Meet Martha Hayden Woods, vintage Pucci collector
What I love most about social media is being able to connect with people from all around the world.
A few months ago, @crazypucciworld started following me on Instagram – the account for Martha Hayden Woods who describes herself in her bio as “living the life with my best friend and husband Harold acting like a redneck while owning a closet full of Pucci.” Martha and Harold live on a 171 acre farm in Alto, Louisiana.
As we began to interact more over Instagram, I’ve become fascinated as the unassuming and fun-loving Martha has gradually shared pieces from her extensive and incredible collection of authentic vintage and modern Pucci pieces.
Clearly an absolute authority on all things relating to the late designer Emilio Pucci, as well as the current designs, Martha is more than an avid collector but a devotee who is committed to preserving these incredible pieces of fashion history from the 20th century Italian designer.
Martha, or ‘Pucci Divine’ as she was dubbed in social columns, kindly agreed to share her Pucci passions with the readers of Vintage Travel Kat.
Can you tell us a bit about your background and how did your mother influence your style?
I was born in Monroe, Louisiana, a small town in Northeast Louisiana. My mother was a Special Education teacher and my father was an attorney. At that time I was the only one in my class that had a working mom. She taught me the importance of being independent. I was raised by highly educated and independent women in my family. Monroe was a great place to grow up in the late 1960s and 70s. This part of Louisiana is all about agriculture, swamps, hunting, fishing – and, oddly enough, is the birthplace of Delta Airlines and bottled Coke. Monroe is only five hours from New Orleans and from Dallas, Texas and we would travel several times a year to go shopping. It was a real treat to shop in the big city.
My dad loved to treat my mother to some new outfits and she shopped at a store in Dallas called Lillie Rubin. There was a private dressing room where my dad would sip scotch as attendants rolled in racks of clothes for my mother to try on. I thought that this was a divine way to shop. I still have many of the outfits she purchased there.
My mother was considered to be very fashionable and did buy some fairly outrageous outfits in her day. She always knew how to pull a look together. She was polite to a fault and was very well respected by many for her work with disabled children. I also have a sister that was 10 years older than me. She and her friends had the coolest clothes in the late 60s in high school. Those outfits would be worth a fortune in the vintage market today. I can still remember the girls getting ready for their Saturday night dates with all their groovy clothes and makeup.
What was your first experience with Pucci and what was the moment when you became hooked?
In 1974 when I was 11, my sister was in school in Perugia, Italy studying art when she announced that she was getting married. My parents urged her to wait until we could make arrangements to fly to Italy. So off we went on a grand tour of Europe. We visited Florence where my mother insisted on going to the Pucci store. I sat in that store in 1974 surrounded by the most awesome dresses I had ever seen. Saying that Pucci caused the ‘Stendahl Syndrome’ in me was an understatement. I vowed that one day, I would work hard and buy Pucci.
My mother did not buy anything Pucci on that trip but my father did buy her a nightgown and robe which I still have. The outfit that I still have from that trip is a velvet skirt and coat from Roberta di Camerino. It still looks as good as when my mother bought it in 1974. When I lived in Dallas in the late 1980s and 90s there were estate sales where people would sell Pucci because it was considered unfashionable. There was a lot of vintage Pucci in Dallas as Stanley Marcus of Neiman Marcus promoted Pucci at his store. In 1954 Pucci won the Neiman Marcus Award for Distinguished Service in the Field of Fashion. That is where I got my start.
How long have you been collecting now and how many pieces do you have in your collection?
I started collecting in the 1990s when living in Dallas. To date I probably have about 300 pieces of vintage Pucci and about 200 pieces from the time when Christian Lacroix and Matthew Williamson were the creative directors of Pucci.
Can you tell us about your collection and where you have you sourced most of your pieces from?
My collection encompasses Emilio Pucci’s work from the early 1950s to the late 60s plus contemporary prints from 2002 to 2008. I have collected dresses, scarves, Capri pants, palazzo pants, blouses, shoes, jewelry and even a sleeping bag.
