Inside the Return of Fiorucci | Intelligence, BoF Exclusive

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LONDON, United Kingdom — The story of the fashion label Fiorucci is woven deep into the tapestry of pop culture. Remembered as the “daytime Studio 54”, Andy Warhol set up Interview magazine in Fiorucci’s store on New York’s Lexington Avenue and a 16-year-old Madonna performed her first concert there. Jackie O and Elizabeth Taylor were known to sip espresso at the in-store café, where Truman Capote once signed his books. Club kids such as Klaus Nomi and Joey Arias were on staff, selling jeans painted by the likes of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring one minute and dancing in the Antonio Lopez-styled windows the next. Marc Jacobs met Calvin Klein while browsing the rails here as a teenager. It was immortalised by Sister Sledge’s 1979 disco hit “He’s The Greatest Dancer”, in which the group sing “Halston, Gucci, Fiorucci / He looks like a still, that man is dressed to kill.” In a new Rizzoli book dedicated to the brand, Sofia Coppola wrote that there was “nothing more exciting and glamorous.”

It all started when Elio Fiorucci began exporting London’s Swinging Sixties aesthetic to Italian customers in 1967. By the mid-70s, Fiorucci was a global enterprise with stores in Milan, London and New York, selling everything from PVC leggings to graphic t-shirts, and leopard print, glittery or day-glo going-out clothes. There were also the seminal posters, stickers and merchandise that would become extremely collectible.

An archive Fiorucci poster ad the cover of a new Rizzoli book | Source: Courtesy

As heritage brands go, it’s fair to say that the history of Fiorucci is more subversive and hedonistic than most. Its influence has been felt in the work of old-guard designers, including Jean Paul Gaultier, Marc Jacobs, John Galliano and Isaac Mizrahi as well as emerging talents such as Charles Jeffrey, Ashley Williams and Matty Bovan. This makes now a very interesting time for a revival, for both original Fiorucci fans and the nostalgia-obsessed Millennials for whom it is simply fashion legend.

Indeed, it couldn’t be better timing, say Janie and Stephen Schaffer, the former husband-and-wife duo who acquired the brand in 2015 and are the joint CEOs steering its comeback. “The world is so confused and fashion is broken,” Janie told BoF. “Fiorucci is optimistic and fun.” Stephen concurs: “It was never just a fashion or luxury brand,” he says. “It appealed to everyone. You could walk in and buy something, whether it was jeans or a postcard. It’s 50 years old, but people remember the experience more than anything else.”

Experience is at the heart of Fiorucci’s new three-storey retail space on Brewer Street in London’s Soho — London because it’s where Elio Fiorucci first discovered the joys of vibrant fashion. It nods to the original with spaces devoted to denim, accessories and ready-to-wear, as well as a screen-printing and patchwork customisation hub; Fioruccino’s, the café to be run by Palm Vaults, whose Hackney outpost has been described as “London’s most Instagramable café”; a sunken revolving bed surrounded by 1980s television sets showing archival footage; a kitsch martini cocktail bar; sections for stationary, archive posters, the iconic Italian panini stickers (Fiorucci sold 23 million in 1983), as well as towels and blankets. “Everything in the store is movable so we can move it all into the basement and have a roller disco,” says Janie. “It will never get boring and it can look different every time you go in.”

The decision to launch with a high-rent brick-and-mortar store could be considered risky, but the Schaffers are adamant it is the right move. “We felt qualified, having been in retail,” says Janie, who previously worked for Victoria’s Secret and Marks & Spencer as head of lingerie, and set up Knickerbox with her husband in the ‘80s. They also have a marketing team with the average age of 25. “We refused to think that the high street is dead. There was such a lack of newness and every brand is very serious.” The couple hopes the store will be the first of several. “The store in London is the first physical presence, followed by New York and Milan next year,” adds Stephen.

It was never just a fashion or luxury brand, it appealed to everyone.

The 5,000-square-foot space is designed by Brinkworth, whose previous clients include Supreme and Raffa, and the location is key: it’s a stone’s throw from retail meccas such as Supreme, Palace, Machine-A and Dover Street Market, a tour many clothes-obsessed teenagers make as a pilgrimage every weekend. Champion, the sportswear brand recently boosted by its collaborations with Vetements, will also be arriving on the buzzy street this autumn. Tonight, the store will open its doors to press and stage an extravaganza presented by the Theo Adams Company, the choreographer of avant-garde fashion shows and immersive theatre. Maripol, the Factory-era photographer and former Fiorucci jewellery designer, will even be on hand to capture the event on Polaroid.

