In the archives of the Met Museum in New York there is a collection of scarves by Fiorucci that would bring tears of joy to the eyes of many people who grew up between the '70s and the '80s.
The scarves feature vintage robots engaged in a rather unusual hobby, gardening; deserted gasoline stations; collages of people sunbathing and illustrations of women ready to jump in a swimming pool.
There are also prints of alien pin ups flying in the cosmo or images borrowed from Pop Art; vintage adverts from the '40s of fruit crate labels such as Homer and Carro Amano Aranci with their beautiful graphics and lithographed colors, or interior design scenes à la Memphis Milano.
The scarves would cause such an emotional reaction because the Fiorucci label is linked in the mind of many people growing up in countries as different and as far away one from the other as Italy, Japan and the Unites States with the best (and most colourful) years of their lives.
So when the abrupt news arrived yesterday around lunch time that Elio Fiorucci, 80, had been found dead (from natural causes) in his house in Viale Vittorio Veneto, Milan, a melancholic nostalgia for fun, freedom and joyfully clever prints must have invaded the mind of many people whose lives were touched by this brand.
Elio Fiorucci was born in Milan on 10th June 1935 and, as a young man he would help his father in his shop, specialised in slippers. In 1962 he started managing his own shoe store, but everything changed after a visit to London in 1965.
Fascinated by Mary Quant's miniskirts, Biba shops and the Swinging London scene, Fiorucci went back to Milan with a dream and some new ideas. In 1967 he opened a shop in Galleria Passerella, around San Babila.
The shop, designed by Amalia Dal Ponte and opened by Italian rocker Adriano Celentano, was a crazy place where Fiorucci would sell objects and items from all over the world that he would find interesting, intriguing and desirable.
While at the beginning Fiorucci's role was that of a talent scout with a passion for visiting art exhibitions and events that would inspire him and enhance his creativity, from 1970 on he started producing clothes and accessories, distributing them in Europe, Japan and the United States.
All garments and accessories were characterised by a cute logo: designed together with Italo Lupi, it featured two little sweet cherubs, one with blond locks, the other with dark hair, both with puffy rosy cheeks, the little angels were at times portrayed on shirts, dresses and swimwear wearing cool sunglasses.
One of Fiorucci's luckiest intuitions - inspired by the cultural revolution that Mary Quant had launched in the UK - was adding Lycra to denim and creating stretch trousers that would flatter women's bodies.
Another intuition regarded the branding of the products: Fiorucci's clothes were not advertised on fashion magazines since Elio and the photographer Oliviero Toscani, had a sort of anti-fashion and anti-bourgeois ethics and preferred coming up with controversial posters that portrayed playful images of semi-naked models that were deemed by many people as too transgressive, but were never vulgar and that consumers loved to collect.
After the Milan shop, Fiorucci opened in London and New York where the brand became a total sensation: designed by Ettore Sottsass, Andrea Branzi and Franco Marabelli, the store on East 59th Street became not just a clothes shop, but a meeting place for ordinary people and celebrities.
Visitors would be offered an espresso as they entered the store, since, after all, this was an Italian place; Andy Warhol, who loved its plasticky and colourful design, launched there his Interview magazine; Truman Capote signed books in the window; people gravitating around Studio 54 would hang around there (together with a very young Marc Jacobs); illustrator Antonio Lopez styled the windows; Joey Arias and theatrical German countertenor Klaus Nomi with a bunch of crazy people and colourful shop assistants would be dancing in the same windows; spotted by Madonna's stylist Maripol, who was at the time also in charge of finding young designers to showcase at Fiorucci's, Isabel and Ruben Toledo were offered a prime spot in a concession stand at the store where they enlisted the help of a very special sale assistant, model and filmmaker Suzie Zabrowska.
The New York shop became therefore an iconic landmark: its front was even recreated for a street scene on the set of Superman II (1980), while a young Madonna celebrated instead with a party at Studio 54 the 15th anniversary of the store.
Wherever they were located - Milan, New York or Los Angeles - Fiorucci stores were crowded with young people who loved shopping there because they considered it a place where they could express through the avant-garde clothes and accessories on sale there their passion for rebellion and transgression, and for a firm hope to distinguish and separate themselves from their parents.
At Fiorucci you could easily find hard plastic bags in fluorescent shades, scarves in the most incredible colours, sandals with thick rubber soles and glittering elastics that you would slip on and keep on your feet for hours on end on torrid summer days without ever getting one blister; not to mention the fun hairpins with colourful plastic planets, and the endless products with the little cool angels. It was somehow impossible to resist to the products on sale because they offered a visual, aesthetic and artistic revolution.
Fiorucci loved indeed to mix with artists: he managed to convince Keith Haring to cover his shop in Milan in graffiti, and he borrowed his colours from the works of Andy Warhol, the artist who had prompted him to look at the neon lights shining 24 hours on New York.
Global success marked the '80s, years in which Elio Fiorucci was inspired by cinema, and was fascinated by the advent of the first computers and by the art of music videos.
In 1984, Panini even dedicated to the brand a successful album in which 200 of the best, kitschest and craziest posters were turned into collectible stickers (in just a few months Panini sold 100 million stickers...). Around 100 stickers were designed by i-D founder and editor-in-chief and Fiorucci store's Creative Director Terry Jones (Elio Fiorucci also supported i-D magazine during its most critical years, between 1983 and 1984).
In 1990 Elio Fiorucci sold the company to a Japanese society, Edwin International, while the space in Galleria Passarella was sold in 2003 to global retailer H&M. The designer launched in the 2000s a new project called "Love Therapy", followed by collaborations with Italian High Street retailer Oviesse (OVS), and by several projects aimed at raising awareness for animal welfare issues.
Yet throughout the decades Fiorucci kept on inspiring people: in 1999 British artist Mark Leckey did a video entitled "Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore", featuring a selection of footage from the 1970s, '80s and '90s, that keeps on resurfacing every now and then like an old fashion trend, inspiring not only artists but also fashion designers; Dolce & Gabbana's S/S 2010 menswear collection featured instead shirts with prints of Fiorucci posters.
Museums aren't immune from collecting Fiorucci's stuff: the Met Museum preserves shirts, scarves, rubber boots, and a few dresses and ensembles in rayon and nylon; two Fiorucci shopping bags - one designed by Eric Schemilt Designs Ltd (1978), the other by Laurie Rosenwald (1980) - are part of the Victoria and Albert Museum collection in London.
Rather than being about aggressive expansion and money, Elio Fiorucci's philosophy was mainly based on pushing consumers to rediscover a balance with nature, and try and be happy. He also firmly believed that creativity is not about one person's own knowledge, but about a collaborative effort and a constant learning process inspired and driven by other people.
There is so much talk about "democratising fashion", and by now we all know that huge retailers are not "democratising", but making the divide bigger and deeper. Nowadays High Street retailers offer indeed cheaper versions of designer clothes, reminding us that those who can not afford the real thing can get a mere bad quality copy.
Elio Fiorucci's concept was instead very different: his experiment was a more genuine attempt at democratising fashion as Fiorucci's items were desirable, affordable and durable as well. He may deserve an exhibition (though it would be difficult to find some original Fiorucci clothes as most of us wore them till they were torn into bits and pieces), but there is something that he deserves even more - a place in any design museums, and a thank you note for having produced the garments and accessories we donned in the best (and most colourful) years of our lives.
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