Ralph Rucci is back. Actually, he never left but instead, took a sabbatical, regrouped and cleansed his soul. With humility and a simple desire to create, Ralph Rucci has returned to his chosen metier and like the moon setting and the sun ascending, a new day is upon us. His exit from the company he spent the last 35 years building shook many of us with its inexplicable timing. Why would a master of Haute Couture exit his house from one day to the next after having created a language that defines luxury here and abroad? The answers are many and at the same time painfully singular. That modern phenomenon of teaming talent with money is the cautionary tale that is playing out to disastrous and destabilizing effect. And despite the “marriage” that took him from the sublime to a quagmire of ridiculousness, Rucci has risen far above the petty wars of his recent past to begin again. With not a word of rancor or accusation, Rucci has done what he does best: design.

This season RR331 (which stands for Ralph Rucci and 331, the number of steps in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony) eschewed the runway for a still-life presentation in a gallery space on the far West side. Approximately 25 looks were shown on mannequins throughout the space. The crowd of well wishers, clients and press were a crush making the event more of a celebration than your typical static fashion show. It seemed people were there just as much to show their respect and appreciation for the master as much as to see his new collection. 

Without the ubiquitous front row it was a decidedly democratic event with the big guns, his friends and admirers having to line up to get the chance to greet him. Gone were the annoying security phalanx with their myopic way of handling the pilgrims. The crowds were so thick it was difficult to get close enough to the clothes to see the intricate, mind boggling details. Even from a distance you saw the double faced wool suits and dresses with his signature details employing his suspension technique, slivers of silk tulle exposing the contours of the body, tissue taffeta with snaking zippers to define and abstract the shape of a gown and the Infanta dresses of digitally printed Gazar and Duchesse suggesting antiquity in its most modern iterations.

Unlike some collections in the past with their hyper technique this time there was an almost palpable desire on his part to draw the viewer in. Like the true artist Ralph is, he consciously engages and challenges us to approach his work, to take its measure. I watched as people shyly touched the velvet of a sweater and full trouser and weighed the stone printed chiffon as if it might have weight. 

The sable coats and trimmed pieces were impossible to view at a distance. Their color, texture and details were like siren songs. One sable coat in particular was inside out with the fur as the natural lining. The hides were stitched together and inscribed with calligraphy by his own hand. It wasn’t the first time he employed this medium, but the audience lingered over this artistic masterpiece as they did so many pieces in this exhibition. And perhaps because Ralph has walked away from the fashion system as we know it, he has freed himself to express himself more fully as an artist. He’s an accomplished painter, sculptor and designer of clothing. He is a man obviously at ease with himself and his gifts. He no longer seems driven to prove something. His mere presence is proof enough. Fortunately, Ralph Rucci no longer must toil under the ham fisted hooves of an industry whose only aim is to stare at its reflection in a pond dense with scum.