Cult fashion label Fiorucci makes a triumphant return

In the 1970s, the Italian brand was a cultural phenomenon. Lucia van der Post has the exclusive on its revival

Fiorucci chambray Factory Boiler jumpsuit, £250
Fiorucci chambray Factory Boiler jumpsuit, £250 | Image: Brendan Freeman

If you were alive and sentient in the 1970s, then the name Fiorucci will bring the memories wafting back. The fashion label’s stores were synonymous with joyfulness and craziness. You never quite knew what you would find when you walked through the door – you just knew that there would be an explosion of colour and that the store would be filled with surprises. 

It was the brainchild of the visionary designer Elio Fiorucci, who started with just one shop in Milan in 1967 and went on to open stores in New York, Paris, London (on the then swinging King’s Road – a great source of inspiration for him), in LA, Sydney and Hong Kong, until there were eventually more than 20 in all.

It was Fiorucci who invented the notion of the designer jean at a time when most people considered denim fit only for workwear, decreeing that “denim is a love that never fades”. As Eve Babitz, the author of Fiorucci: The Book, puts it: “Fiorucci redesigned jeans and made them chic. Before Diane von Furstenberg, and Gloria Vanderbilt, and Calvin Klein, and Yves Saint Laurent. Long, long before.”

Fiorucci tapered denim Taylor jeans, £175
Fiorucci tapered denim Taylor jeans, £175 | Image: Brendan Freeman

But, as Fiorucci’s fans will be aware, it has been largely absent from the scene for over 25 years. In spite of the clothes’ cult following, Elio Fiorucci was obliged to put the company into administration in 1989, since when, despite attempts to revive its fortunes, the label has failed to recapture its early lustre.

Now, however, there is good news for all who loved Fiorucci, not just for making the world’s best-fitting jeans, for its angel-design T-shirts or its funky products, but loved it for all that it stood for: its aura of happiness, its louche “happenings” and its effortless cool. Fiorucci is about to rise again. Stephen and Janie Schaffer, who first made their name when they launched the lingerie chain Knickerbox in the 1980s, have bought the company and are relaunching it this month. They have grand plans. “After all,” says Stephen Schaffer, “we have inherited a 50-year-old brand with the most beautiful story attached to it. Fiorucci was a phenomenon that should never have died.”

In its heyday it was so much more than a fashion brand – it was a cultural wonder. The artist Keith Haring painted the entire Milan store for an art event; Alessandro Mendini of the influential design collective Memphis did the graphics. “There never was a single creative director – it was a revolving door of talent. And that’s what we hope to do here: to collaborate with original and creative talents. Elio Fiorucci [who died just as the Schaffers were finalising the deal] captured the optimism of youth and bottled it and we think that optimism is as important today as ever it was.”

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The first concession opened in Barneys in New York last month, selling beautifully cut hand-crafted jeans (from $200), denim and bomber jackets (from $300), T-shirts (from $60), including the famous angel one, and sweatshirts (from $80). This month a concession opens in Selfridges, where the highlights are again expected to be the Italian crafted jeans and jackets for which there will be a monogramming service. There will also be a small cache of original archive pieces from the Fiorucci warehouse filled with graphics and memorabilia that the Schaffers inherited when they bought the company. By June there will be a fully interactive website (www.fiorucci.com), and further down the line there will be swimwear and underwear (in addition to starting Knickerbox, Janie Schaffer was the chief creative officer at Victoria’s Secret for six years), as well as menswear and accessories.

Elio Fiorucci never believed in following the crowd and one of his ventures was a collaboration with Italian company Panini (young Italians who hung out in Milan in the 1980s wearing Fiorucci jeans and Moncler jackets were known as Paninaros) on creating stickers. The Schaffers are going to adopt the idea – all the products sold in this first phase in Barneys and Selfridges will have an original Panini sticker (several of the images were drawn by the revered fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez and they’re so sought after that a full archive set can sell for $1,000 on eBay). Hand-painted jeans were one of the items that made the brand so famous and both stores will sell a small cache of vintage versions.

