Ever since the 1990s, when established fashion houses began jazzing themselves up by hiring big-name talent from outside their ranks, industry watchers have spent countless hours speculating who will be tapped next for which brand. Sometimes the appointments are head-scratchers, but on occasion a designer and a house are such a perfect fit that you wonder what took them so long. Such is the case with Jeremy Scott, 38, who was appointed the creative director of Moschino in late October and was already designing his first collection for the house when we met in Milan right before Thanksgiving. So the Italian label made famous in the ’80s by tweaking upscale ready-to-wear with cheeky iconography and brand spoofs is being run by the American designer made famous in the ’90s by tweaking upscale ready-to-wear with cheeky iconography and brand spoofs. To further the meet-cute narrative, Scott’s first job out of fashion school at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute, in 1996, was interning for Moschino’s then head of PR, Michelle Stein. That same Michelle Stein, now in charge of Moschino’s parent company, Aeffe, was the one who called Scott to offer him the job last summer. Interns, dare to dream.
Did Scott even hesitate when he got the call? “Uh, no!” he says, laughing. We were sitting in a conference room next to the in-house cafeteria, where we had just had lunch. “It’s such a no-brainer, and those kinds of offers don’t come around very often. You don’t always find that one person who can fit the house DNA seamlessly and also bring something new. One thing I have that the majority of other designers don’t is humor. That’s distinctly my approach, and it was distinctly Franco Moschino’s, too.”
Where Moschino sent models onto the runway in Indian-chief headdresses and Mickey Mouse ears (complemented by giant gloves), Scott has played with superhero motifs and dedicated an entire collection to the Flintstones—jagged-hemmed cave dresses and all. Teddy bears have been key for both designers: adorning the neck of a Moschino cocktail dress in 1988 and sitting cheek to jowl on a pair of Jeremy Scott Adidas 14 years later. For all of Moschino’s overt swipes at the fashion machine (waist of money read the belt line of one jacket), for all the times he claimed he wasn’t really a fashion designer, the man, who died at 44, in 1994, really knew how to cut a suit. And for all of Scott’s eat-the-rich runway theatrics—like his fall 2001 presentation, where supermodels put on a mock game show—his dollar-printed trenchcoat and gold-watch-emblazoned evening column skimmed the body in all the right places. Because no matter how arch a woman wants to be as she comments on consumerism through the appropriation of mass cultural symbols, her butt needs to look good in her fun pants. Moschino never forgot that, and neither has Scott. “Jeremy’s talent is to propagandize with visuals,” says the stylist Catherine Baba, who has been close friends with the designer since the ’90s. “But the second part of what he does is construction. There’s humor and irony but also engineering.”
When Michelle Stein placed that call last June, it’s not like Scott desperately needed a lifeline. He’s come a long way in the 19 years since he put on his first show in Paris, pulled together by Dumpster diving and prayer. (Literally: Scott salvaged almost all the raw materials for his first two Paris collections from surplus paper hospital gowns and the refuse at Paris’s Saint-Ouen flea market.) “I had no job, had to eat, and didn’t want to steal,” he says. “Let’s just say there was a lot of bread.” A few times, when he didn’t have a couch to crash on, he slept in the metro. But his look at the time—“It could have been a destroyed 1930s floral dress with a weird puffer jacket I made out of shower curtains, stacked shoes, shaved and colored hair, and makeup”—soon got him work promoting parties at the Folies Pigalle nightclub, where he met kindred spirits like Baba and the choreographer and photographer Ali Mahdavi, both of whom helped for free on his early shows. After his second and third presentations won the prestigious Venus de la Mode award, things took off. Karl Lagerfeld famously said that Scott was the only person working in fashion who could take over Chanel after he left. Scott was first in the door at the brand-new boutique Colette, where his work has been sold ever since. Yet, says Scott, “I didn’t even think about selling.” And he still doesn’t, really. It took a long pause for him to remember what his own collection retails for now. (Answer: T-shirts are about $125, knits around $400, with only leather pieces going for more than $850.)
What Scott did (and still does) think about is making a statement. “After my third show, my assistant handed me the phone, and I heard this tiny little voice saying, ‘Hello, it’s Björk,’” he recalls. “The Sugarcubes and Madonna were the only two concerts I had ever gone to, and then suddenly Björk was wearing my clothes.” Scott has been a go-to designer for the look-at-me set ever since: Madonna, Britney Spears, Kanye West, Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj, Beth Ditto, Rita Ora, and A$AP Rocky are all repeat customers. Rihanna is devoted, as is Katy Perry, for whom Scott has designed indelible show looks, like a Hershey’s Kisses bra that wound up on the cover of Rolling Stone. “He brings a lighthearted self-deprecation to his clothes that makes them stand out from the ultraseriousness that sometimes defines fashion,” Perry says. “Wearing his clothes makes me feel one-of-a-kind.” Scott’s ability to connect with young people—and the celebrities they worship—is a boon for Moschino.
Despite the celebrity love and custom-made one-offs, Scott has a more populist view of fashion than many of his cohorts. Soon after he relocated to Los Angeles, in 2002, Adidas knocked on his door, asking him to do a small project called I-signed. Scott created simple shoes rendered in his dollar-print logo; they flew out the door. Subsequent small-scale collaborations paved the way for the ongoing Jeremy Scott for Adidas collections. (If you’re looking for winged sneakers, acid-bright bombers and tracksuits, and op art wedges, consider this line one-stop shopping.) “Working with Adidas proves my point that everyone wants more-exciting things—they just need to be affordable,” Scott says. “I want my clothes to have a life and then end up in a secondhand store, where some cool girl discovers them 20 years later. If the runway or red carpet is the only life clothes have, it’s sad.” It explains why Scott also collaborates on bags for Longchamp and has released eight Swatch designs.
But at Moschino, there will be eveningwear and luxury, and the clothes will come with hefty price tags. When I visited him in Milan, Scott was working on a cluster of dramatically cut draped gowns that he was planning to realize in cheeky prints. The real challenge for him will be the relative enormousness of Moschino’s business, which includes accessories, fragrances, and a secondary line called Cheap and Chic. Scott says he’s not giving up any of his other endeavors. He’s staying at the Principe di Savoia hotel until he gets enough of a sense of the rhythm of his life in Milan to get an apartment. (He will commute between Los Angeles and Milan.) “I feel very creative in Milan,” he says. “I look at myself like a farmer, harvesting my wares and taking them to the market, and then I go back and do it again.” One thing that won’t change, no matter where he lives, is Scott’s vision of fashion. “Being pure in my voice has always served me the best,” he says. “Anytime I’ve tried to hide my light under a bushel, it’s never done me any good. So I won’t go down that road.” Especially when the one he’s on is paved with teddy bears. “Yeah!” he says. “Here, I’m home.”