A month after my 19th birthday, one of my high school friends presented belated birthday brownies to me in a bright red Fiorucci box. She explained that the birthday occasion necessitated something nicer than plastic Tupperware, so she’d chosen this shiny tin box her mom had found at a thrift store. When she purchased it over a decade ago, her mom had assumed it was just a simple container. My friend couldn’t really tell why I was so surprised by this red box adorned with two cherubs.
I quickly explained that the Fiorucci brand had begun dominating social media, with both its vintage and new clothing items priced up to the triple digits. I’d never purchased a Fiorucci item before, but often saw ads for their collaborations with brands like Adidas and Urban Outfitters; I also had seen their (admittedly cute) vintage baby tees adorned with cherub iconography all over Depop and Poshmark. Maybe it was the former Catholic school student and current broke college student inside of me that couldn’t justify paying $170 for a sweatshirt that featured the same images I’d seen on prayer cards or classroom decorations. Still, I was completely fascinated by Fiorucci’s revival and success across social media. What was the history behind a vintage brand whose baby angels captivated thousands of people and sparked collaborations with numerous large-scale brands? How could Fiorucci have become expensive if their angel-imaged items were easily overlooked at the thrift store just years before?
In 2015, British entrepreneur Janie Schaeffer and her partner, Stephen, started developing business plans to revive the fashion brand after founder Elio Fiorucci’s death; in 2017, fashion designers and enthusiasts across the globe celebrated Fiorucci’s official revival. Needless to say, fans were eager to see how the angel iconography would hold up in the current age of social media.
Cherub iconography is no stranger to art or fashion. Art from Ancient Greece’s Classical period (circa 510-323 BCE) shows Eros (the god of love) as a young boy with wings. According to AnOther Magazine, due to Christian artists and other Pagan, Egyptian, and Assyrian influences from over 2,000 years ago, angels have become prominent in most Western religious art. Within Christian art, artists have created angel statues, stained-glass windows, paintings, drawings, and more.
In Sistine Madonna by Raphael, painted in 1512, the Virgin Mary is presenting an infant Jesus while two small cherubs with wings and full, rosy cheeks peer up. The two cherubs in Raphael’s painting would later become the model for Fiorucci’s familiar cherub logo.
So angel iconography is steeped in thousands of years of religious and cultural history; it has a place within spirituality, mythology, and art. But how did we get from Byzantine art to an Adidas collaboration advertised on Instagram?
Fiorucci’s creation and founding in 1967 by Italian designer Elio Fiorucci was the starting point for the eventual mass fashion movement of putting angel iconography on clothes. In 1970, Fiorucci adopted its signature two-cherub logo and started putting it on all products. The company first set up shop in Milan, selling clothes, furniture, books, and music. They later opened a London location, and then made their way across the Atlantic in 1976, opening the first U.S. location in New York. As Fiorucci expanded to America, Fiorucci’s designs and clothing revolutionized the 1970s and 1980s disco, fashion, and art scenes.
Fiorucci’s New York location had customers like Andy Warhol and Madonna flocking to check out the new trends of the city’s ‘70s nightlife and disco crowd. Fiorucci’s exponential success in America also marked the fashion company expanding beyond selling clothes, and as a place for legendary designers and artists like Betsey Johnson and Keith Haring to exhibit their work.
Though new Fiorucci stores opened across the United States, Europe, and Asia, by the mid-‘80s the founder ended up closing all U.S. Fiorucci locations due to issues with management. Fiorucci was subsequently sold to a Japanese clothing company, while Elio Fiorucci retained creative control and direction. In 2003, Elio Fiorucci announced he was closing the original Milan flagship location, saying his values had changed and he had “fallen out of love with fashion.”
While the cherub iconography’s popularity has certainly boomed amongst Gen-Z fashion lovers and fast-fashion brands in the past couple years, both Fiorucci and historical angel iconography art’s influence remain strong in modern product marketing. Many brand creators and fashion designers have utilized the angel’s artistic influence to create products and clothing to appeal to people of all ages.
Hannah Valentine, a vintage Depop seller from St. Louis, Missouri, believes angel iconography isn’t really anything new. “I think it’s been here the whole time, evolving and changing forms. I’ve seen angel iconography [throughout my life], from my Bratz dolls when I was younger all the way up to shopping for my own wardrobe today,” Hannah said. “One of the Bratz dolls, Cloe, goes by Angel and Bratz also came out with a collection named ‘Bratz Rock Angelz.’ So the angel aesthetic was prominent in my childhood, and I think many others my age can agree.”
In general, early ‘00s clothing and memorabilia have been making a comeback. Hannah explained, “Kidcore fashion, a topic recently featured on the Depop explore page, is a whole aesthetic based on bright colors, cartoon pieces, and the nostalgia that goes along with wearing the same clothes you’d wear as a kid or wish you wore as a kid.” It’s possible that Fiorucci’s recent revival is largely rooted in nostalgia.
“The cherub graphic seems to be everywhere. Fiorucci was the original brand to use that sort of graphic way back in the day,” Whitney Sanders, a Depop seller from Des Moines, Iowa, said. As for whether or not the angel iconography is just a current fashion phase or a true testament to its prominence through history, Whitney believes it’s the former. “I love that they’ve recently made a comeback. But I feel like the angel graphic is kind of a fad and the hype around Fiorucci won’t stick,” she said.
Fiorucci’s revival goes deeper than social media, though. The angel iconography’s presence in history is long-standing, but it continues to manifest itself in different aspects of 21st-century fashion and pop culture.
As for me, I’ve felt a very weird sense of pride since I came across a Fiorucci item without having to drop a pretty penny for it. But my belief that I’d found a rare item recently revealed itself as delusion. After browsing Fiorucci’s site, I found out that just about anyone can own a Fiorucci red tin box—for free. As of now, the red tin box comes free with any purchase, and if you’re interested in just the box, it costs ten euros. (It’s worth it, IMO.)
By Irine Le