On July 20, 2015, 80-year-old Italian avant-garde fashion designer Elio Fiorucci died at his home in Milan. After a funeral at Milan’s basilica of San Carlo, a stone’s throw from his historic shop near piazza San Babila, his remains were interred at the cemetery in Sueglio, his mother’s hometown in the province of Lecco, in Lombardy. Although the funeral was well-attended by family, friends and the public, inexplicably, given their debt to his creative genius and marketing flair, only a smattering of his VIP and designer colleagues, among them photographer Oliviero Toscani and singer-showgirl Jo Squillo, were present.
Elio Fiorucci was born into a retailing family in Milan on June 10, 1935, and at 17 he began working in his father’s shoe shop in the city centre. Although at that age he considered himself to have been a ‘disappointment’ to his father, he soon introduced his love of flamboyance and colour into the business when he produced a successful range of bright galoshes. But a 1965 trip to the ‘swinging’ city of London, with its pulsating King’s Road and Carnaby Street, galvanised him into opening his own shop in Milan’s Galleria Passarella in May 1967. Fiorucci initially sold imported clothes from England and the United States, as well as the funky merchandise he hunted during his travels to places like India, Afghanistan and Brazil. But by 1970 he was manufacturing and selling clothes, especially jeans, under the hip Fiorucci logo featuring two chubby Victo rian cherubs wearing heartshaped Lolita sunglasses. By revisiting basic fashions of the 1950s and ‘60s and by making them in alternative and bright materials—for instance, decorating cowboy boots with gold Lurex, converting plastic or rubber flooring into handbags and costume jewellery—he and his stable of young globetrotting designers forged the look of the 1970s and ‘80s.
In 1973, Fiorucci caused an interna tional sensation with his creation of the first ‘skinny’ jeans, made from a stretchy mixture of Lycra and denim that hugged and accentuated the female derriere. On the wave of their success, in 1976, he made a bold move and opened a store in New York on 59th Street, not far from Bloomingdale’s. The store quickly became a kind of daytime hangout where the young and beautiful came to be seen and to shop to the beat of disco music. Store manager and drag queen Joey Arias was occasionally featured with other staff in bizarre live window displays. Celebrity clients included Lauren Bacall, Jackie Kennedy, Cher, Elizabeth Taylor and Madonna, but it was intellectuals like Andy Warhol and Truman Capote who made it into a cult happening. In fact, Fiorucci once said that ‘Warhol adored the Fiorucci style and, in the end, I am indebted to him for my love of colour. It was Andy, once, who made me think about the fact that modernity, with its neon lights that floodlit New York day and night, put an end to a merely black and white world.’
The Fiorucci planet, however, began to fall apart in the mid-1980s when he was forced to close the New York store because of distribution problems and a changing market. In 1989, when the company went into receivership, the Tacchella brothers of Italian jeans company Carrera S.p.A. purchased the brand, in turn selling it to the Japanese jeans group Edwin Co., Ltd. in 1990. The murky background to the Tacchella buyout led to Fiorucci’s being charged with fraudulent bankruptcy for inflating invoices in company reports, allegedly aimed at duping Carrera into thinking the company was worth more than it actually was, also to the detriment of the other creditors. The outcome was that Fiorucci took a plea bargain in 1996, and was given a suspended 22-month prison term by the Italian court. Luciano Benetton, who was on the board of the Fiorucci company at the time, was acquitted on similar charges.
Although this was a serious incident it was only temporary as nothing could stop this jocose and sometimes garrulous man with an impish smile from design ing: his driving force was his passion for his work. In fact, in 2004, the twice-married and twice-divorced father of three daughters founded a new brand called Love Therapy. Mirroring his philosophy of life, Love Therapy, with two playful gnomes on its logo, offers young collections of Tshirts, jeans and accessories. In 2011, Fiorucci closed the original Love Therapy shop he had opened in corso Europa in Milan and opted to sell the Love Therapy line and its children’s spinoff line Baby Angel exclusively through the Coin group, which now sells both in its OVS department stores.
As if dictating his own epitaph, when asked what ‘creativity’ was, Fiorucci replied, ‘Certainly, it is never solitude. I always distrust those people who say “I,” those who think they have really invented something. Creativity always has its origin in the knowledge of others; it is the improvement of something that already exists.’ He spent his life proving his point.