PRINCE OF PRINTS
The creative, provocative powerhouse behind Pucci’s renaissance, Peter Dundas is fashion’s most unlikely poster boy, a risk-taking, straighttalking Scandinavian with a fresh approach to dressing women, as he explains to Katie Trotter
Katie Trotter talks to fashion’s most unlikely poster boy, Pucci’s Peter Dundas
The last thing you expect Peter Dundas to be is the fashion guy. From his sheer physical presence, he’s a car man maybe, a surfer or a quarterback – the sort of guy who rides a motorbike that roars like a chainsaw. What he is, is in fact “the prince of prints” – the creative director of Pucci, the Italian luxury label.
Dundas doesn’t just walk the room, the Norwegian-born 43-year-old swaggers – struts even – perhaps as part of his identity as the man to inject sex appeal back into the house of Pucci. At 6 2in, he stands in a pair of his signature white jeans and a slightly too-tight T-shirt, allowing us to catch a glimpse at the smattering of tattoos (strangely, the only thing he refuses to talk to me about). Earthy, passionate and frank, Dundas is what some may call a professional provocateur (he unabashedly declared in 2010 that he only made clothes to be taken off). Beauty, desire and emotion are words he uses frequently.
“There are so many things to love in a woman I don’t know where to start,” he says. “Her strength, her softness, her wit, her determination, her body language and her compassion.” He could go on. This is clearly a man who loves women.
Yet it is his refreshing honesty that is most surprising. This is something rare in the fashion world; saying something that is “off message”, that will compromise the brand’s reputation is something that designers are coached never to do. But Dundas chats freely about his shortcomings and insecurities with the ease of someone who rarely doubts himself – at least with the big things anyway – and is comfortable enough not to feel the need to disguise his sensitivities.
He also offers up rather personal information, admitting that he wishes he had held his mother one last time before she died, and speaks of the time he “hit rock bottom and completely ran out of steam”.
A frightening time he says he never wants to revisit.
Perhaps it’s the Scandinavian thing (Dundas grew up in Oslo). Nothing seems to be deemed neither too shocking nor inappropriate. “I am Scandinavian by birth – it’s a place where the body and sexuality are essential parts of life,” he explains. “Of course, they are part of my work. I think what I do best is sex appeal. I think, for a woman, feeling special and looking desirable is worth any creative extremity.”
Despite his bouts of insecurity in his own abilities, Dundas was probably a great deal more equipped for his role than he believed. Having moved with his family to Indiana, USA, from Norway at 14 and briefly flirting with the idea of studying medicine (more to please his father than anything else) he went on to attend Parsons The New School for Design in New York.
After graduating, he headed to Paris to begin his fashion career at Jean-Paul Gaultier. Impressive stints at Christian Lacroix (who once designed for Pucci himself) and Roberto Cavalli followed, before Dundas landed his first creative director role at Emanuel Ungaro, something he admits he was wholly unprepared for.
“I was completely petrified, but Ungaro
‘There are so many things to love in a woman I don’t know where to start. Her strength, her softness, her wit, her determination…’ – Peter Dundas
taught me the importance of creating a viable business. When your business is strong it is easier to defend your creative vision.”
Most of us know Pucci, a house married to print – specifically, a boldly-coloured, neo-psychedelic pop pattern founded by Emilio Pucci in 1947 in Florence, dedicated to resort clothing and worn by Sophia Loren, Jackie Onassis, and Marilyn Monroe (who was buried in one of his dresses) – a house so riddled with its own history that making a mark as a young designer is difficult.
When Dundas was recruited in 2008 after the departure of Matthew Williamson, Pucci’s creative director for the previous six seasons, he was well aware of the risk involved.
“We were in the middle of a recession and I knew I wanted to change the image, which is never easy, but deep down I didn’t have any particular reservations. Pucci is a fantastic brand and I approached it with enthusiasm. I still do. I knew no matter what I did, it would be successful if done with excellence.”
By his own admission, perhaps rather unfairly, he isn’t so much an intellectual, but more an instinctive designer. “My approach is more about being respectfully disrespectful,” he explains.
What Dundas has done is to inject a darker, youthful, more mysterious edge into the brand, creating an individual aesthetic that has worked seamlessly with the House of Pucci’s jet-set retro appeal – a new bold style that lends itself perfectly to the red carpet.
There was, of course, an already successful formula in the Pucci woman – a woman that would now be 80 or more today – but it needed a new direction.
“I love the history of the brand, but my job was to take the girl somewhere new,” says Dundas. “I think Pucci is fortunate to have a strong identity, but that doesn’t mean that archive patterns are what we have to blindly reproduce.”
It’s a fine line Dundas is treading, between the new fun-loving party girl he has created and Pucci’s classical Italian roots. Having chosen “the opulence of Indochina” for his Spring / Summer 2013 show, we witnessed an abundance of crystal, ethnic-inspired embroideries visible through very sheer columns of chiffon. Handpainted gold dragons, tigers and fauna; embroidered on to silk crepe for a gilded effect – heat seeking clothes he describes as “the Pucci girls after dark uniform”. It was a decadent collection that may have diverted focus away from his remarkable cutting techniques.
His somewhat curious partnership with Pucci had the potential to go blunderingly wrong. But, despite initial speculation of impending disaster, it hasn’t. In fact, quite the contrary. His recent collections have had myriad successes, not to mention a smattering of red carpet showstoppers as seen on the likes of Kate Hudson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Eva Longoria and Evangeline Lilly. His successes haven’t made him complacent, however.
“Of course I worry. These are trying economic times and a whole company depends on my judgment,” he says, “but you kind of learn to trust your instincts and your acquired knowledge. I want to constantly feel I’m leading my life to the fullest and that I’m the best I can be.”
His dresses (some of which eschew prints altogether) are made for women who defy convention; undeniably beautiful, but also traffic-stoppingly risky with their body-clinging silhouettes, plunging necklines or completely cut-out backs.
Yet this sort of transformation is exactly what he set out to do at Pucci and Dundas is a man who gets what he wants. Yet, unlike many of his contemporaries, he is under no pretence or illusions about the eccentric world he inhabits, and views the industry with a healthy tongue-incheek type of irreverence. You get the sense with Dundas that excess of any nature excites him and his clothes are a reflection of that.
“I think the lifestyle vibe is part of Pucci and perhaps that makes me Pucci’s appointed posterboy. I suppose I like intensity in anything I do. If not, what would the point be?
‘These are trying economic times and a whole company depends on my judgement but you kind of learn to trust your instincts and your acquired knowledge’