2 July 2018

The Future of Fiorucci

Andy Warhol sipping espressos, windows styled by Antonio Lopez, 16-year-old Madonna performing: Fiorucci’s cult New York store in the late 70s was not your average retail experience. It was a gospel of cool; a hub for the creative class who had zero $$$ but turbo drive; a temple of fun during disco’s heyday. The NYC store sadly closed its doors in 1984 and later in the 90s, the brand was name-dropped in Mark Leckey's cult short film Fiorucci Made Me Harcore an absolute ode to British nightlife. Now, 50 years since the first Fiorucci store opened its doors, the fabled fashion brand is enjoying a rebirth after Janie and Stephen Schaffer bought the brand in 2015.



“When I was 15, instead of going to sleep-away camp I spent the whole summer hanging out in the store,” designer Marc Jacobs remembers. “It was like a living, breathing fashion show that I wanted so much to be part of.’’ Dubbed the “daytime Studio 54”, the Milanese-born brand founded by Elio Fiorucci in 1967 pumped high-octane glamour, art and celebrity into fashion like no other brand before. Unlike the hippie-chic trail of the decade this was pure pop: Lurex! Leopard print! Skin tight jeans! Elio, the son of an Italian cobbler, brought a sexy, colourful optimism to America and recruited out of work artists from Keith Haring to Maripol along the way.

“Almost anyone you talk to over 40 can tell you their first Fiorucci item,” Janie tells me over the phone from Fiorucci’s neon-lit Soho store. “I bought a pair of pink skinny jeans when I was twelve that I remember intimately. When I was 18/19 my family used to travel to Milan and they had a store there and next door was the MTV studios. There was no internet, no social media [but] there was this connection to music even back then. It’s just been so iconic. Of course, the worrying thing for us is – if you bring a brand like that back that hasn’t been seen for 25 years to a completely new audience – will they care? Does the legacy mean anything? Will people still feel the same about it like we did back in the day?”


“Elio [Fiorucci] was a pioneer,” she says. “It was just a happy and fun place to go, when nothing was much fun out there. There’s a lovely video on YouTube of Andy Warhol in the store and these weird and wonderful people dancing in the windows and you pan outside and there’s lots of people in knitted tank tops and corduroy. The contrast was vast. Elio was quite straight-laced himself and because he had no ego he made these people feel really welcome and allowed them to express themselves. No other brand, to the extent of Fiorucci, embraced art and graphics. The fact that we’ve been left this legacy of pieces of original paintings and art works is unheard of.”


Janie recounts an astonishing discovery when she first acquired the label from Japanese jeans group Edwin. “As I was leaving they gave us this key,” Janie remembers. “They said, ‘this is for a warehouse outside Linate airport.’ Nobody had ever been in it [so] we had no idea what to expect. We open this warehouse and it was full of stuff that you wouldn’t believe; palettes of stickers with all the artworks by every brilliant artist, the shoe archive, all the original Interview magazines, letters to Elio from Warhol. And vintage garments, going back to the 1920s, that were the inspiration for Fiorucci in the 60s. All American brands that Elio and his crew had been buying in LA – think camp Beverly Hills. Elio would say to Maripol [former creative director for the brand] ‘here’s $2,000, get on a plane and just go and buy stuff!’ And she would bring it back and put it in the store.”


This outsider lens, a move to embracing an inclusive approach to fashion that was scarce at the time, is very much at the heart of the label’s philosophy. “Elio sold his perception of America to Americans through Italian eyes,” Janie says. “He was being global before anyone new what global was.” Recent documentaries from Studio 54 (as highlighted in last week's post), to Antonio Lopez: Sex Fashion and Disco are now shining the spotlight on this “very free” and “no holds barred” period in history in the 1970s. “It was a very empowering time,” Janie explains. “This was when Motown really hit and inspired a generation and changed the whole essence of what people thought. There were no rules.”

Elio never lost his political edge. “He was a so ahead of his time in many ways – a very serious anti-fur campaigner and supporting World Wide Fund for Nature charities. If we could somehow mantel that and find a forum that is authentic and not gimmicky. I’ve held off so far because I want it to be real and sustainable.”


Another big challenge: how do you push a brand known for its wickedly sexy and subversive advertising, into 2k18 in the #MeToo era? “It’s a conversation that comes up a lot,” Janie admits. “I was talking to Terry O’Neill and he said at times he felt Elio could get to a smutty place, but you go through every piece of art, some of it really erotic, [and] it somehow feels it’s been done through the eyes of a woman. It doesn’t feel voyeuristic. The clothes are sexy, yes, but they’re powerful. The brand encourages creativity – my daughters [in their 20s] buy the stuff and they’ll crop it. There’s lots of customisation.”

Unlike Virgil Abloh at LV and Raf Simons at Calvin Klein, Fiorucci is going against the grain by not hiring a creative director or “face of” the brand. “That’s what boxes you,” Janie stresses. “Maybe we’ll grow into a creative, maybe we won’t but right now we just want to quietly, in an underground way, work our way to the surface and see how it turns out.”


Looking ahead, there’s a top-secret collaboration and talk of opening a second store in LA. “It feels like it’s got an opinion and the art movement is starting to build in Los Angeles. It’s not about the movies any more – there’s a real community out there and everyone’s looking for an outlet.” When the brand relaunched there was a huge hype on social media, but as Janie points out they are still a “start up” finding their feet. “It’s been intense,” she says. “We wanted to be as authentic as possible and we didn’t want to do a re-hash and say, ‘let’s get all the graphics and stick them on t-shirts!’ I’m bringing in artists and saying let’s just see the angels as a separate thing. Maybe we’re using three or four graphics [but] we have 10,000 pieces of art just sitting there. The opportunities are endless.”