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

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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’

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