FIORUCCI EYES U.S. COMEBACK
Byline: Karen Parr / with contributions from Tsukasa Furukawa, Tokyo
NEW YORK — One may recall Fiorucci as a brand from disco’s heyday, when drag queen Joey Arias sold clothes at the flagship here and champagne corks were still popping at Studio 54.
Fiorucci, acquired by Tokyo denim house Edwin International in 1990 after its 1989 bankruptcy, has set up U.S. offices in New Milford, N.J. and in New York as part of a plan to begin extensive licensing here, beginning with eyewear and better juniors.
The U.S. infiltration of Fiorucci began about two years ago, when an eyewear license for the U.S. was signed with Swan International Optical, the distributor of such optical lines as Albert Nipon, John Weitz and Prince Egon.
Since then, Swan president Joe Glassman has been named president of the U.S. Fiorucci division. The Swan and Fiorucci offices are in the same New Milford location.
Stephen Budd, president of Bennini, a junior firm here, has secured the Fiorucci license for better junior sportswear and has fond memories of the original line. Back when the Fiorucci store was still at 127 East 59th Street — a site that is now an Urban Outfitters — Budd used to hang out at the store “to meet girls” and kept his love letters in a Fiorucci tin.
“America needs this newness,” Budd said of the brand’s entry, and noted that the line will include some “wild, crazy fashion.”
Budd has hired designers Ela Tarcan and Darren Greenblatt, from the streetwear line, Yumthing, to design Fiorucci in tandem with the team in Milan, which is directed by designer Elio Fiorucci, the man who founded Fiorucci in the late Sixties.
Greenblatt said some new Fiorucci designs will be shown at the Girls Rule show during fashion week here in November.
While Fiorucci has big ideas for its American dream, its reentry might require some reeducation of U.S. consumers.
Fiorucci hasn’t had a large retail presence in the U.S., beyond those stores that import it from Italy, in many years.
Its last store in the U.S. closed about eight years ago, according to chief financial officer Mark Sapperstein.
With its U.S. clothing license in juniors, Fiorucci is largely targeting Generation Y, ages 10 to 24 — kids who were most likely home in their pajamas while the Fiorucci-clad crowd was out grooving at the clubs.
In Milan, the Fiorucci megastore is still a hot spot, but many Americans have never seen the orange glow of a Fiorucci fake fur jacket.
Glassman said his firm has been working for about the last eight months investigating its approach to the market.
Greenblatt, who “missed the Studio 54 days, but got Fiorucci in the early Eighties,” said, “As much as Fiorucci’s past is important, it’s up to us to educate the new breed of consumers, who maybe don’t remember it first-hand.
“There’s nothing out there right now that has the energy and passion Fiorucci had, but the most important thing is to recreate it for the customer today,” he added.
Glassman said the “heart and pulse” of Fiorucci design will come from the studio in Milan.
There, the line is splashy, colorful and hip. The fall/winter collection revels in bright Day-Glo tones such as orange, lime green, purple, royal blue and hot pink. Fake fur is used as trims on velvet or plaid jackets, or all over in coats.
Other items include colored vinyl pants and jackets, checkered suits and slim-cut sweaters. Details are special, from cartoon-print jacket linings to oversized buttons and zipper pulls.
The junior licensee here will follow the Milan design team’s lead, while collaborating on what actually plays in America.
“Anything and everything that’s trendy” is how Budd describes what the Fiorucci style will be for juniors in America.
“If polyester’s hot, it will be polyester,” he said. Other fabrics in the line will include yarn dyes, prints and twills. There will be a large jeans base.
The first group will be a small one for the spring season, targeted to top stores, Budd said, with a major launch for fall 1998. The collection will be shown at the Fiorucci showroom at 1384 Broadway, here.
“We’re not looking to sell this to everybody right out of the box,” he said. “We want to be selective.”
He said the line should be in the same league as Polo, CK Jeans and Guess, with a $48 retail price point for jeans.
“For me, it’s a whole new evolution in my career,” Budd said. He referred to the days, not so long ago, when one of his main junior lines at Berinini was Not Guilty — a mainstream line not necessarily stamped with the same chic as Fiorucci.
For Fiorucci, Budd will get all new staffing, including sales and in-house marketing.
In New Jersey, Joe Glassman’s office is festooned with splashy posters from the Milan design headquarters. Piles of the Fiorucci look books litter the couch.
Glassman has hired Chip Rieger and Lou Schneider as partners in charge of the licensing division.
Rieger worked for Izod Lacoste for 30 years and was president of David Crystal dresses and suits and Izod Lacoste dresses . Most recently he has run a licensing firm under his own name, working out such deals as the Guess watch license with Callanen International.
Schneider was formerly president of World Class Licensing, which secured the license for WilliWear.
There is also an extended Fiorucci family in Canada, where the brand is also mounting a comeback. Mark Schick, executive vice president of North America for Edwin, was brought into the fold much like Glassman.
He started out as a licensee in June 1996, for Edwin, rather than for Fiorucci, then in March 1997 took over the U.S. market for Edwin, with headquarters and a satellite factory in Canada.
Now Schick is planning for Fiorucci licenses, which have yet to be signed.
Among all the Fiorucci players, Edwin’s owner, Shuji Tsunemi, is the most powerful.
He is the liaison between Milan, the U.S. and Canada, according to Mark Schick.
A spokeswoman for Edwin International in Japan said that Edwin, the parent company for Edwin International, registered a pretax profit of $41 million (5.09 billion yen) on net sales of $359.4 million (44.6 billion yen) in the fiscal year ended March 31.
Because of Tsunemi’s reportedly deep pockets, Budd believes “he’s going to put a lot of marketing behind the brand.” Glassman would not say how much money is being put into the U.S. development of the brand.
“There’s no skimping in Japanese style,” Budd explained. He said Tsunemi had him fly to the Edwin factory in Canada to get an idea of the fine details behind the Edwin jeans manufacturing.
Budd will control quality by initially manufacturing in Los Angeles. He also wants to use the European production channels and may also use the Edwin factory in Canada.
Fiorucci’s next steps include advertising in consumer magazines, with a campaign by the Lois/EJL agency. It has already advertised in trade publications.
The man behind the image, George Lois, was responsible for the first Tommy Hilfiger ads and also created the “I Want My MTV” campaign.
Lois feels that “the hipper the woman,” the more she recognizes the Fiorucci name.
“We have to deal with the fact that Fiorucci hasn’t been here,” he said.
Lois believes that the advertising should further convey the brand’s “distinctive, imaginative” personality, which is so racy in the Italian ads.
“The advertising in and of itself should still have that sexy, irreverent look — except I think we’ve got to go edgier,” said Lois. “When you flip through a magazine, you gotta say, ‘Whoa!”‘
Lois wouldn’t divulge just how he’ll get readers to do that. He’s currently working on concepts for the campaign. Executives at Fiorucci U.S. have not yet set a date for when the ads will run.
Meanwhile, the search for licensing opportunities continues. Potential categories include accessories, fragrances and cosmetics, legwear, footwear, athletic wear, lingerie and men’s wear.
“We’re looking for companies that are hungry, have the passion and quality, but don’t have a brand,” Glassman said.