I started my Deluxe Redux blog back in October 2014. The first blog post was a rudimentary two-paragraph post on a vintage Carlo Fiori snakeskin handbag. At that time, there was limited information about this designer available.
Fast forward over two years later, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Fiori from the husband and wife design team of Fiori of Italy and learning about their fashion history. Fiori of Italy was an Italian brand known for handbags made of snakeskin and embossed leather collages and color combinations from the 1970’s and 1980’s.
Carlo and Sarah Fiori
Carlo and Sarah Fiori have been married for 56 years. Carlo was born in Italy and is a natural artist especially gifted in drawing. Sarah has been sewing and making her clothes since childhood. Her father owned a clothing store and was one of her fashion influences growing up. Sarah accompanied him to New York for buying trips during her teen years. Sarah studied fashion design in Miami. Sarah can cut and sew just about anything and excelled with color selection.
“Carlo, my husband of 56 years, is a wonderful artist so between the two of us we made a great team.“
- Sarah Fiori
How did Fiori of Italy start?
Carlo and Sarah Fiori began Fiori of Italy, Inc. in 1970. Sarah had just given birth to their youngest son a few months before. They started the company with $30 of grocery money and worked out of their home in South Florida. Besides designing, Carlo was responsible for the business end, and Sarah oversaw the factory production. She also managed the shipping orders and maintained the bookkeeping.
Carlo and Sarah designed macramé and leather belts and eventually added clothing pieces to their collection. They did well with lamb suede hot pants and vests. Using a wood burner pen, Carlo personalized the clothing pieces with monograms in a floral design.
Fiori of Italy sold to wholesale stores in their local area. Their first customer was the Jordan Marsh department store. One high-end boutique asked Fiori of Italy to create a handbag which matched the popular lamb suede hot pants. Having never made a handbag before, they purchased a McCall's pattern. The first Fiori of Italy handbag made of green lamb suede became an instant success. Carlo and Sarah soon decided that their primary business focus would be designing handbags along with accessories such as wallets, shoes, belts and various small leather goods.
Describe your creative process.
Both Carlo and Sarah designed their pieces and art work was completed in-house. They found inspiration from different sources including the influence of paintings and color inspirations. All of the reptile collages are works of art as no two are identical.
Collections were made for women except for reptile belts made for men. Fiori of Italy also made limited edition collections of artsy clothing in their tailor production room on the second story of their factory. They also produced small leather goods to complement their handbag line.
They purchased the majority of their materials in Italy at leather fairs in Florence, Milan, and Bologna. They also went on buying trips to Italy for Italian hardware. They traveled to both Italy and Spain for design work related to the Fiori of Italy shoe line.
Describe the production process.
Carlo did the cutting using steel rule dies on a press called a clicker. Sarah sewed along with a few employees. Sarah describes the business during the early years as being a true cottage industry. They hired their neighbors to hand-cut, sew and assemble their products. All the while, production took place in a spare room of their home.
Since Fiori of Italy cut by order and did not hold any stock, Carlo and Sarah required retail stores to purchase two-of-a-kind colors. The length of time to construct a piece varied on the design and how many textiles were involved. Employee skill level also varied; more than one person would complete construction of one piece.
Production continued in this fashion until 1997 when Fiori of Italy outgrew their home-based workspace. They moved production into a leased 1,000 sq. ft. space within a local warehouse. Eventually, they needed more space for the heavy cutting machines, industrial sewing machines, and additional employees, so Carlo and Sarah leased a larger 3,000 sq. ft. warehouse space.
Fiori of Italy continued to grow, and Carlo and Sarah purchased a piece of land in the industrial area. They built a 12,000 sq. ft. factory in Miami to house 5 clickers and 100 employees. Orders not able to be filled internally were completed by a contractor.
Where were your collections sold?
Fiori of Italy had wholesale showrooms in the handbag building at 320 5th Ave in NYC, LA, Dallas and at their factory in Miami. Carlo and Sarah traveled every month to various leather shows, trunk shows, and their showrooms across the country.
Their customers included major department stores and fine shops in the United States such as Nordstroms, Saks, and Bonwit Teller. They sold to stores located overseas including two large accounts in Japan.
Fiori of Italy also opened two retail shops. One storefront was in The Galleria in Dallas, Texas. The second boutique was located on Worth Avenue in Palm Beach, Florida.
When did Fiori of Italy close?
In August of 1992, Hurricane Andrew flooded Fiori of Italy's factory and destroyed Carlo and Sarah's home as well as their workers' homes. It was a difficult time for their family as it took one year to have their home repairs completed. They managed to save most of the Fiori of Italy Fall production with a limited work force.
In 1997 and after 27 years, Carlo and Sarah decided to close Fiori of Italy business operations and retire. In 1998, Carlo and Sarah moved to their home on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe where their two sons were living and going to college. They subsequently moved in 2001 to enjoy a quiet life in Naples, Florida.
Carlo and Sarah Fiori: Today
Carlo and Sarah have an industrial machine in their Naples home. Sarah still makes a few bags for herself and her friends. The ones that she makes for herself are soft reptile small shoulder bags.
When discussing the current fashion industry, Carlo and Sarah believe that the 1980's had it all and don't find that anything notably interesting is happening today. However, they do like Bottega Veneta styles and the napa leather that they use.
The Fioris believe their handbags have stood the test of time and are not surprised their vintage pieces are still being sold today. They have always believed in making "terrific fashionable products that exemplify good materials that will last for many years." Carlo and Sarah believe that Fiori of Italy's contribution to fashion history was pioneering the soft bag and collages that are still being produced today.
All handbags pictured here are from Lotta's personal collection.
August 12, 2017: Edited for:
Deluxe Redux® is a vintage fashion blog based in Chicago celebrating fashion history. I feature designers, vintage boutiques and fashion historians..