The history of American fashion is peppered with colourful characters, designers whose singularity of vision has contributed a wealth of creative flair to the wider cultural landscape via their transformative clothes and the worlds they create around them. From the wartime architectures of the grumpy couturier Charles James, to the ‘flou’ gowns of Studio 54 fixture Roy Halston, the grunge years of Marc Jacobs and the costume antics of Patricia Field, there are designers who have risen above and beyond their titles to become icons in their own right—and LA-based autodidact Jeremy Scott can surely be counted among them.
Known across the planet for his tongue-in-cheek, saccharine sweet designs for both women and men, Scott has built his very own empire of kitsch, borrowing from a gamut of 20th century visual language cues—from club kids to rockabilly, surf and skate culture, or the fantasy of superheroes. As one of the pioneers of streetwear collaborations, the designer has recognised the inherent value in the crossover of high and low culture for years; Scott’s Adidas footwear and clothing collection has a global cult following, and in 2013 he was named creative director of the then ailing Italian house Moschino. He has since turned Moschino’s image and fortunes around, with an irreverent dose of youthful energy and high fashion humour that has ranged from Barbie dolls to pill shaped iPhone cases, and even smoking, flame charred ball gowns.
I visited Scott at his studio located amongst the vintage stores and record shops down the wrong end of Melrose Avenue in LA. Arriving outside a nondescript, blacked out shopfront, I double and triple checked the address, however any doubts rapidly subsided when Jeremy himself opened the door, welcoming me into his colourful world.
Photo by Jemal Countess / Getty Images.
Dan Thawley: How long have you lived in LA now Jeremy? Jeremy Scott: Since February 2002. So over a decade, and some now. I always think I lived here a decade, but then I forget, it’s like …
DT: Fourteen years or so. JS: Yeah. I mean, I was a pioneer here. It was not really yet heard of, or thought of, or understood, but I knew instinctually for me that it was right. It was the same feeling I had when I moved to Paris from New York, when I left school. And I knew even though it didn’t really make sense, it was right. And I didn’t have a place to live, I didn’t have this, I didn’t have that, but I knew I needed to go there because it was burning inside me. And the same thing was happening with LA, I was like, well this is a little bit weird, because you’re doing really great in Paris, and you’re making a good name for yourself, and here’s all this fancy stuff happening. Like, Karl Lagerfeld telling people that you’re the only one to take over Chanel after him, and you’ve got all this stuff going on and you’re gonna fucking walk away to a city that doesn’t have a fucking fashion community? I mean, I had the conversation with myself. Other people were like, huh? And then lo and behold, I’m in the centre of the world. But that doesn’t even really matter, because what really matters is that I felt I needed to because of the way I felt in my heart, and I needed to because I needed to continue to grow as a artist and grow as an individual to be able to give the work that I needed to give and I wouldn’t be giving that work today if I stayed in Paris. I don’t know what would’ve happened, to be honest with you. I don’t think that there was anybody hardly from my generation, or even above or below that started in Paris that really survived in any kind of little thing. Raf [Simons], who was earlier than me, he’s done fine. He was at least, I don’t know, maybe four, five years ahead of me. I went to his shows, I went to his casting once even …
DT: Really? JS: Someone said, ‘You have to come to his casting’. I’m like it’s so weird, I’m not a model. They’re like, ‘No he’s looking for people that look like you’. And so then I go and I remember, I mean, I already knew Raf because I’d been to his show, I’d been to a thing … I was like, hi. I was just dead skinny and wearing like Christiane F-looking clothes at that time, so it was like a complete package. Like red leather jeans from the 1980s and you know …
DT: Did you go to Martin Margiela’s shows? JS: I went to at least one. When I first moved to Paris, and before I started working. I crashed a lot of shows and saw lots of shows. Which was a phenomenal experience to just see everyone’s different … How do you explain it? DT: Their world? JS: Their voice, yeah their world. Because I think a lot of time if you don’t see that, you don’t really understand how you can make your own, and I was very lucky to do that. I saw a lot of shows once I started and was doing well. Karl would have me come to all of these Chanel shows and have me sit with him during his fittings at couture because I didn’t work at that time. It was the old days when there was two collections a year for normal folks, instead of every five minutes.
