The lady with the white pearls – Nina Ricci

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Whilst trying to decide who I would dedicate my next blog to, I had trouble deciding if I should write about another designer, an influencer or a particular decade in fashion. Nothing inspiring was coming to mind as I’ve previously blogged about all of my immediate favourites. I started doing a bit on research about other influential designers surrounding the decades of fashion that I truly love. And the first name to strike me was Nina Ricci. It’s a name that I am familiar with but couldn’t really tell you much about until now. I was surprised to learn that the House of Nina Ricci was prominent during the 1940’s and 1950’s, as I always thought it was a label that came along some years later. How wrong was I! Nina Ricci competed alongside that greats Chanel, Lanvin and Vionnet, and is a brand that is still strong today.

Maria Nielli, the founding mother of the House of Nina Ricci, was born in 1883, in Turin Italy. She was one of five children, and live a modest life with her siblings and parents. Her father was a cobbler, and at the age of five, the family moved to the French Riviera. As a teenager, Maria, or Nina as she was more casually known, had a flair for sketching and was highly interested in fashion and dressmaking, like many other young girls of the era. At only fourteen, she moved to the capital of fashion, Paris, and took on an apprenticeship as a seamstress. She had natural talent for this type of work, and soon found herself in charge of her own division at the House of Raffin. Nina began working for the designer in 1908, when it began as a small retail company that enjoyed financial success. However, The House of Raffin was often lost among the many other dressmaking and couture establishments in Paris at the time. Here, Nina controlled her own workshop and seamstresses, and had her own clientele base. She remained a loyal employee for over twenty years. During this time, Nina also sold patterns to other dressmakers in rural areas who produced their own garments. When Monsieur Raffin passed away, he left the company and its financial wealth to Nina, who was forty nine at the time. This was the beginning of the House of Nina Ricci.

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Whilst Nina was working in Paris, she met her husband, a jeweller, and they married soon after. Luigi Ricci was a successful man and the two shared a passion for the arts. Nina married young and the couple had their first and only child when she was twenty three, a son named Robert, who would in years to come be the guiding force for Nina to open her own fashion empire. Sadly at only twenty seven, Nina was widowed, and was left to raise their son alone.

With all of the skills and financial wealth that Ricci was left with after the passing of her employer, Monsieur Raffin, Ricci and her son Robert took charge of the House and turned it into a business to rival Chanel. It was in 1932 that the House reopened under its new name and with its new directors, with Robert taking charge of all things financial, and Ricci concentrating of designs. The new direction of the company was greatly received by the public and media alike, with reviews honouring the romantic, feminine and refined styles that were produced. Ricci had never received any formal training other that what she learnt in her apprenticeship, and because of this she draped her designs in fabric directly on the mannequin as apposed the constructing a pattern. Ricci is also well known for only requiring two fittings with a client to master the perfect fit! From its opening in 1932 when it employed forty people, the House of Ricci soon swelled, and by 1939, employed over 450 workers.

One of the most well-known products to come out of the House of Ricci, is fragrance. In 1941, Robert created the first scent of the brand, and went on to develop many more in the years to follow. The most famous perfume from the House is L’Air du Temps, mastered in 1949, and translating to “Air of Time”. The crystal bottle in which it was held is best known for its twin dove design.

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After the completion of World War Two, many Paris designers got together to create an exhibition to bring the love and light back to the people after living in such dire conditions during battle. Forty French couturiers combined, and over one hundred and fifty mannequins went on display at the Louvre, including Madam Gres, Lelong and Balenciaga masterpieces. Ricci was also one of the brands involved, and the exhibition was such a success, that it then travelled to Europe and the United Sates.

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Part of the great success of Ricci would have to be the competitive prices in which it produced. Most garments were sold at one third of the cost of rival brands, but the quality never suffered. The clientele that the House attracted was not your typical aristocratic or international woman, but rather the more bourgeoisie French woman who loved the look and feel of fine fabrics and couture, but without the hefty price tag. The House of Ricci also produced uniforms for airline companies as well.

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At close to seventy years old, Nina Ricci decided it was time to retire the scissors and pins, and enjoy the remainder of her life in comfort and peace. Having worked hard her entire life to create a fashion empire that her whole family would have been proud of, Ricci left the company to continue on its path of success. She passed away in 1970, aged eighty seven. The dream the Ricci once had still lives on today, with the business being purchased in 1998 by the Massimo Guissani family, and is currently controlled by creative director Guillaume Henry.

Love Always, Anastacia Rose xx

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