO PUCCI WOULD HAVE BEEN AN UNLIKELY fashion designer in any era, hut his pedigree was especially incongruous during the decade of peace and love. He was a dignified Italian marchese who served in his country's air force and was elected to its Parliament in 1963. And yet, without a stitch of fashion training, Pucci created the wild prints and slinky fabrics that captured the spirit of the '60s and attracted a stable of clotheshorses including Jackie Onassis, Grace Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor. In 1962, Marilyn Monroe was buried in a green silk Pucci.
Though his heyday was over by the '70s, Pucci, who died Nov. 29 at 78 after suffering a heart attack in Florence, lived to see fashion repeat itself. In 1990 a new generation of stars, among them Madonna
, spurred a Pucci revival. Says Manhattan designer Todd Oldham, 30: "Nobody did patterns and colors like Pucci."
Pucci also helped launch the conspicuous designer era by signing his name on his products. "It was considered shameful for a Pucci to work," he once said, "and that is why I put only Emilio."
His fashion career began in 1947, when a photographer for Harper's Bazaar admired the ski clothes he was wearing in St. Moritz, Switzerland. When she discovered that he designed them himself, she asked him to make some women's skiwear to photograph. He did, and the line was sold by Lord & Taylor. By the mid-'60s, Pucci was reportedly the world's most successful designer. Along the way he managed to squeeze in a family life with Cristina Nannini, 54, whom he married in 1959, and their children, Laudomia, 30, and Alessandro, 33, who now run the Pucci firm. His other legacy, of course, is his work. "Everywhere, you can find printed fabric," says his friend Beppe Modenese, an Italian fashion expert, "and it was all inspired by Pucci."