I quit buying new Pucci in 2008 and solely concentrated on vintage. I really like scarves as they are easier to source and Emilio Pucci drew each one of these prints to the size of the scarves. It allows you to see the whole print before it was cut into pieces to become a blouse or dress. Pucci also copyrighted all of his prints.
Besides vintage Pucci, I also collect Pucci designs from Christian Lacroix who was creative director from 2002-2005 and Matthew Williamson who was at Pucci between 2006-2008. Christian Lacroix was a master at channelling Pucci prints. I think his tenure was the most successful time in the Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy era.
Lately I have been finding some Pucci from the 1950s which are extremely rare. The other day I found on Etsy a Pucci blouse from 1953 for next to nothing. I am always amazed at those that do not research what they are selling. On the other hand, the last blouse I posted with the Piazetta di Capri drawing was super expensive on 1stDibs. That seller knew what she had. I also buy flawed pieces. The prints are so busy that the flaws just blend in. Vintage Pucci is hot and the prices reflect this.
The vintage clothes market has never been better. I source Pucci from vintage sellers all over the world. Instagram has been great because sellers can run an item by me to see if I am interested. Ebay, Etsy, 1st Dibs and Poshmark are good sources but nothing beats the picker that finds a Pucci in some random location and posts it on Instagram.
What would you like us to know about Emilio Pucci? Where did he draw his inspiration from and what sort of life did he lead?
Emilio Pucci was much more than a designer of clothes. He was an Olympic skier, a fighter pilot in WWll, a farmer and a visionary. In 1935 Emilio won an agricultural scholarship to the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia and subsequently a skiing scholarship to Reed College in Portland Oregon. The first thing Emilio did at Reed was design new uniforms for the ski team. It was at Reed where Emilio earned a Master of Arts in Political Science.
Emilio joined the Italian Air Force and became a fighter pilot. He was sent on multiple air raids but was grounded due to illness. Towards the end of WWll, Emilio was assigned an extremely dangerous mission. Mussolini’s daughter Edda was a friend of Emilio and her husband, Count Ciano, was in prison for treason and set to be executed any day. The Count had kept detailed diaries of the German atrocities and Edda was trying to use the diaries to free her husband. Emilio helped her and her children to escape to Switzerland but he was captured by the Gestapo and severely beaten to disclose where Edda and the diaries were. He was eventually released and remained in the Air Force until 1952 when he was declared unfit due to lasting complications from the beating. It wasn’t until 1947 that Pucci embarked on his career in fashion. He was 33 years old and living on his Air Force salary.
Emilio Pucci’s break into the world of fashion was sheer coincidence. While skiing in Zermatt, Switzerland in 1947, a photographer for Harper’s Bazaar, Toni Frissel, happened to capture some images of Pucci’s date wearing a stretch ski suit. Majorie Griswold with Lord & Taylor Department Store arranged for the suit to be manufactured by White Stag in Portland, Oregon. Harold Hirsch, the owner of White Stag, knew Pucci from his days at Reed when Pucci redesigned the ski uniforms there.
Emilio Pucci never used his last name on his label in order to respect his family name.
As far as inspiration for his prints, Emilio drew what he saw on his world travels and his home in Florence. When I research the prints, I try to find the name which is usually a clue to where in the world he got the idea for the print. The Taschen ‘Pucci’ book has been an invaluable source of information on his prints.
I love the story about ‘Pucci Divine’ and the persona created by your late friend, Victor Cascio. Can you share with us some of those memories and how it propelled your collections?
Back in the early 2000s I left Dallas to move back with my elderly parents in Monroe, Louisiana who needed help managing their affairs. My parents had a standing reservation at The Chateau, a local restaurant, every Monday night. The Chateau was one of those rare places that you can walk into by yourself and always find someone you know. The proprietor was Victor Cascio. To say The Chateau was unique is an understatement. Every inch was decorated with kitsch – from the giant ceramic poodle on the bar to the beaded booths in the back, Victor’s kitsch was everywhere.
