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Before Topshop and H&M, there was Fiorucci, the store that taught me how to shop

Italian fashion designer Elio Fiorucci died at the age of 80 at his Milan home.

Italian fashion designer Elio Fiorucci died at the age of 80 at his Milan home.

(Daniel Dal Zennaro / EPA)

Before Topshop and H&M made fashion-tainment the name of the retail game, there was Fiorucci.

When I saw the news this week about the death of Elio Fiorucci, the Milanese founder of the Fiorucci clothing and shopping empire, I started to think about the influence of his boutiques, both where I grew up in New York City, and where I live now in Los Angeles.

Fiorucci taught me how to shop as a teenager in the 1980s. The New York boutique, which opened in 1976 just across the street from Bloomingdale’s in midtown Manhattan, was not only a store, it was a hangout and pop-culture crossroads in the grand tradition of Biba and Granny Takes a Trip in London.

Rumor had it that Andy Warhol stopped by every day, though I never saw him. Cher, Elizabeth Taylor and Marc Jacobs were regulars.

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In the early 1980s, Fiorucci’s art director was Maripol, the architect of Madonna’s fashion image in the “Like A Virgin” days. Oliviero Toscani, who shot many of the era’s groundbreaking Benetton ads, also shot for Fiorucci.

New York’s Fiorucci store was the kind of place you could go and stay awhile — to gape at punk salespeople with mohawk hairstyles (drag star Joey Arias worked there at one point), to listen to DJs spinning Duran Duran in-store, to watch MTV music videos on TV screens, see art by Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf on the walls, sip cappuccino and flip through cool foreign fashion magazines. There was always something to look at, from neon lipstick to neon rubber anklets. It was retail sensory overload for a shopper-in-training, a lifestyle store before lifestyle stores became the norm.

Even if you couldn’t afford the jeans and T-shirts with the brand’s signature twin cherub logo, or a leopard babydoll dress by Betsey Johnson, you could still feel part of the “in” crowd with a Fiorucci mug or a pen for a few bucks. Fiorucci had the coolest pens, covered in 1980s New Wave patterns, with attached caps that spun around and clicked into place. When I was in middle school, so many of my classmates had the click-clackety Fiorucci pens, my teachers had to ban them in class because the noise was too distracting.

The Fiorucci brand was founded in 1967 in Milan with an emphasis on curve-hugging, Lycra stretch denim (some call Elio the inventor of skinny jeans) and T-shirts that put a humorous, Euro spin on Americana, including cartoon graphics and 1950s pinups. His empire quickly went global, with stores in New York, London and beyond carrying not only Fiorucci wares, but those from other designers, including Anna Sui and Zandra Rhodes.

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In 1978, a Beverly Hills outpost opened on Beverly Drive. According to an article in the L.A. Times, on opening night, 60 security guards had to lock arms at the store’s entrance to prevent a crowd of more than 3,000 guests from storming the doors. Scalpers offered tickets up to $75, and some waiting guests paid others $200 just to move ahead in line. The store was featured in the 1980s disco film “Xanadu,” starring Olivia Newton John.

Fiorucci moved to a different Beverly Hills location on Little Santa Monica in 1984, and eventually to Melrose, where it was one of my first stops on my first trip to Los Angeles. I just knew that even in L.A., Fiorucci was the place to be.

I wish I was around L.A. more in those days to know about what Fiorucci meant to the style scene here. If you have any memories, I’d love you to share them.

booth.moore@latimes.com

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