Elio Fiorucci

The inventor of the ‘fashion’ jean

Brenda Dionisi
January 28, 2010

Fashion designer, entrepreneur, talent scout, trendsetter, and among the world's first mass communication gurus: all these terms describe Fiorucci.

The focus of the exhibit Elio Fiorucci: Fashion Jeans Inventor Histoire, at Studio Art Centers International (SACI) until February 12, Fiorucci is foremost a fashion visionary. ‘After introducing mini-skirts to Italy, Elio Fiorucci found a way of selling America to Americans.' He was the first designer to transform the work-wear jean into a tight-fitting fashion must that accentuated the woman's body.

‘No other piece of clothing is as sensual on a woman than a pair of slim-fitting jeans. A woman in well-fitted jeans looks almost like she's walking around nude,' Fiorucci quipped at the inauguration of the show at SACI. In a room filled with Italian admirers and American students the Milan-born designer spoke about his greatest fashion inventions and his experiences in New York's Studio 54 era, where he rubbed elbows and worked with modern America's most renowned artists, musicians and actors, among them Andy Warhol, Keith Haring and Madonna.

Fiorucci opened his first store in Milan in 1967. Within three years, he was distributing his brand across Europe, South America and Japan and became one of the first Italian designers to bring the Made in Italy label to the rest of the world. 

In 1976, he teamed up with Valentino's model-maker, Mario Morelli, and invented the world's first ‘fashion' jean for women. The jeans were so popular that over 1,200,000 pairs were sold in the first year on the market. That same year, he opened his first flagship store in New York, on East 59th Street, and introduced the brand to American trendsetters of the disco age.

The store soon became the place to be, attracting such varied customers as the famed figures of New York's underground, like Warhol (who used the store to launch his magazine Interview), designer Marc Jacobs and graffiti artist Keith Haring tohigh-society personalities, among them Jackie Onassis, Lauren Bacall, the King of Spain and Gloria Vanderbilt. Anybody who was somebody went to Fiorucci to shop, be seen or just hang out.

Indeed Fiorucci New York was more than a store: it was world's first ‘lifestyle' concept store, selling not only clothing and accessories but also vintage items, music, books and home furnishings. With its frequent art exhibits, book signings, performances and parties, it soon was known as the ‘daytime Studio 54.'

In 1979, Fiorucci used the newly in-vented fabric Lycra to create stretch jeans. In the 70s and 80s, he collaborated with many popular designers and brands, including Jean-Paul Gaultier, Vivienne Westwood and Agent Provocateur.

After selling Fiorucci to a Japanese company in the 1990s, he decided to launch his own brand, called Love Therapy. Today, he also designs the clothing for his own children's label, Baby Angel, sold at the department store Oviesse.

In addition to his fashion inventions, Fiorucci's advertisements also earned iconic status, and the SACI exhibit features a selection of the Fiorucci's historic advertisements, some of which Oliviero Toscani shot at his ranch in Sterpaia, Tuscany. Other Toscani ads put the two-angels logo alongside models in skin-tight jeans wearing fluffy pink handcuffs, Brazilian thongs, camouflage and leopard-skin prints; still others show women in provocatively tight jeans and latex pants. Such ads, and others with fluorescent colors and breakthrough graphics, ensured the Fiorucci brand a place in design and retail history.



When TF spoke with Elio Fiorucci at the exhibit opening, he talked about fashion, Florence and more.


Tell me about the exhibit here at SACI.


The exhibit is an anthology of the things that we have done over the years, especially jeans. We wanted to emphasize the jeans because jeans are, by far, the most revolutionary piece of youth fashion in the last 20 years. They changed fashion; they really changed everything.


I'm very proud to have been the one who transformed this garment from a work garment into a ‘fashion jean' in the 1970s. We softened the denim and gave it a more feminine cut. And today, the jeans you see worn in the streets were born from this idea.  


Why did you decide to bring the exhibit to SACI in Florence?


Laura , the curator, had the idea of holding the exhibit while I was here showing my collection at Pitti Bimbo. 


Do you visit Florence often?


Yes, I come to Florence a lot. Now, for example, we are showing our collection at Pitti Bimbo. Florence is a big fashion capital; it's always been a fashion capital. Our Made in Italy fashions were born here. The first American buyers came here, to Florence, to select clothing from the showrooms. When the showrooms moved to Milan, it became the capital of Italian fashion. Historically, however, Florence was the center of Italian fashion.


I love Florence. It's an international city. And like all tourist cities, it's absolutely fascinating. Moreover, the food is fantastic and it has a rich cultural atmosphere. I think that half of the human race, or maybe one-third, would want to live in Florence.


How can the city further promote fashion?


I think that the city is already doing some very important things. For example, Pitti Immagine is a huge success. The two people that run Pitti are young and they were given the huge responsibility of running the Pitti trade fairs. I must say that they are doing it very, very well. I am convinced that they are even better at hosting fashion fairs than the Milanese. And everyone else says so, too!


What does the city need to be more forward looking?


Florence is the cradle of Italian culture, even the root of Italian language, so it's inevitable that it has a tendency to look back and preserve what it has. I don't think that anything is missing. I think that perhaps with more investment to modernize schools and educational opportunities, it could become the capital of education.


The time you spent in New York must have been an exciting and important period for you.


Yes, I was lucky enough to meet great people there, like Andy Warhol. Go on YouTube and search with the words ‘Andy Warhol', ‘Fiorucci' and ‘Truman Capote': you'll see a video from the 70s of Warhol signing copies of his magazine Interview in the Fiorucci store. He fell in love with Fiorucci because he really expected something modern and new like Fiorucci to come out of Italy. We eventually became great friends.


Tell us about the Fiorucci store in New York.


At the time, we were among the first with a store in New York. When we opened, the only other Italian brands there were Gucci and Ferragamo. Our store was designed by Ettore Sottsass, and all of New York come to see it. It became an event. It was also very important because it showed that Italy was able to launch new ideas and new fashions; this was a big part of our success. That's the greatest thing we did; we showed the world a ‘new' Italy, an Italy that could still set trends. This is what makes me most proud. 


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