Remembering Elio Fiorucci, Italian Designer Who Loved ’70s Americana

A model wearing Fiorucci in 1978. Photo: Rex USA

On Monday morning, iconic designer Elio Fiorucci was found dead in his home in Milan —­ the city where he launched his eponymous label in 1967, and proved Italian fashion was so much more than haute couture. Though Fiorucci was first inspired by Swinging London, he truly came into his own after a trip to Ibiza where he saw the way wet jeans clung to the bodies of women going swimming. He became obsessed with the idea of women having jeans to specifically show off their curves, and invented stretch denim. The skin-tight designs took over Milan, and his stores spread internationally, with a New York spot on 59th Street that counted Andy Warhol, Elizabeth Taylor, and Cher among its patrons. In true ‘80s style, it was more than just a place to buy denim and camo ready-to-wear —­ it was the “daytime Studio 54,” a hangout where a 15-year-old Marc Jacobs went instead of going to sleep-away camp, and new designers like Betsey Johnson and Jill Stuart launched their brands.

Even in the 2000s, when it moved to a more pristine retail space downtown on Broadway, the New York location remained a place to debut design talent. Fiorucci still took risks with the new designers he showcased, and right after 9/11, doing so made his New York store one of the only places left with that much whimsy. AndrewAndrew, a DJ and design duo that the brand took under its wings, made fashion that left many shoppers perplexed — precisely what the city needed in the post-tragedy gloom of 2001. The store still had a lot of customers, so AndrewAndrew organized a fashion show and set up shop with a sewing machine, stitching their labels into the shirts of shoppers whose fashion choices they approved while they waited for the dressing rooms. Remembering the experience, Andrew said: “They really took a chance on us. It was more of a crazy idea.” Calling Fiorucci a “creative retailing giant,” Simon Doonan agreed: “He injected fashion retailing with humor and kitsch and madness, but always in a knowing, sophisticated way.”

Over the years, stretch denim and out-there patterns became the norm, and Fiorucci’s raunchy, Americana-inspired ads no longer seem as outré. Still, when the Milan flagship shuttered for financial reasons in 2003, it marked the end of a very leopard-printed era. Click through the slideshow to relive some of the brand’s iconic moments, worn best by a young Rod Stewart.

Remembering Elio Fiorucci, Italian Designer