DT: Is that how you met the sound designer Michel Gaubert, through Karl Lagerfeld? JS: No, Michel and I met prior. Michel’s been working on my music since my third collection. Karl used to send messages to me through Michel, like ‘Oh, tell Jeremy I love this’. And I would send my messages back and then it started with Devon [Aoki] and then finally we became friends and he would just call me—instead of sending a message through someone. But yeah, I was very skeptical at first because, I was like, oh, I don’t think anyone understands how to fit music to my images, and then we kind of got to know each other, and he just hit it out of the park and we’ve been working together ever since, and he’s one of my best friends. That’s how I met you. DT: Yeah, exactly. He’s a connector. JS: Michel is a huge part of my history, because he’s been part of my whole creative world, putting the soundtrack to my life’s work. In the back of my book, I have a dedication to him. ‘To maestro Michel Gaubert for giving a soundtrack to my life’s work.’ Sometimes I post the show pictures on Instagram and I tag him. I’ll write about the music because I think it’s so hugely important. DT: Who else are your Paris people? JS: Sarah [Andelman] from Colette, because I started with her. Catherine Baba because I met her the first week I was there, and it’s amazing to see. I was just like, oh my god, she just got shot by Mario Testino too. I mean I know she’s been doing this for a long time. It just struck me the other day because we literally were just kids at a club and I turned to her and I was like, I like your makeup, have I met you before in New York? And she was like, ‘I like your makeup too, but no I’ve never been to New York’.
DT: I wanted to ask you about memory in your work and in your life. I thought maybe a good place to start would be your documentary. That was a pretty special moment in New York, with your family present. Could you tell me how putting that together actually influenced your own thoughts on looking back at your career? JS: When Vlad Yudin proposed this documentary, I never thought it was going to be a story about my life. I just kind of thought it was about my work, and I share my work every six months, well now even more frequently, so I thought, oh, this is what I do already. I show a show, I share it, I talk about it, what’s different? To me it felt like, great, it’s posterity. I didn’t really think that somehow we’re gonna end up telling the story of my life. Maybe it’s best that way, because I just went in very naively and things kept unfolding and unfolding and unfolding. At one point there, I am going to the farm I grew up on, so I kind of saw where it was going. Then I saw the edit, and I was like, oh, wow, this is kind of powerful. It wasn’t what I thought it was gonna be. I wasn’t the director of the film, I was the subject. So it’s not my story that I was telling in the film, even though it is my story, but you know what I mean? I wasn’t shaping it like he was.
DT: He treated everything with such respect, and a sense of poignancy, more so than maybe even you have for your work. JS: Yes! And I knew that when I met him by the way he talked about what he wanted to do. It made me feel confident, that I could trust him, because ultimately it’s a big issue of trust to let someone into your life like that. When he approached me only about four people knew about the Moschino job, so he really came purely through a love of the work I had been doing my whole career. His whole team were nice. They flew out here to meet me and then I said yes, because I knew what was gonna happen with Moschino, and I thought it’s silly not to capture this because this is a big turning point—the fact that I had finally decided to take on doing another house. I knew it would be a big deal because I’ve skirted it for my whole career. I’ve had offers since probably my second show. DT: Any you can mention? JS: Yeah, I can mention some of them. I mean, I’ve had Versace, Gucci, Chloé, Louis Féraud, Paco Rabanne … Different things at different times … I just never felt like anything was really the right thing for me. I’ve met with people, I’ve talked to people, some people I didn’t meet with and I decided, this is not gonna go very good anyway. Some people I respected but it was like, I humbly respect to not do this. Moschino, finally, was something that spoke to me and I was at a point in my life where I was like, oh yeah, I can do this and not sacrifice everything else I’ve done. DT: Did you have your own vision of Moschino from afar when the job came up? JS: I’ve always been very keen and aware of the sensibility of Franco. To me, he’s one of the great fashion designers of the 20th century, and I felt like he … or the fact that he, like Jean Paul [Gaultier], used humour in a way that speaks to me, because of the way I work. So there was a kinship that I already had with him and with his work. Now was I an expert? By no means. Maybe I’m becoming one? But what is fascinating to me is as I continue on this journey, how many times there’s things I discover in hindsight, or later or things that sometimes never come up to the public, that we both did that were similar. Just recently I’ve found that his first ad was a black and white photo of a Barbie. DT: Really! JS: Having no one ever tell me this, no one ever, ever explained this to me. I have already done two Barbies myself, much less now the third, because I found it out between number two and this one from last week. His first ad was a Barbie, so instinctively me deciding to do a Barbie collection is just really in keeping [with the legacy]. So it wasn’t … I did it … and that part of it proves my point to myself, just follow your instincts. Follow your own actual feelings because that’s what’s gonna serve best here and it’s the closest to being probably a hand-in-glove fit. I think that … because I’m not trying to parade as a drag act of Franco Moschino, I’m trying to breathe life into what I think is the essence of that. So it’s a different thing, and ultimately a lot of what I do, yes, it’s very true to me, but I feel like it speaks perfectly for Franco and for Moschino. DT: And certainly to update it, as well. JS: Yeah, and it’s resonating with people and that’s the ultimate compliment. And that to me is what really matters.
