Lena Madsen in a fitted navy alpaca wool suit worn over dotted chemise by Nina Ricci, Winter 1954-55, photo by Maurice Petit.
Nina Ricci, was born Maria Nielli in Turin, Italy in 1883 — Nina was a childhood nickname that stuck. Her father was a shoemaker and when Nina was young, he moved the family and his business to Monte Carlo. After his death, the family scattered and Nina, along with her mother and sister, went to Paris. Although only 14, she obtained a job as a seamstress. A few years later, while riding a bus, she met Luigi Ricci, the son of a Florentine jeweller, who she shortly married, changing her name to Nina Ricci. Aged 23, she gave birth to a son, Robert, the man who would later play an even longer-lasting role in the brand than its founder — and who she raised singlehandedly after becoming a widow at only 27 years old. In1908, Ricci joined the House of Raffin, where she would work for the next 24 years, controlling her own entirely autonomous department within the organisation, with her own workshops, seamstresses and clientele. Her creativity, although not entirely to bourgeois tastes, was not so Parisienne that she alienated her core customer — the provincial upper middle class woman. In fact, Ricci had a lucrative side business selling her patterns to regional dressmakers and seamstresses as well as selling her creations direct.
Nina Ricci’s son Robert grew up to be a gifted entrepreneur, inheriting his mother’s streak that had made her as good at business as with creativity. He was 27 when, on the death of Monsieur Raffin, the firm was wound up, leaving Nina Ricci, aged 49, very comfortably off and ready for a well-deserved retirement. But Robert, who had trained in advertising and had a very good business head, knew how to reactivate the ambition that had made his mother so successful. In 1932, the haute couture house of Nina Ricci was founded. Robert Ricci secured a premises on the Rue des Capucines for an atelier and fitting rooms and the pair set to work. From the very first Nina Ricci show, the mother and son collaboration — unique in the history of couture — was a success.
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