He was 80 years old but his mind thought with the freshness, the lightness and the curiosity of a child. Fashion world mourns Elio Fiorucci, who died in Milan, a little over a month ago.
He was the forerunner of Italian fashion designers, a man who was always called “the entrepreneur of fashion” and who signed one of the great chapters of Italian style, known as fioruccismo.
He masterminded one of the greatest commercial successes of the last century with his pop and disruptive brand.
I had the great honor and privilege to meet him once, when I was a student. And now that he’s sadly gone, I would like to share my recollection of the experience, through his words and the great innovations he brought in Italy and in the rest of the world for four decades.
Fiorucci recalled with simplicity and irony the milestones of his life and his career and how he managed to create his own brand identity and to achieve success.
He was born in Milan in 1935, but his family later evacuated to Como during the war.
“I am a great optimist despite being born in a difficult period. Often we do not realize the progress we’ve made since then, in many fields. I look at all these new things with the eyes of a child and with great amazement. ”
From the lakeside town of Como to Studio 54 in New York. From Andy Warhol to Madonna, when he was still known as Veronica Ciccone. From his family shoe store in San Babila to worldwide innovative boutiques, Elio Fiorucci lived an epic journey, which led to the consacration of his brand.
A dream came true and a philosophy turned into a business with his two brands, Fiorucci and Love Therapy.
“I am milanese- he said – but I was a child when my family moved to Como, because of the war. There I spent wonderful years. When we returned to Milan my family opened two shoe stores, where I moved my first steps, even if the real revolution came when in 1965, when I was 30, I went to visit my sister who was studying in London.
This was enlightening.
England was living a period of avant-garde, music and more. I was in Carnaby Street, I saw the first big shops and I was struck by Biba, a legendary store, the first concept store. It was fantastic: lots of lights, huge dresses and loud fantastic music. I met the owner, who later became my supplier.
London was terrific, young people were a real market there, whereas in Italy they had never been considered. Right there I had the idea. I returned to Italy, I told my parents what I had in mind and opened a store in Corso Vittorio Emanuele.
A huge shop, windows and music! At the opening there was Adriano Celentano with his pink Cadillac and it seemed to be in a movie. It was 1967 and “Panorama”, the most important magazine in Italy at the time, dedicated five pages to the opening, underlining that it would become an it-destination for the following years. I sold clothes and also books and records.
Fiorucci was born, although I didn’t produce my personal collection yet.
The next step, the decisive one for the business, it was to not only import and sell the products of others, but create my own line directly in Italy. The labor was cheaper in Italy than in London, so it was natural to try to produce in Lombardy.”
The “Fiorucci style” was born definitely in 1970 when the designer adopted as his symbol two famous little angels, a Victorian image reinterpreted by the architect Italo Lupi.
In 1982 Fiorucci also had the idea to mix Lycra with denim, creating the first stretch jeans for women, fitted and seductive. The campaign was shoot by Oliviero Toscani, a great friend and collaborator of Fiorucci, who contributed to reinforce the transgressive spirit of his brand.
“British designers began to draw for me, we invented the jeans for women. Millions of people bought them. We didn’t have much competition, because at the time there were only Wrangler, Lee and Levi’s jeans. If we really think about it, we will never understand the extraordinary nature of that product. It is the only fabric we wear on which we can dry our hands. We would not do it with anything else.
Jeans was our fortune.
From that moment, crossing the Italian boundaries was the most immediate consequence. I first went to London, with excellent results and later to New York. The impact was incredible. Andy Warhol appreciated and enjoyed my shop, spending a lot of his free time there.
It was 1976, Italian fashion was imported to America with my name. I met exceptional artists and lived an unforgettable experience. “
Fiorucci opened the store in New York, on 59th Street. It was designed by famous Italian designers Ettore Sottsass, Andrea Branzi and Franco Marabelli and it immediately became a cult place where intellectuals New Yorkers used to meet. Andy Warhol chosed its shopwindow for the launch of his revolutionary newspaper “Interview”.
“I used to attend Studio 54 and Warhol was always there. I had an extraordinary relationship with him, he invited me to his house where I found old furniture and pictures of German landscapes on the walls. I was speechless. He told me that beauty can’t be separated from traditions, and that his paintings seemed modern just for the use of acrylics. An incredible artist, like Madonna, who I met in 1983, when she was not even called Madonna.”
Then Fiorucci knew the crisis, the sale of his company in the 90′s and the return on the market when he was 73 years old, with “Love Therapy”, dedicated to girls, who loves young fashion at affordable prices.
After selling the brand Fiorucci to Edwin International, a Japanese company in 1990, the designer launched, in 2003, this new project and a new brand called “Love Therapy”.
The logo was characterized by the image of two dwarfs.
“The dwarf protects the house and the garden. When I used to live in the countryside as a child, my parents told me that dwarfs lived in the woods. Many years later, that memory inspired me for the symbol of Love Therapy.”
Few pieces that warm the heart and give excitement, sold in a store, which is not only used as a commercial space, but also where people can feel better, safe and where love is all around. Fiorucci wanted to use that space and its merchandise in a therapeutical way. That’s why he chose the name “Love Therapy”.
Fiorucci also cared to focus his attention on young people and the importance of investing more efforts in educational programs. For him school was everything.
“I have experienced many stages of my career. But I would say to young people to be optimistic. Every day we do some progress, much of what seems obvious it’s a gift. However, to achieve a goal we need humility, simplicity and love for our work. I remember that instead of my aunt’s dairy, now there is a megastore. It is an incredible progress, the result of years of work. Small events have build something great.
I wish young Italian people would understand it, and I would also like them to be optimistic: today there are many problems, but all less dangerous than in the past.
Universities, academies, institutions are the places where young people have to focus on the challenges of tomorrow. You guys are the future . We are going through a delicate period, but you must continue to invest in education and training. “
He finally told us his motto, how to focus, as creative people, on our life and how to spend it in the best way possible. A sentence that sum up his entire career, his brand’s mission and his effort in creating amazing and desirable objects for the most common use of daily life.
“People’s existence is made mostly of daily search of creativity applied to everyday life.”
Elio Fiorucci was funky. And he created a funky business.
He dared to be different from the bourgeois’ rules and fashion habits. His style was instinctive, extravagant, different, unpredictable and consistent.
He was competitive because he put feelings and creativity in his work. He was the first to create cult-pieces. His merchandise was able to cause a high level of affection. And his customers were not just “simple buyers”, but fans.
He introduced in their daily life joy, love and colors, a pop-kitsch attitude and a dramatization of products, which generated faithful followers and consequently a huge business.
Every single product was inspired by the logic of the ready-made. A pop-collage of decoyed objects, mixed in an brand new way, to generate new and unknown feelings. His brand was an hybrid between cult and ready-made, but it wasn’t thought for museums, but rather for business.
Fiorucci launched commercial products as works of art and sold works of art as commercial products, in a confusing way between art and life. But he always kept in his mind the importance of the democratizations of his products, which had to be accessible and affordable. Because they were thought exclusively for young people.
Fiorucci can be considered a great example to follow to create a strong brand identity and how to achieve success, following non-conventional path and expressing revolutionary ideas, trough commercial objects.