Elio Fiorucci Ascended from Galoshes to Become Titan of Trash Flash

updated 04/06/1981 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 04/06/1981 AT 01:00 AM EST

Wearing a Merry Widow corset, bikini bottoms, fishnet stockings and spiked heels, the Barbie Doll model reclined in a zebra-striped bathtub that had been placed in the window of Fiorucci's Manhattan store. For the next six hours she read smutty paperbacks, ate bananas and blew bubbles—to the delight of a street crowd pressing 20 deep against the window.

Such kitschy, kinky folderol is the norm for Italian fashion promoter Elio Fiorucci, who intends to do nothing less than dress the world in the cheap chic, New Wave fashions for which his shops are famous. Whether everybody is ready for blue hair, vinyl tutus, gold toe rings or sunglasses with frames shaped like old Cadillac fins is open to question. But Fiorucci, who labels the idea of haute couture "pathetic," nonetheless manages to get his look across in his outrageous way. After the Italian earthquake last November, for example, some somber peasants huddled amid the rubble looking like SoHo denizens. Fiorucci had dispatched a truckload of unsold neon-bright parkas, jeans and shirts to the relief sites.

"What he has done is to capture a kind of international ideal of teenage promise and bottle it," explains pop culture chronicler Eve Babitz, author of last year's Fiorucci: The Book (Harlin Quist, $14.95). Supermodel Janice Dickinson concurs: "Maybe I've grown out of it, but no matter what age you are, he has something to please."

Indeed, the 45-year-old Fiorucci lures hordes of teenagers into his disco-throbbing, strobe-flashing stores in New York and Milan. He also pumps his goods into 3,000 other outlets around the world, including Washington's Up Against the Wall, Sakowitz in Houston and San Francisco's Joseph Magnin.

In the process, Fiorucci has snared the glitz-conscious celebs. Deborah Harry seeks out his line for anything black. Jackie Onassis nips into the Manhattan shop for the oversize T-shirts($10 to $12) she wears jogging. Mayor Edward Koch and Greta Garbo have both been sighted strolling through the 59th Street emporium, and Diana Ross routinely pops in with her children in tow to pick up colorful size 26-27 jeans ($38)—very tight in the seat and extra-long in the leg. John Travolta orders his Fiorucci jeans by the dozen. Prince Charles' intended, Lady Diana Spencer, was a fan even before she got the royal nod. As a wedding present, Fiorucci is sending the future Queen of England an extra-large sweatshirt with a crown embroidered in gold thread.

Elio Fiorucci has been a rebel ever since he was a boy growing up in Milan, where his father had a slipper-and-sandal shop. "I was the ugly duckling," explains Elio, who, shy and unhappy, left school at 14. "I couldn't bear its constrictions, its arid atmosphere. I was a great disappointment to my father."

His entrepreneurial instincts surfaced one day in 1963, when he tucked three pairs of colored rubber galoshes under his arm and raced across town to the offices of Amica, a weekly fashion magazine. He persuaded the editors to publish a picture of the footwear, and they were a runaway success. In 1967 Elio opened the first Fiorucci store in a one-room shop on the Galleria Passarella and stocked it with miniskirts and geegaws he brought back in his suitcase from London's then trendy Carnaby Street.

Today Fiorucci's team of hi-tech designers recycles and adapts objects from everyday life into zany Fiorucci "firsts" like aluminum lunch pails sold as handbags, see-through plastic jeans, satin basketball shorts and blue firemen's boots.

All that glitters is not gold lamé, however, in Fiorucci's U.S. operation. Two stores—in Los Angeles and Chicago—closed their doors recently. But with worldwide sales topping $60 million in 1980, Fiorucci remains confident. One reason: He has just signed with the Disney company to produce Fiorucci T-shirts in Europe emblazoned with Mickey Mouse and other cartoon characters.

Fiorucci, who has two daughters aged 17 and 20, has long been separated from his wife. For years his companion has been designer Cristina Rossi, 34, by whom he has a daughter, Erica, 5. The child does not regularly live with them in Fiorucci's 10-room Milan townhouse but with a nanny in Switzerland. The couple explain they "prefer her safe from pollution and the perils of big-city life." They visit her every weekend and vacations.

"Work," Fiorucci insists, "is the main thing." His close friends think of him as a gentle genius, eagerly cruising airports and train stations ("my favorite places") for ideas. But he is not totally open-minded. He is reluctant, for example, to sell clothes larger than a woman's size 10. "To manufacture only small sizes is a favor for humanity," Fiorucci declares ungallantly. "I prevent ugly girls from showing off their bad figures."

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