They have other big ideas. They’re opening a store in Brewer Street in Soho in early autumn. “It needs to be groundbreaking and Soho feels right for us. So much is happening there. Also, I didn’t want the store to be in an obvious place – it has to be a bit of a discovery. And just as Elio Fiorucci created a new template for retailing in his day, so we have to reinvent it for today.” Later still – probably next year – they hope to open a store in Milan.

Fiorucci vintage angels T-shirt, £60
Fiorucci vintage angels T-shirt, £60

Though some people think of Fiorucci exclusively as a young person’s brand, the Schaffers are adamant that it is more about a state of mind than an age – in other words Fiorucci is about an attitude to life. Or, as Eve Babitz wrote in her book: “More than a store, more than a line of clothes, Fiorucci is a whole point of view.”

“We’ve found a wonderful pattern-cutter who lives in Venice,” says Stephen Schaffer. “She cuts for Beyoncé and Chloé, but in the past used to work for Fiorucci and she has reworked many of the archive designs, turning them into very modern, fashion-forward shapes, tweaking them a bit, narrowing the leg here, widening it there, to make the sailor jean.”

Some of the new jeans are made from the finest selvedge denim from Italy. Some are garment-dyed and they come in a range of colours from the original indigo with the famous green stitching to more vintage washes as well as white and black. And since Fiorucci was a pioneer of stretch denim, there will, of course, be the trademark form-fitting Twig jeans for the long and lean. The story goes that Fiorucci became obsessed with making jeans that really fitted after seeing some young women coming out of the sea in wet jeans in Ibiza.

Elio Fiorucci at the entrance of his shop in San Babila square in Milan, 1974
Elio Fiorucci at the entrance of his shop in San Babila square in Milan, 1974 | Image: Mondadori via Getty Images

Schaffer reminds me that the New York store was, in its day, a cultural legend – people came to it as much for the art, the music and the intellectual discussions as for the clothes. A young Madonna, whose brother worked in the store, performed there in 1983 for its 15th anniversary. Word of the happenings at the store reached Andy Warhol and he asked if he could have an office there. It wasn’t long before it became known as the daytime Studio 54. Jackie O and Diane von Furstenberg bought their T-shirts there, Gloria Vanderbilt and Cher often stopped by, Andy Warhol launched Interview magazine in the shop and it’s where a young Marc Jacobs used to hang out during his summer vacations.

Long before fashion pundits started waxing lyrical about “retail as theatre”, Elio Fiorucci understood that that was what shopping should be all about. His were more than shops – they were part souk, part café, part meeting place, and it just so happened that you could find the most phenomenally original things, whether it be a pen that made strange noises, a pair of dungarees in bright orange, a leopard print blouse, a platform shoe or a boldly coloured sweater.

  Schaffer knows that he can’t reproduce the glamour of the 1970s New York store in Brewer Street. “It was a special time and a special place. What we have to do is reinvent the happening place for the 21st century. We need physical stores but with the web people don’t have to go to them, so we have to make them worth coming to. We call it Fiorucci-land and it’s going to be an immersive experience. There will be a café, artists performing, music playing, installations – in other words we’re going to make it just as happening a place but one that it is firmly rooted in the 21st century.”

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And just as Fiorucci scoured the globe for talent and original ideas, so will the Schaffers, and they plan to look for collaborations with leading artists in their fields. In the pipeline is a capsule collection designed with one of the world’s leading creatives (things are still being finalised so she can’t be named yet).

 But just as Fiorucci made it clear that one of his chief goals was to run a kind and inclusive brand, so too will the Schaffers make that one of their abiding aims. “I wanted to change fashion,” Fiorucci told iD magazine in one of his last interviews. “I wanted to include rather than exclude… When I created my store, I always remembered the kindness. I wanted people to find what they came for, to be happy and spend a little money to get exactly what they wanted. Because in the end the best thing in the world is to be loved… I treasured all these experiences and I poured them into my work.”

It’s quite something to live up to but the Schaffers are going to have a jolly good try. I, for one, will be watching this rather exciting-sounding space. 

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