The Greeks believed that intellectual and creative pursuits were influenced by nine goddess daughters of Zeus. Though modern thinkers no longer look to Greek muses for inspiration, painters, musicians, and other creative minds are often influenced by a muse of some kind. Salvador Dali was inspired by the model, who later became his wife, Elena Diakonova. Andy Warhol was inspired by “It Girl,” Edie Sedgwick, and Pattie Boyd was muse both to Eric Clapton and George Harrison.
Coco Mitchell may not have been exactly a muse to Ralph Rucci, but having modeled for him for over 16 years certainly qualifies her as an authority on his design aesthetic. After having modeled for many of the great fashion houses in Europe, Coco Mitchell brought to Ralph Rucci her inimitable style, regality, and charm.
Coco Mitchell spoke with Fashion Reverie about what it was like to work with the only American designer in several decades approved to show his couture collections in Paris.
Fashion Reverie: How did you come to work with Ralph Rucci?
Coco Mitchell: I meet Ralph Rucci through a personal friend of ours and Ralph wanted me to do fittings for him. At first I wasn’t interested, I had just moved back to the States from Europe and I was trying to acclimate myself. Anyway, I finally contacted him and asked him if I could do fittings for him after 5pm, so I could work for other designers earlier in the day. He agreed to that because, at the time, he didn’t have any money to pay me, but in return for my work he gave me fabulous clothes and accessories from his collections. Eventually, he started paying me.
FR: During this early affiliation with Rucci, who else were you working with?
Coco Mitchell: I did fittings and walked in the runway shows for the first three designers that took over for Bill Blass. At the time I was also working for Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, and Badgley Mischka.
FR: Did Ralph Rucci work differently than other designers?
Coco Mitchell: Though I had worked with several designers and design houses in Europe, the clothes were already made and I would show up for fittings and do the shows. Working with Ralph, as opposed to working with other designers was very different, in that Ralph gives his incredible patternmakers the sketch and then they come back with a garment in what they call the toile, which is like a sheet. Then we fit that and his patternmakers make another pattern on the things that were fitted, and this process continues several times, and then the last fitting is made in the fabric of that garment to see how it falls. It is a very detailed and incredible process.
FR: How many years did you work for Ralph Rucci?
Coco Mitchell: I worked for Ralph for 16 years. I never knew before working with Ralph what went into making couture clothes. I had done couture shows in Europe, but I knew very little about the craftsmanship involved. Working with Ralph I was often in the workroom, so I learned about fabrics and couture techniques, and even Ralph’s own techniques. I have to say Ralph Rucci changed my life. He elevated my aesthetic for the finer things in life.
FR: What was it like being a part of Ralph Rucci’s 2002 couture debut in Paris?
Coco Mitchell: It was an amazingly stressful time for all parties involved. When he first found out that he had been approved by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, life became a pressure cooker. There was so much involved with showing in Paris, from having a place for showing the collection to clients after the show, to setting up an atelier in Paris, to having a place for all of his models and staff to stay. Ralph is very hands on; he is a perfectionist.
FR: Did Ralph Rucci know he was making history in 2002?
Coco Mitchell: Ralph knew he was making history. He knew that he was the first stateside American in 36 years to show an approved couture collection. Actually, I had no clue until he started giving interviews. And since I was with him all the time, I began to understand that he was making history.
FR: What do you think you brought to Ralph Rucci as a model?
Coco Mitchell: I believe I brought a lot of energy and stamina to Ralph. We would sometimes literally do fittings for 12 hours. Ralph also liked for you to give him input. Since I had worked for many of the great fashion houses from Givenchy, Issey Miyake, Sonia Rykiel, Armani, Yves St. Laurent, and others, my aesthetic was what he wanted.
FR: Fashion often concentrates on youth, yet, when you started working with Ralph Rucci you were a mature model who had worked in Europe for several years. Why did your maturity attract Ralph Rucci?
Coco Mitchell: Though I was an older model I was still working for Calvin Klein, Bill Blass, and Donna Karan. These were designers that appreciated what a seasoned model had to bring to their collections. I brought energy, a sense of style and class, and I stayed current and knew the trends. I may have started in the 80s, but I didn’t have a 80s runway walk. Because I stayed educated about the industry, I was able to marry my maturity with a current, workable knowledge.
FR: You have not worked for Ralph Rucci for the past of couple of years, what are you doing now?
Coco Mitchell: I am with Major Model Management. I had a spread in the September issue of Essence Magazine and I am featured in the March/April issue of Departures Magazine. I recently did a spread with Iman for H&M. I also mentor young children, teaching poise and self-esteem, as well as train new models on runway techniques at several agencies.
—William S. Gooch