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Fiorucci: A Splash of Fun at Water Tower

Posted under Exhibitions by Petra Slinkard

Water Tower Place, a seven-story, 758,000 square-foot vertical mall, opened its doors on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile in October 1975. At the time, it was almost completely vacant with the exception of its anchor stores, Marshall Field & Company and Lord & Taylor. However, due to its almost immediate success and prominent location on North Michigan Avenue, the mall’s retail spaces were completely leased by 1976.

Interior of the Atrium Mall at Water Tower Place, c. 1976. ICHi-39590

Chicagoan Paul B. Magit, a fashion insider and event promoter known for having his finger on the pulse of both the industry and the city, knew that Water Tower Place was the place to be. And in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Fiorucci was one of the brands to wear—if you were young, that is. It was “throwaway fashion that you don’t throw away,” said founder, Elio Fiorucci, in his 1979 interview with the Chicago Tribune.

What began as a footwear company in 1962 transformed into an eclectic and high-energy shop by 1967. Fiorucci was an arbiter, trend forecaster, and savvy entrepreneur. He saw potential in the rising prominence of youth culture, so he began importing miniskirts along with designs by Ossie Clark, Mary Quant, and Zandra Rhodes to be carried in the Italian boutique. Soon, the store expanded by creating its own line of clothing that embodied the atmosphere of the store—fun, lively, and catered to the youth market. Fiorucci clothes were “created for the rich and poor alike,”and it didn’t take long for the company to garner international attention. By 1979, Elio Fiorucci had franchised more than 1,000 shops worldwide.

Dress, 1980, Fiorucci; printed cotton with leather belt. Gift of Paul B Presents (1980.75.10ab). Behind-the-scenes photographs taken by CHM staff

Detail of belt buckle

Detail of back and sales tag

As Fiorucci Chicago prepared for its opening, an all-day audition for employees was held at in the city’s Apollo Theater in Lincoln Park. The call read: “Come, Join the Celebration.” And what a celebration it was. In addition to seeking sales associates, the audition called for mimes, magicians, fortune tellers, and palm readers. The declaration: Fiorucci does not discriminate against the unique or unusual. (See audition footage in the link below about Magit.) Of the 500 applicants, forty-five were chosen to serve on the staff. According to a Fiorucci associate, the store sought “well trained, creative, out-there people,” each bringing with them a unique and unusual quality or ability that enhanced the store’s atmosphere.

Image of Fiorucci store, Water Tower Place, 1979.

The opening of the Chicago store on May 6, 1979 drew a crowd of more than 1,000 people. In attendance were Chicagoans such as fashion designer Noriko, public relations executive Dori Wilson, and Michael J. Krutza, founder of the Chicago International Film Festival. Also in attendance was fashion designer Betsey Johnson, whose clothes were featured in the store.

Women’s boots, 1980, Fiorucci; metallic leather, 4.5 in stiletto heels. Gift of Paul B Presents (1980.75.16ab).

In an article covering the store’s opening, Chicago Tribune reporter Jon Anderson called it a “kind of Army-Navy supply store for the world of the kinky.” But for those who knew the brand and understood its philosophy, it was a refreshing addition to the numerous Water Tower stores that offered more traditional merchandise. Fiorucci was fun. Fiorucci was fabulous. Fiorucci promoted the acceptance of the unexpected and was open to all.

Petra Slinkard is the curator of costume at the Chicago History Museum.

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