DT: What’s equally interesting is that whilst you and certain members of the professional community have a direct memory and respect for Franco, there’s also a generation that you have attracted to Moschino yourself that don’t have that fashion culture. JS: I find that there’s always been a lot of misconception about what Moschino was. The first 10 years were his, but then after that it became a very conservative, stale kind of granny brand, I mean as far as the output. It still somehow meant there was supposed to be some kind of whimsy, but it was just through so many layers, you didn’t really get it … I just kinda felt like so many people are so misinformed about what the brand is, or what it was or what he stood for, and I constantly feel more affirmed that I’m the right person. My best compliment, I would say, was [from] Jean Paul Gaultier, because Franco loved him … There’s a lot of people that still work at the company that worked with [Franco] and started with him. And those are compliments that I also hold very true, maybe a little less excited to talk about them to a larger audience because you don’t know these people. But when the graphic designer who’s still there now, who started with him, grabbed me in the hallway and told me that he was so happy I was there, on my first week there, because he could finally do fun things again.
DT: Your Paris years were very important for your larger body of work, and I suppose you fit into that scene in a certain time. Now you’re between LA and Milan, I’m sure it’s a very different feeling, it’s a different time. Do you take any of that early Paris spirit with you now? JS: I feel like I always have a very rebellious spirit. I don’t know if maybe I care less or not, but I almost feel like probably I care less about that approval from the establishment because I get my fix where it should come from—the fans. And that’s the ultimate success story, when people who buy your clothes, love your clothes, even people who emulate wanting to have your clothes. When you’re getting that, it doesn’t really matter if, let’s say, a 50-something year old woman who you’re not dressing doesn’t like it. Even though they are supposed to be the authority—there are a lot of people in that position who don’t really know what they’re talking about, honestly. DT: It’s true.
I care less about that approval from the establishment because I get my fix where it should come from—the fans.
JS: When you were talking about memory at the beginning, that’s something that I work with all the time in my work, because I feel like I’m constantly trying to invoke memories that I’ve had. And those are so elusive, because they are sometimes things that I don’t even have a photo of. It’s a feeling I had of getting dressed up to go out when I was in college. It’s a feeling I had looking at the magazines and seeing the things I wished, and the places I wished I was going when I was in high school. It’s a feeling I had 10 years ago, maybe, and looking at it now and thinking about the feeling I had then. So there’s a lot of times I’m working with feelings and a memory of how I felt about it, or a memory of what that sensation was. And to me it’s a much newer inspiration to work with. It’s more in the recent years. When I started, I don’t think I was thinking about memories as much as I was thinking about these things I didn’t get to live. I was fantasising about what it must’ve been like to be in the early 1980s, in Paris going to the Palace with Eva Ionesco and getting dressed up. And I’ve now been fortunate enough, and that’s one of the beauties about age is honestly having time to experience life and to be able to say, oh my god … I remember that feeling, I remember that sensation. Wanting to evoke that, and that to me is a constant creative impulse I have. Besides the fact that on the flip side of using it as an inspiration, I’ve always felt, at least for the last decade—if not more—that I wanted to constantly make sure that my work created memories for people. Even if it’s something about the shoes you were wearing when you were out—you were dancing all night, and you met this guy and you made out and you had a picture, and then he became your husband. And there’s a memory in that picture of the thing you were wearing that was mine, or even doing the baby strollers I’ve done. Because think about it. Those baby pictures and those baby strollers, those kids grow up and one day, they’re gonna be your age and they’re gonna be showing their loved one that picture, and they’re gonna be like, what? You were in this crazy stroller, what is that? And like, I had a mother fucking Jeremy Scott stroller. And they’re like, what? You had a motherfucking Jeremy Scott stroller? And then it’s like I’m part of your memory forever, I’m part of your life forever, and that’s one of the reasons why I did the Adidas collaboration. I wanted to have my clothes prolifically everywhere without compromise, which I was able to do.
DT: How do you distinguish your own personal memories and the wider idea of collective memories? How do you separate yourself, even between the two brands? Is it sometimes oh this is about me, this about the kids today, this is about me and my generation of kids. Does that kind of come up? JS: I think it’s blurry. It’s like musical notes and you can take some and make this song, or you can take some of the same ones and make another song adding some others and it felt like it just kind of blurs. And there’s different generations. There was a time when I was in Japan all the time, and there’s all the Tokyo kids and they were all very prevalent, but they’re not as prevalent for me right now and I don’t know if it’s changed in Tokyo. From what I hear from people it has. So then it’s like, is it about the LA kids now? I don’t know.
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