Elio Fiorucci (1935 – 2015)

Italian fashion designer and entrepreneur Elio Fiorucci posing in his shop in Galleria Passarella. In the background, the shop assistant Cristina Bagnoli posing wearing a sexy gown designed by the fashion designer. Milan, 1970 (Photo by Giuseppe Pino/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)

Elio Fiorucci in his shop in Galleria Passarella, Milan, 1970 (Photo by Giuseppe Pino/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)

In 1979’s The Greatest Dancer, Sister Sledge sang “He wears the finest clothes, the best designers, heaven knows, from his head down to his toes – Halston, Gucci, Fiorucci…” Although I don’t believe Fiorucci ever made or sold men’s clothes, the song immortalizes how important the label was in the late 1970s.

Elio Fiorucci was born in Milan on June 10, 1935. He began his fashion career as a teenager, working in his father’s shoe shop. In 1967 he opened a boutique on Galleria Passarella in Milan, modelled after the lifestyle emporium Biba in London, with most of his stock coming from English designers like Ossie Clark and Zandra Rhodes. In 1970 Elio began styling his own eponymous line that mixed the spirit of Carnaby street with his Italian sense of colour and humour. He also kept his eye on trends, and popularized Afghani coats and Brazilian thong bikinis in his store. His approach was right for the times, and within a few years he was expanding his fashion empire, opening stores in London in 1975 and New York in 1976.

Fiorucci store on 59th street in New York

Fiorucci store on 59th street in New York

When Studio 54 opened in Manhattan in 1977 Fiorucci was hired to organize the grand opening. The clothes Fiorucci sold became associated with the disco scene. In 1980 when Warhol launched Interview magazine, the opening party was held at Fiorucci’s store. Fiorucci was more of a stylist and retailer than a designer – in 1978 he was the first brand to sign a collection of sunglasses. The Fiorucci logo became a pair of cherubs wearing sunglasses – an image that could be found on everything from T-shirts to key chains.

Advert for Fiorucci jeans, c. late 1970s

Advert for Fiorucci jeans, c. late 1970s

Although known for colourful, fun clothing, including clothes of vinyl and plastic, it was tight-fitting jeans that really established Fiorucci’s international reputation and set off the designer jean wars of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Tight-fitting jeans were a staple of the Disco scene and later, in the early 1980s, Fiorucci reportedly became the first to carry stretch jeans made from a mix of Lycra and denim. His skinny clientele loved them – Fiorucci only carried clothing for thin girls, explaining “To manufacture only small sizes is doing a favour for humanity. I prevent ugly girls from showing off their bad figures.’’

knapsack from the Fiorucci store in Rome, 1981, donated to the FHM by Liz Derbecker, 12.22.11

knapsack from the Fiorucci store in Rome, 1981, donated to the FHM by Liz Derbecker, 12.22.11

After meteoric success in the 1970s and early 1980s, Fiorucci’s fortunes began to turn. By the late 1980s his style had fallen from favour, he ran into distribution problems, and had to close his New York location. In the mid 1990s Fiorucci was up on charges of fraud for falsifying reports to increase the value of his company when it was sold to Carrera in 1989. He was sentenced by an Italian court to a suspended prison term of 22 months.

Fiorucci’s fortune eventually changed and in 2004 he founded the brand ‘Love Therapy’.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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