Maria Nielli was born in 1883 in Turin and her family moved to Florence when she was five years old. Subsequently, her family moved to France in 1895 when she was 12 years old.
At the age of 13, she was apprenticed to a dressmaker and by 18 had become the head of the salon and by 22 it's chief designer.
In 1904 she married a jeweller named Luigi Ricci and they had a son named Robert in 1905.
In 1908 Nina joined the house of Raffin as a designer and remained there for 20 years.
In 1932, at the age of 50, Madame Ricci decided to open her own house, and she and her son set up the House of Ricci. There Madame Ricci created the garments and Robert ran the business. It grew rapidly throughout the 30's till it occupied 11 floors in 3 buildings, all on the same street as their original one-room maison de couture.
In 1945, after the war had ended, it was very necessary to revive the glory of haute couture as well as raise money for war relief. Robert Ricci had an idea which Lucien Lelong, President of the Chambre, put into action. 172 dolls from 40 Paris couturiers, including Balenciaga and Madame Gres, were dressed in the latest fashions and an exhibition was held at the Louvre, in Paris. It was a great success and subsequently toured Europe and the USA.
In 1959 the arrival of young designers, Jules-Francois Crahay, engaged by Madame Ricci brought new impetus to the Couture House. Crahay left Ricci in 1963 to go to Lanvin, and was replaced by Gerard Pipart, who had worked with Balmain, Fath and Jean Patou. He continued to design the most beautiful lace dresses with appliquéd fabrics in the typically Ricci style, along with silk day dresses. Even after Nina Ricci died in 1970 at the age of 87, Pipart continued to design for the house of Ricci.
Nina's son Robert, an expert perfumer as well as a businessman, has transformed the house into an empire the size of which his mother may never have dreamed. The house is a monument to his mother and reflects her intensely feminine personality.
Robert Ricci died in 1988 at the age of 83.
Mariano Puig, whose Catalan (Barcelona) family purchased the house of Nina Ricci in 1998, also owns the house of Paco Rabanne. Massimo Guissain worked as a designer, and Nathalie Gervais has been the chief designer for the house for several years, but presented her last collection for Fall 2001. In May 2002 American designer James Aguiar took over as chief designer and designed for two seasons. In 2003 Lars Nilsson took over with varying degrees of critical success. He resigned suddenly in early 2006, and in September of the same year, the house announced that Brussels-born fashion darling Olivier Theyskens—whose home at Rochas was suddenly shuttered earlier this year—would succeed, hopefully to translate his talent into the Ricci label.
Working directly with the fabric on a mannequin, Nina Ricci created elegant, sophisticated clothes in classic style. She was noted for her high standard of workmanship and became a popular designer for older society women. She was skilled at making the most of a print, cutting a plaid for an evening dress on the bias, echoing the X-cross in the skirt pattern in the surplice, crossed-over treatment of the bodice. One daring dress in 1937 had a halter neck open between the breasts from neck to waist. Day and evening dresses alike drew attention to the figure, by being fitted to below the waist and featuring much shirring and drapery.