Architect Lee Mindel’s new collection for Ralph Pucci honors the materials and makers
When cult-classic furniture and mannequin producer Ralph Pucci invited Lee F. Mindel, FAIA, to create a new collection, Mindel approached the challenge with both rigor and joy—the awarding-winning, AD100 Hall of Famer architect’s signature modus operandi.
Mindel began by reflecting on the unique identity of the eponymous Ralph Pucci brand. In the second half of the 20th century, Ralph Pucci earned a dedicated following for crafting daringly artistic, high-fashion mannequins from its atelier in the flatiron district of NYC (where it’s still headquartered today), frequently collaborating on mannequin designs with major names like Andrée Putman, Kenny Scharf, and Anna Sui. As the world of retail changed over the decades, the Ralph Pucci family business evolved into a lively gallery space, and the expert craftspeople in the atelier began to create exclusive and bespoke furniture for select high-end clients. Mindel’s goal for the collection from the start was to honor this legacy while finding fresh ways to use the brand’s propriety, sculptable Plasterglass material and creating new opportunities for the artisans specialized in mannequin production.
For eight months, Mindel became a kind of artist-in-residence at the Ralph Pucci atelier, experimenting with materials and forms in close collaboration with Mr. Pucci himself and in-house artisan-sculptor, Michael Evert. “Working with Ralph and Michael was like a series of jazz sessions,” Mindel says. “We were artistically jamming; sculpting and playing in real time to create something original while eliciting the material’s innate beauty. We were able to go places together that we couldn’t go on our own.” (The reference to jazz is particularly apt given Mr. Pucci’s love of the artform and dedicated support for the Jazz House Kids non-profit organization.)
While Mindel reveled in the hands-on material explorations and the collaborative process, his vision for the collection remained rooted in rational, efficient design thinking, always heeding the tenets of his inner Modernist. “Mindful of waste, finding an economy of molds was a guiding principle,” Mindel explains. As a result, “We developed just a handful of molds that could be turned and flipped in different ways to create a variety of strong, useful forms.” He named the collection Veritas, Latin for the virtue of truth.
The striking Santorini Dining Table and Console, for example, are born of the same mold inspired by the famed vaulted arches on the island of Santorini in the Aegean Sea; one positions the arch up and the other positions the arch down. Likewise the two Double Take Mirrors come from the obverse and reverse of the same mold, the form of which drew inspiration from the artistic legacies of 20-century Parisian artist-designers Diego Giacometti and Jean-Michel Frank.
Notably the inspirations behind all of the Veritas Collection’s organic, textured forms reflect Mindel’s extensive world travels and deep expertise in design history; his references are impressively layered. The Giverny Coffee Tables nod to, as Mindel explains, “Claude Monet’s water-lily series at the Beyeler Foundation Museum in Basel, where life imitates art in the reflecting pools of Renzo Piano’s masterful building.” The tall Arboretum Light Sculpture evokes the mighty sequoias of California as well as Le Corbusier’s human-scaled, stylized Modulor Man. The Gustavsberg and the Archipelago Sconces, meanwhile, pay homage to the craft traditions, topography, and atmospheric light of Europe's Nordic countries, “where it is common to have either too much or too little light,” Mindel remarks.
In the end, the Veritas Collection is a contemporary exercise in design’s most venerable virtues—productive collaboration, thoughtful economy, compelling storytelling, and the harmonious communion of material, form, and function—just as Mindel set out to achieve. Mindel and Pucci already have plans to expand the collection by developing new forms from the existing molds and tackling new materials such as bronze and upholstery.
“It was an honor to work with such a gifted and generous atelier, learning from both Michael and Ralph along the way,” Mindel says, reflecting on the collaboration. “So often architecture and design work requires us to focus mainly on the services we provide—fulfilling the next request; problem-solving the next obstacle. How refreshing it was to be invited to celebrate the artist in all of us, which is why we do what we do. I am grateful to Pucci for the rare opportunity.”