It comes after a quiet but impactful soft launch with an online pop-up store selling classic Fiorucci t-shirts, the most popular being the logo with two cherubs modelled on Raphael’s “Sistine Madonna”. Fiorucci posters have appeared on the streets of London, New York and Milan (where they remain due to a slump in public advertising). “Although Generations Y and Z likely weren’t very familiar with Fiorucci a year ago, they certainly are now,” says Helen David, chief merchant at Harrods, who says she bought heavily into t-shirts, sweatshirts and denim jackets. “Fiorucci and its angels have taken the world by storm; stirring sentiment with those that grew up in the ‘90s, who want to revisit their favourite Angels pieces in reworked bodies, as well as appealing to an entirely younger generation who just simply realise that Fiorucci is cool.” The cropped t-shirts, she informs, sold out upon arrival and there were waiting lists for the denim jackets.

Fiorucci’s upcoming ready-to-wear | Source: Courtesy

The Schaffers acquired the dormant Fiorucci brand from Japanese denim company Edwin, which had unsuccessfully attempted a revival at the turn of the millennium. The negotiations began in 2012 – director Sofia Coppola had also tried to purchase it – but the Schaffers signed the complete deal in 2015 with the intention of bringing Fiorucci’s 80-year-old founder back into the fold. They were forbidden from contacting Elio until the deal was closed, however, and as fate would have it, Elio Fiorucci died on the day the deal was signed.

The Schaffers have since secured additional investment from friends and family, the biggest being in January 2017, and they have had all kinds of offers since, including one from Sofia Coppola as well as Robert Downey Jr., who took them out for lunch in the hope that they might hire him as a creative head. However, they’ve avoided a big name in order to focus on the brand itself. “We didn’t want a creative director to come and do their own thing,” says Janie, who hired Annabelle Lacuna and Max Hömann, previously at John Galliano and Kenzo, as behind-the-scenes designers. “The most challenging thing for us has been to come up with our own system and not announce a creative director. It had never had one originally and it kind of boxes you and people pitch you where you are on the rostrum by who you’ve got.”

Fiorucci’s wholesale partners include Barneys New York, The Webster and Opening Ceremony in the US; 10 Corso Como in Italy; and Selfridges and Harrods in the UK. “There’s no question where we’ve been in, Barneys or Selfridges, they’re like, Give me angels, angels, angels!” laughs Janie. It is the Brewer Street store that will allow for the most control over the Fiorucci narrative. “We can start to show the full collections and really make a statement,” Janie adds.

When the Schaffers acquired the brand, they were given the keys to a storage unit in Milan that, unbeknownst to them, contained the entire Fiorucci archive, from the original Keith Haring jeans to each guerrilla zine and graphic poster to vintage-in-the-70s artefacts and palettes of panini stickers. Left there since the ‘80s, it was all preserved. “There are not many heritage brands that are sitting on such a great archive,” says Stephen. They hired an archivist over a year ago, who has been working on digitising and cataloguing every item, but is still not finished.

The business was famously widely licensed at the height of its success, but the Schaffers will only be licensing colour cosmetics, fragrance and watches. “There was no licensing left,” laughs Stephen. Instead, they want to bring in young creatives to collaborate with them and use the new store as a stage. “If there is a way that we can grow the business and bring that creativity in, then we want to do it,” says Janie, who has already met with young designers such as Ashley Williams and is keen to commission capsule collections and collaborations to keep the outlook fresh.

There are 70 different Fiorucci logos, so it goes against every single thing that you’re taught about branding.

“I’d love someone to come in and look at it through new eyes and do something,” says Janie. “We love the archive prints and they’re so special but we need to find new ways of moving it forward.” Although the offering so far has been centred on the printed t-shirts and high-waisted jeans that Fiorucci was known for, the Schaffers are keen to develop the aesthetic with four main collections a year and four to five drops of product between them, taking inspiration from neighbouring streetwear brand such as Palace and Supreme.

However, the challenge remains in seducing a generation who weren’t alive during Fiorucci’s heyday. “There are 70 different Fiorucci logos, so it goes against every single thing that you’re taught about branding,” says Stephen. They key, it seems, is through a mix of archival content and under-the-radar marketing, such as posters featuring Georgia May Jagger assuming the poses of her mother Jerry Hall, who was a Fiorucci model back in the day. As David Owen writes in the new Rizzoli tome, “saturated, sexy, and supersized posters weren’t just advertisements for jeans, but became desirable products themselves.”

It’s an approach that seems to be working. “Gigi Hadid wore our t-shirt and somebody must’ve told her, and then that knocked onto Kendall Jenner and everyone wearing it,” says Janie, who insists that they did not actively court the Insta-girls but benefitted from their endorsement. “There’s not a heritage brand that’s as relevant to the world today,” adds Stephen.

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