Stefano Ricci designs men's ties considered by many to be among the finest in the world. And certainly among the most expensive.
Wednesday night at Cuzzens in Newport Center Fashion Island, the Fine Arts Patrons of the Newport Harbor Art Museum played host at a cocktail reception to call attention to the Ricci collection.
Four-in-hands as fine art?
As it turned out, the connection between a museum and a menswear designer wasn't quite as tenuous as it seemed.
"Living in Florence, we see art and design since we are kids," Ricci said Thursday by phone from Italy. (A death in the family resulted in the last-minute cancellation of Ricci's personal appearance.)
"The town itself is a museum. My first designs were inspired by the ceilings of palaces built in the Middle Ages. In ties, too, balance, proportion, how much color--these are what are important."
Ricci was a student at the Academy of Art in Florence when he began designing ties in 1972 as gifts for his friends. He had his first show at a menswear convention a year later.
Now 35, he designs not only ties, but also shirts, robes, pajamas, scarfs and leather goods. Three-quarters of his inventory is exported. He recently created an exclusive collection of menswear and accessories for Harrod's in London that will be available at the end of the year.
Standing in for Ricci at the Fine Arts Patrons' party was Vincenzo Brandonisio, who represents the designer and two other Italian manufacturers as vice president of Abitalia U.S.A. Corp. in New York. Brandonisio grew up with Ricci in Florence.
"Ricci came onto the scene when ties were very flamboyant, pushy, extravagant," Brandonisio recalled. "He came out with a very little, very neat pattern. At the time, that was a revolution."
Brandonisio pointed out that the Ricci ties found locally are not sold in Italy, but, like those designed for Harrod's, were created specifically for Cuzzens.
"Good taste is international," Brandonisio said, his Italian accent evident. "These ties are as good in Beverly Hills as in Rome or in Paris. But in Newport Beach you have an ambiance more like Portafino than Rome. You need something more . . . 'casualish.' "
"I think of yacht parties when I think of Newport Beach. It's more social and more conservative than Rome," he said.
While designer ties can be found in department stores for as little as $15, Ricci's ties--which are hand-made, cut one-by-one in silk and usually come with matching handkerchiefs--sell for $65 to $85.
(Nor are Ricci shirts, also carried at Cuzzens, affordable for most: "Cheap--$300," said Brandonisio, prompting one arts patron at the party to comment, "I hope they give you a hanger with that.")
Brandonisio started to say a Ricci tie is considered the Rolls-Royce of ties, but stopped himself mid-sentence.
"We are the Maserati of ties," he said.
Ricci talked about the role of the tie in a man's wardrobe.
"The tie gives life to the suit," Ricci said. "The choosing of a tie in the morning depends on the different humor or spirit the man is feeling at that particular moment, and not just the weather outside.
"Color comes from the tie, so it's often the choice that helps to organize the rest. The opposite, the suit dictating the tie, is not always the case."
Ricci considers the design of a tie "only a frame, an excuse to put together colors." Looking ahead to fall, he believes that after a long absence, chocolate browns--in unusual combinations--will again surface for men. Blacks and whites will continue to figure prominently in his own line, he said.
Ricci said he unwinds after completing every collection--he unveils two each year, in spring and fall--by going on safari. While he is indeed a big game hunter, he also spoke metaphorically of his leisure pastime.
"The favorite animal I hunt for is me," he said. "I'm still trying to get my trophy."