The return of cult '80s label Fiorucci

Updated 20th September 2017
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The return of cult '80s label Fiorucci
Written by Clive Martin, CNN
Contributors Harriet Verney, CNN
As the old divisions between fashion, streetwear, couture and high-street continue to erode, it's only natural for stylists and industry figureheads to look towards original, iconoclastic brands of the past for inspiration. And they don't get much more iconoclastic or original than the cult Italian brand Fiorucci.
The legend of Fiorucci has only grown in the years since its name disappeared from the fashion landscape. It was the Palace or Supreme of its day, a brand that made highly wearable jeans and t-shirts for the glitterati, a brand that used popular culture rather than cultural elitism to sell its dream, a brand that refused to take itself too seriously, yet still made an indelible impact on fashion.
Despite the death of founder Elio Fiorucci in 2015 and going into administration in the late 1980s, Fiorucci is back - resurrected by lingerie chain Knickerbox founders Stephen and Janie Schaffer, with a new collection and a huge three story store just opened on London's Brewer Street.

Exotic and fabulous

American actress Farrah Fawcett poses on a skateboard in Fiorucci's stretch denim.
American actress Farrah Fawcett poses on a skateboard in Fiorucci's stretch denim. Credit: Courtesy Fiorucci
On the eve of the much-anticipated store opening, Janie Schaffer explains her long-held admiration for the brand: "If somebody asked Stephen and I at the start of our careers if there was any brand on earth we'd like to own it would be Fiorucci. So many people around that time would have said the same thing. It was so iconic, so ground-breaking... as much about as art and culture as it was about fashion. It's one of the very few heritage brands left that you could do something wonderful was too beautiful a brand to disappear."
For those who saw Fiorucci at its peak, the brand seemed to embody the attitude and aesthetics of the era, a rare kind of fashion house at the time - enamored with disco, dancing, nightclubs, shiny fabrics and bright colours. "Fiorucci was always mentioned", says famed choreographer and 1980s club kid Les Child. "Being in the dance centers someone would have something on... they'd say 'oh its Fiorucci'. Just the name sounded exotic and fabulous. It was very colorful, very wearable, very young."
"In the 80s it was very influential", says fashion writer Caryn Franklin, "...bright neon separates in lycra and hoodie style fabrics. There were lots of quirky accessories like belts, caps, leggings and bags. It was popular in the clubs for obvious reasons."
"This was a big casual-wear brand that was looking for a London street alignment... it was very early in recognizing that the drivers of the marketing would be the clubland world and art student innovators."

Milan's hub store

In the days before online shopping and Instagram takeovers, the flagship shops in London, New York, L.A. and Milan were vitally important to the brand's identity, with Elio Fiorucci himself putting a great onus on what happened on the shop floor. In the staid retail culture of the time, they were a breath of fresh air, but took some nerve to visit. "I remember seeing the flagship shop from the bus", says Les Child, "but just from outside... I don't ever remember going in because I was intimidated by it."
However, i-D founder and sometime Fiorucci collaborator Terry Jones remembers the shops well: "My trips to Milan took me to the San Babila branch. The space that Fiorucci created became a hub. This was pre-Colette, pre-stores which were a meeting point and cultural center... it was a brand that went beyond fashion. They'd have a DJ, a jeans bar, different stalls for shoes and underwear. It was a one-stop shop that was a completely different experience from a major fashion department."
Before going on to work with Terry Jones at i-D, Caryn Franklin worked in the London branches during the height of their influence. "In the Kings road and Knightsbridge stores sales assistants were individuals", she says. "They all seemed to be having a party and dressed to make a statement. For a brief while I would do the window dressing in the Kings Road... I took garments and ripped them up, I did a lot of layering."

Madonna's first gig

Before long, Fiorucci had become an integral part of popular culture. The Beverley Hills branch was featured in the Olivia Newton John musical 'Xanadu' and the iconic poster campaigns were shown the world over. Andy Warhol was attracted to the color and fervor of the stores, whilst a young Madonna made her debut performance there at the 15th anniversary party. But perhaps what really cemented the name in the popular consciousness was a namecheck in the Sister Sledge song "He's The Greatest Dancer".
But this wasn't just celebrity hype. Elio Fiorucci was an innovator, ushering in some the most important trends of the era, popularizing pieces and styles that are still with us to this day. He is widely credited with bringing a controversial item of South American beachwear known as "the thong" to prominence in Europe. In the 1960s he brought the clothes of swinging London to Milan and changed the face of Italian fashion forever. He made the Afghan coat cool and pioneered the use of stretch denim.
But what of the man himself? His name will be forever associated with all that chaos and decadence, but behind the brand he preferred to remain discreet. Terry Jones, who worked with him on several projects with Fiorucci, remembers him well.
"He was a colorful punk who looked like a priest... a maverick. He had this ability to get people who knew the zeitgeist to work for him. He selected stuff like a magpie, he'd collect things from wherever he went. His had attitude to life was always positive. He had things that he wouldn't do, he didn't want to use fur. He never told you what to do, he just told you that you could do what you wanted to do."
For the Schaffer's, this feeling of inclusivity and decency is all-important when it comes to reviving the brand. "I would love it if the stores could be community based, picking up on the local area and talent", says Janie. "The great thing about Fiorucci is that it was a starting point for creative talent. I think it's difficult for young creatives coming out of school and college, and I think if we could get to a place where we become a forum for people to collaborate with, that would be amazing. That's really the key for us."
Only time will tell if Fiorucci can manage to scale the heights it did in its heyday, but even on Brewer Street -- sitting next to Palace, Champion, Supreme, Stone Island and high-end boutique Machine A -- Fiorucci's sense of color and fun still stands out in the fashion landscape.