Fiorucci’s fashion: Pop-culture pioneer drew crowds, celebs before H&M

August 24, 2015

Elio Fiorucci is pictured in his office March 20, 2014 in Milan, Italy.

Before Topshop and H&M made fashion-tainment the name of the retail game, there was Fiorucci.

Elio Fiorucci, the Milanese founder of the Fiorucci clothing and shopping empire, died recently at age 80. Although the last of his boutiques closed in Milan in 2003, his passing started me thinking about the influence they had in New York City, where I grew up, and in Los Angeles, where I live now.

Fiorucci taught me how to shop as a teenager in the 1980s. His New York boutique, which opened in 1976 just across the street from Bloomingdale’s in midtown Manhattan, was not only a store, it was a hangout and pop-culture crossroads in the grand tradition of Biba and Granny Takes a Trip in London.

Rumor had it that Andy Warhol stopped by every day, though I never saw him. Cher, Elizabeth Taylor and Marc Jacobs were regulars.

In the early 1980s, Fiorucci’s art director was Maripol, the architect of Madonna’s fashion image in the "Like a Virgin" days. Oliviero Toscani, who shot many of the era’s groundbreaking Benetton ads, also shot for Fiorucci.

New York’s Fiorucci store was the kind of place you could go and stay awhile — to gape at punk salespeople with mohawk hairstyles (drag star Joey Arias worked there at one point), to listen to DJs spinning Duran Duran in-store, to watch MTV music videos on TV screens, see art by Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf on the walls, sip cappuccino and flip through cool foreign fashion magazines. There was always something to look at, from neon lipstick to neon rubber anklets. It was retail sensory overload for a shopper-in-training, a lifestyle store before lifestyle stores became the norm.

Even if you couldn’t afford the jeans and T-shirts with the brand’s signature twin cherub logo or a leopard babydoll dress by Betsey Johnson, you could still feel part of the "in" crowd with a pair of neon Fiorucci lace-cup gladiator sandals, a mug or a pen for a few bucks. Fiorucci had the coolest flip pens, covered in 1980s New Wave patterns, with attached caps that spun around and clicked into place. When I was in middle school, so many of my classmates had the click-clackety Fiorucci flip pens that my teachers had to ban them in class because the noise was too distracting.

The Fiorucci brand was founded in 1967 in Milan with an emphasis on curve-hugging, Lycra stretch denim (some call Elio the inventor of skinny jeans) and T-shirts that put a humorous Euro spin on Americana, including cowgirls and pinups. His empire quickly went global, with stores in New York, London and beyond carrying not only Fiorucci wares but those from other designers, including Anna Sui and Zandra Rhodes.

In 1978, a Beverly Hills outpost opened on Beverly Drive. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, on opening night 60 security guards had to lock arms at the store’s entrance to prevent a crowd of more than 3,000 guests from storming the doors. Scalpers offered tickets up to $75, and some waiting guests paid others $200 just to jump ahead in line. The store was featured in the 1980s disco film "Xanadu," starring Olivia Newton-John.

Fiorucci moved to a different Beverly Hills location on Little Santa Monica in 1984 and eventually to Melrose, where it was one of my first stops on my first trip to Los Angeles. I just knew that even in L.A., Fiorucci was the place to be.



Associated Press