Dining at The Chateau was an experience. At lunch Victor had a small table in the back where I often joined him. There may be farmers in jeans, hunters in camo gear, and me in Pucci – all dining side by side. Everyone was welcomed and treated like a VIP by Victor. He also wrote a local society column in the Sunday paper called ‘On the Town’. Filled with gossip about local people and events, Victor became the life of every party. Victor loved every Pucci item I owned and he bestowed the name ‘Pucci Divine’ on me. It was hilarious. When Victor needed ‘filler’ for his column, he would write a blurb about ‘Pucci Divine’. Victor also had a bad habit of including me in parties I never attended. Victor closed The Chateau in 2011 and he died in 2012. It was the end of an era.
What are some of the special events or Pucci-related experiences you have enjoyed over the years?
The biggest event I have been invited to was the 60th Anniversary of Pucci. It was held in December, 2007 in Miami Beach, Florida. Gerard Cholot designed these huge balloons in various Pucci prints which floated through the ocean breeze in a detached ballroom with 20 foot ceilings. On some of the balloons Gerard had designed solid coloured Pucci garments hanging beneath them.
I flew to Miami the day before the party and rented a car to go to the Pucci store in Bar Harbour. The next day I drove to Miami Beach. I was probably the only person that drove to this party. It was a sea of limos in front of this enormous mansion. I almost bolted. As the valet handed me a ticket, I walked into that party not knowing a soul. I spotted Laudomia Pucci and she could not have been friendlier. She loved the vintage Pucci dress I wore (print Ramages 1966) and paired it with a new Capri bag designed by Matthew Williamson – then I met Matthew Williamson and Gerard Cholot.
I needed a glass of champagne to calm me down so I went to the bar. Delicate crystal flute glasses were being filled with Ruinart Champagne. A woman that I was taking to asked very politely me how I got invited to this party. I had been in the Las Vegas Pucci store and befriended a sales associate who would send me Pucci to try on and I’d send back what I didn’t like. She had put me on the invitation list. The party was a real treat and in the end, I was glad that I had made the effort.
Do you have any favourites in your collection - perhaps a particular design that you think reflects Pucci’s best work?
My favorite Pucci print is Hawa. It is a genie floating on styled clouds. I don’t know the year Pucci created this print but Christian Lacroix brought it back in Fall 2006.
My other favorite print is Mineretti.. It is stylised genie bottles with the most interesting border and has a ‘Nights of Arabian’ vibe. The twin of one of my Pucci Mineretti dresses was worn by Barbara Feldon (Agent 99) in an episode of Get Smart.
As a serious collector, what preservation steps do you need to take to protect your pieces? Is there a lot of work involved in proper storage and maintenance?
Acid free tissue paper is the best way to store vintage clothing. I store the rolled items in a plastic tub. Most of the vintage scarves have been folded and stored for years and it is impossible to iron the creases out of a scarf that has been sitting in a drawer for 50 years.
I roll my scarves like a carpet with acid free paper on both sides to try to prevent creasing. Other garments are hung on special hangers. I have several good seamstresses that will repair damage. Also, Pucci prints are not colourfast and can bleed, especially the pinks. Pucci only used high end fabrics in his garments so many have stood the test of time. Currently my husband and I are building a house which has been on hold due to Covid. It will have a dedicated Pucci closet.
Is there one particular piece you covet that is still to add to your collection? Do you think you’ll ever stop growing the collection or it will be a lifelong passion?
Yes, there are several pieces I covet. One is the 1959 ‘Primavera’ print blouse. It features Primavera from Botticelli’s painting of the same name in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence. The other is Tortuga from 1957 which is a stylised turtle print.
In a pre- and post-Covid world, what is your favourite travel destination and why?
My favorite travel spot is anywhere where there are mountains. My parents, my sister and I started going to the mountains back in 1976 for Christmas holidays instead of exchanging presents. I have wonderful memories of past holidays spent in various mountainous towns. Post Covid, I would like to visit Australia and Hawaii as my mother went twice and loved it.
Opening image features Occhi print from the 1970s; Martha in New York City; and the Stella print from the early 1970s. All images supplied by Martha Hayden Woods.