“I Get in Trouble in Front of Renaissance Palazzos”: Pucci’s Peter Dundas on Why He Loves Florence-------
Peter Dundas is a Renaissance man. Literally. Since 2002, the Norwegian-born designer has split his time between Paris and Florence—the Italian metropolis that is both the birthplace of the Renaissance and the hometown of Pucci, where Dundas has served as creative director for the past six years. Last week, during Pitti Uomo, Dundas invited the fashion set to an appropriately over-the-top bash at the famed Palazzo Pucci, the family’s home and headquarters in the center of Firenze. The party served to celebrate the brand’s Florentine roots, as well as an unprecedented art installation, in which Piazza del Duomo’s historic Battistero was, as Dundas put it, “dressed” in more than 20,000 square meters of Pucci-printed canvas.
But as Dundas explained at a bustling café the following morning, his relationship with Florence spans far beyond his Pucci gig. “I love the weather, I love the light, and I love the food,” said the designer, brushing his golden mop of curls out of his face. While sipping on a Coke, Dundas, who looked like a cross between a Norse god and a Michelangelo in his fitted white jeans, unbuttoned denim shirt, and snakeskin shoes, spoke to Style.com about licorice gelato, his “terribly boring wardrobe,” and getting into trouble.
What were your impressions when you first moved to Florence? Were you excited to be in this Renaissance wonderland, or disappointed to be spending so much time away from Paris?
I was very excited to come here. I knew Florence quite a bit because all of the houses I worked for previously had some connection with Italy. But of course the first impression of Florence is overwhelming. It’s so permeated by Renaissance history. Anything less than 500 years old is seen as tacky, so coming here was quite impressive. I actually based my first collection on the idea of Palazzo Pucci—the girl in her own habitat. It became a motif and a concept that carried over to the show space and the showrooms and the shops as well. Updated versions of the palazzo elements and Florence itself continue to influence me. I work in a Renaissance palazzo, I live in a Renaissance palazzo, I hang out in cafés in front of a palazzo, and I get in trouble in front of Renaissance palazzos—as I hope [the original Florentines] did.
Do you get into trouble often?
It does happen a little bit more than I’d like it to.
You mentioned that Florence’s Renaissance art and architecture continue to inspire you, but your clothes are very modern. How do you work in these influences specifically?
Florence is kind of this backdrop that my girl inhabits. It’s a counterpoint to who she is. In my mind, the dresses that I do are just T-shirts—gilded T-shirts, but T-shirts nonetheless. So it makes sense for me to both complement and contrast this environment.
Did you already speak Italian when you moved to Florence, or did you have to learn?
I’m Norwegian, and even in Norway, you have a problem speaking Norwegian. We don’t make enough babies [to sustain the language], not that I don’t try. Speaking Italian for me is natural. I left home when I was 14, and I’ve been living all over the place. And it’s a Latin language, so going from French to Italian is easy.
You worked for a handful of French brands—Lacroix and Gaultier among them—before becoming Pucci’s creative director. What are the differences between French and Italian houses?
As far as aesthetic goes, the Italians are more impulsive and less afraid of mixing colors and patterns and embellishments and embroideries. Italian fashion is more about pleasure for the eyes, whereas there’s more of a cerebral process to the French way of dressing. But the French have marked me, and what I do today is a collective continuity of what I’ve always done. So there’s a bit of la Parisienne in what I do because I do love her profoundly. And I love the wit of the English girl and the Italian dolce vita all wrapped into one. It’s good to have layers.
What about your personal aesthetic? Do you dress differently here than you do in Paris or London?
No, I don’t. I have a terribly boring wardrobe. I always dress the same.
That’s funny, working for a house like Pucci.
I have my uniform. I’m always in white jeans. I suppose in London, I think twice about what I wear, and in Paris you don’t want to wear bad shoes. But I’m not quite sure about my look.
Looks pretty good to me. Are there any Florentine monuments that still strike you when you see them?
The first time you see Michelangelo’s David, it makes a very strong impression. I think the Ponte Vecchio does as well. But I have lots of places in Florence that I absolutely love. I love water, so I love the river. I work out in a rowing club that’s on the river. It has a great café. I don’t actually row out on the water—two years down the line, I still haven’t had time to learn—so I just work out there. I refuse propositions for rowing every week from my friends. I just don’t have the time. I guess team sports aren’t that compatible with fashion.
Do you get lonely?
No, I don’t. I like solitude.
What’s your idea of the perfect day in Florence?
Well, if I have a day off in Florence, I usually end up at the Four Seasons by the pool with friends. They have this amazing beach garden, and it’s fun to have drinks and hang around the pool and get a massage. Harry’s Bar on the river is, like, 50 feet from my house, so I’m there a lot. And Cammillo [on Borgo San Jacopo] is my Sunday restaurant. All the Florentine families go there for dinner when their help is off for the day. It’s one of my favorite places because it’s so authentic.
So what’s your favorite thing to eat here? What must I order before I leave?
Spaghetti aglio olio e peperoncino. It’s simple—just spaghetti with garlic, pepper, and olive oil—but it’s amazing. Especially if you can get the olive oil in November, when the olives have just been pressed. It tastes almost spicy and it has this absinthe green-colored tint. The problem is once you enjoy Italian food here, you don’t want to eat it anywhere else. Mozzarella doesn’t travel well. Oh, and the truffles, with pasta, they’re incredible. And if you’re here in Florence, you have to eat ice cream. Gelato is from here. When Catherine de Médicis wasn’t busy making poisons, she actually invented ice cream, so you have to go at night and eat some. My favorite is licorice. I think I’m the only person in the world who likes that flavor, which is great, because they never run out.
I have to say, I’m in love with Florence, but the swarms of tourists are a little overwhelming. Is there anywhere you go to hide from the hustle and bustle?
My place. I have a really nice flat. I live in a palazzo down by the river. I have this amazing terrace on the top floor where only the priests at Il Duomo can see me.
Hopefully they haven’t seen anything too scandalous.
Well, you know. I haven’t had any complaints yet.
Speaking of Il Duomo, what’s been the reaction to the Pucci installation?
It’s been amazing. I love the contrast of taking something very traditional and institutional and then doing something completely modern. That’s a bit what my work is—being in Florence and being in the Palazzo Pucci. You know, dressing the Battistero at the Piazza del Duomo in a contemporary design with contemporary colors just looks so amazing. It’s a really healthy thing to see in Florence, too, because usually anything new is designed to blend in with the traditional architecture, whereas this installation completely broke things up. It’s amazing to see how energizing that can be. I think it’s very healthy for the city and for Florence to open its mind to that.