Italian labels are moving to Asia: What does it mean for the future of fashion? | part I

Editor’s note: Welcome to the first installment of a 3-part series on Haute Mess! This week I’ll be discussing something very close to my heart: Italian fashion.

Although I am American by birth, I’m Italian by blood. And, as all my followers, readers and friends know, fashion has been a strong personal interest of mine for as long as I can remember. Lucky for me, the two often overlap; after all, Italy is home to iconic labels like Gucci, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Versace, Missoni and La Perla. 

The shift from Europe to Asia is something I noticed on my own, and instantly thought it spoke volumes about the [fashion] industry as a whole. I collected and organized my thoughts into this 3-part essay that focuses on Fiorucci. While Fiorucci isn’t a household name in the same capacity brands like Gucci, Prada or Dolce & Gabbana are, it has been beyond influential for decades–so much so that, in some senses I will discuss, it represents a number of fashion labels as they take on the 21st Century. 

For a complete list of sources, click here


A peek inside Amsterdam’s Fiorucci store, which contained a cafe. [source: CNN]

Perhaps no other brand in (modern) history has been more influential to fashion than Milan-born Fiorucci. Credited with designing the first pair of women’s fashion jeans, it is really quite a shock that Fiorucci is not more of a household name, compared to other high-end labels like Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Gucci.

In the 1990s, in an effort to save the failing brand, the Tacchella brothers (of Italian jeans company Carrera S.P.A.) sold Fiorucci to Japanese jeans group Edwin Co., Ltd. for 45 billion Lire (or approximately $41 million USD). This created a domino effect that saw other major Italian labels, such as sportswear giant Fila, move to Asia.

Two angels [source: Pinterest]

But the story starts in 1962 when Milan native Elio Fiorucci, the son of a shoe shop owner, created bright, primary color galoshes. His idea went on to be featured in a local fashion magazine and were a sensation.

After traveling to London in 1965, a 20-year-old Elio was inspired to bring Carnaby Street style back to Milan. Two years later, Elio opened his first shop in Milan, which sold clothes by London designers such as Ossie Clark and Zandra Rhodes. Still today, Fiorucci marries London street style with Dolce Vita luxury.

It was in 1968 that Elio began taking inspiration from the East. He sold cheap t-shirts from India and turned rice sacks into handbags.

By the mid-1970s the Fiorucci label was thriving. A huge new store on Milan’s Via Torino opened, selling not only fashion, but books, furniture and music. It had a live performance area, a vintage clothing market and a restaurant. The company set up its own manufacturing plant four years prior, and adopted its infamous “two angels” logo from Italo Lupo. (From Memorabilia: Fiorucci’s Steps)

The store was financed by an investment from Standa department stores (part of Montedison group). (From Memorabilia: Fiorucci’s Steps)

Monokini [source: Pinterest]

During this time, the label introduced Europe to styles from Brazil, such as the monokini and the thong. It also caused quite a controversy by printing topless women in its advertisements. (From Memorabilia: Fiorucci’s Steps)

Fiorucci opened its first overseas store in 1975 on London’s King’s Road; it launched a children’s collection called Fioruccino that same year. The label also brought Afghan coats to the mass market and popularized leopard-skin prints, which were first created by Elsa Schiaparelli two decades prior. (From Memorabilia: Fiorucci’s Steps)

The label made its way to the U.S. in 1976 when it opened a store on East 59th street, between Lexington and Park Avenues, in New York City—down the block from Bloomingdale’s. (From Memorabilia: Fiorucci’s Steps).

Customers included fashion designers Marc Jacobs and Calvin Klein, Jackie Onassis and Gloria Vanderbilt, actress Lauren Bacall, British mogul Terence Conran, Cher (Chaplin), author Douglas Coupland (Colman) and Juan Carlos I, the King of Spain (Lahr).

As the brand continued to thrive, it hired big-name employees by the 1980s. Fiorucci’s art director was designer Maripol, who created Madonna’s looks at the time. Other notable names included Madonna’s brother Christopher Ciccone, i-D magazine’s Terry Jones, Oliviero Toscani (who shot many famous Benetton ads) and famed interior designer Jim Walrod (Chaplin).

Late actress Farrah Fawcett in Fiorucci jeans [source: CNN]

Fiorucci’s hottest new products at the time included a collection made from DuPont’s Tyrek fabric and velvet slippers from China. And in 1978, Fiorucci became the first fashion house to license its name for a collection of sunglasses. New stores launched across the U.S., Europe and Asia. (From Memorabilia: Fiorucci’s Steps)

Three years later in 1981, a Disney license led to a highly successful range of Mickey Mouse pieces. That same year, Fiorucci sponsored the reunion of Simon and Garfunkel at The Concert In Central Park, which attracted more than 400,000 attendees. A then-unknown Madonna played the labels birthday party in 1983. (From Memorabilia: Fiorucci’s Steps)

A 1974 Fiorucci ad [source: The Historialist]

In 1982, however, Fiorucci launched the first-ever stretch jeans with Lycra. The success of the label’s 5-pocket “safety” jeans was recognized three years later in a licensing deal with Wrangler Jeans. And in 1989, Fiorucci went back to its British roots with a deal with Vivienne Westwood (i.e., the “queen of the London street scene”). (From Memorabilia: Fiorucci’s Steps)

Per a video interview by Il Bel Gioco, Elio Fiorucci says, “I changed denim, which was working clothing, into something [that] makes the [wearer] beautiful.”

[Source: Il Bel Gioco via YouTube]
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