Fun times at Moschino

Designer Jeremy Scott's offbeat collections have turned around the once ailing brand. GUY TREBAY reports

He's the funniest man in the fashion industry," singer Katy Perry said backstage at the Moschino show last Thursday, held in a series of frescoed salons of the fabled Palazzo Corsini in Florence, Italy. She was talking about her old pal, designer Jeremy Scott.

"Actually, Jeremy's one of the only ones in fashion with a sense of humour," she said, adding that as no one in fashion is charged with curing cancer or plotting a Mars exploration, it would not hurt to lighten up. All around Perry, shirtless muscular male models were loafing. They were adorned with hairdresser Paul Hanlon's interpretation of 18th-century coiffures, to which make-up artist Tom Pecheux had added carmined lips and Casanova-style domino beauty spots.

"The inspiration is varied," Scott had said in an interview earlier, referring to his debut menswear collection for a label that, since it named him designer in 2014, he has rescued from the commercial doldrums and put into turnaround.

"It's, like, from baroque to rococo to Louis XIV to professional cyclists to Jimi Hendrix, with maybe a nod to Prince in there and a little bit of 'Staying Alive'."

Ever the pop maximalist, Scott put on a show that mixed court shoes with knee breeches, added punning patches to motocross jackets and offered bikini bottoms and trousers emblazoned with cartoonish motifs, as well as a selection of women's clothes that were the runway equivalent of cartoon thought balloons.

If it was not a triumph, exactly, it was a wittily commercial collection that served to alert his detractors that Scott, a perennial next big thing, had definitively arrived.

"A lot of designers approve the wedding of Moschino and Jeremy," said Michel Gaubert, the superstar disc jockey who has provided the music for Scott's shows since 1998.

The reasons are clear, said Gaubert: "It's his way of doing things, his perceptions of the pop culture phenomenon, the fact that he is not afraid of doing irony."

Ms Michelle Stein, the US president of Aeffe, the Italian holding company that counts Moschino among its labels, said: "He was the ideal choice in retrospect, as he possessed many of the characteristics that Franco possessed." She was referring to the label's wittily rebellious founder, Franco Moschino, who died of Aids in 1994.

"Jeremy has a tongue-in-cheek approach to pop culture and his ear to the ground unlike anyone else's," she said. "We're also doing 10 times what we did before the hire in terms of sales."

To a certain extent, that is due to Scott's shrewd exploitation of social media, an arena in which, like Perry, he cultivated a huge international base of followers. When Ms Stein said she had hired him less for his design skills than for his Instagram presence in developing markets, she was only half-joking.

"He may be an underdog that is finally getting his proper respect from the fashion world, but he has full respect from the pop world," said Mr Vlad Yudin, director of The People's Designer, a documentary about Scott set for theatrical release later this year. "Kids gravitate to something in him. It's almost like a movement. Teenagers really follow him."

The justice of that is not lost on the designer, who was born in 1974 and raised on a farm outside Kansas City, Missouri, and who was, by all accounts, a born eccentric.

Long before he attended Pratt Institute for fashion design, he showed a first collection in Paris based on paper hospital gowns that brought him to the attention of Karl Lagerfeld and the fashion establishment, which alternately embraced and derided him.

He set out on a career with controversial collections full of pop references and cultural critique that either delighted or rankled the critical and commercial establishment. He was the archetypal flamboyant high school loner. Bullies victimised him every day.

"There was not a week in high school that I was not attacked physically or verbally, based on how I looked," Scott said, after a dress rehearsal for his show. Dressed in the embroidered sweatpant knickers and sequinned pumps that practically count as "normcore" on a designer who once went around New York wearing cornrows, and kimonos and with rapper grills on his teeth, he seemed startlingly unruffled for a designer making an important debut.

"You know, Karl once said to me, 'There was a world before pop,' and I was, like, 'Wow, pop is the only world I've ever known,'" said Scott, referring to his former mentor, Lagerfeld.

"I want people to see humour in my designs. There are so many serious things happening that if I can leave people laughing at a tennis shoe sprouting wings or a perfume bottle that looks like a teddy bear, I've done my job."

~ THE NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 26, 2015, with the headline 'Fun times at Moschino'. Print Edition | Subscribe