"No one can do this better." That's what Jeremy Scott told Massimo Ferretti last summer, when Scott was summoned to Milan to discuss his appointment as the new creative director of Moschino. And when it was announced in October that Scott would be taking the reins at the legendary but ailing house, most fashion folks agreed with Scott's assessment of himself as the man for the job. After all, who better to take up the mantle of the designer who put teddy bears on dresses than the one who has sold millions of pairs of sneakers with teddy bears on the tongues?
And yet, Scott's appointment was sure to cause controversy, too. Franco Moschino was a rebel in his time, and his satires of fashion laid bare the industry's conventions—its faddishness, its peculiar etiquette, its superficiality and excess. One of his most notorious campaigns stated, "Stop the fashion system." But Moschino the brand is now owned by a powerful Italian fashion conglomerate, Aeffe, and it is based in Milan, a city not lately receptive to renegades. Even if Scott had no intention of picking up Moschino's original fashion critiques, it wasn't a sure bet that his pop-tastic, hashtag-savvy, L.A. sensibility would fit in at the house.
And thus the stage was set for one of this season's most anticipated debuts. Well before the Fall 2014 show in Milan, though, Scott made it clear that he had every intention of shaking things up. Upon arrival at Moschino, he redesigned the entire Pre-Fall collection—because, he said, he fretted that his "girls" had nothing to wear. The Jezza posse includes the likes of Katy Perry, Rita Ora, and Miley Cyrus, and with such women in mind, Scott conjured up a humorous, sports-inspired collection and one home run: a leather Perfecto jacket molded into a handbag. This was the Pre-Fall accessory that launched about a squillion Twitpics and Instagrams, and for many critics and buyers, it put Moschino back on the map. The Jeremy era had begun.
"J'adoooooore!" exclaimed Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele, Scott's stylist and partner in crime, as she trussed the buzzy Japanese actress Kiko Mizuhara in Moschino bling. A new addition to the Jezza posse, Mizuhara had been flown in especially to walk the show. "Divine!" Cerf de Dudzeele cried out, even more vehemently, as the fitting continued. Other than her exclamations, the scene at the Moschino studio was uncannily calm in the days leading up to the show. No big last-minute changes to the run-of-show or rushed additions being knocked out in the atelier. Rather, Scott seemed to approach the debut of his collection with the same placid confidence that informed its design. "I know the history of the brand well enough," Scott told me, explaining his decision to eschew the traditional deep dive into the archives. "I get it. I just feel very naturally what the brand should be today." For her part, Cerf de Dudzeele effused that Scott's kindred "spirit-ship" with the house was more meaningful than any Moschino 101 class. "It's a revival of a time," she said. "I used to go to the old Moschino shows, and it's that same energy! It's perfection!"
Backstage at the show, that energy was manifest. As Scott and Cerf de Dudzeele readied the collection for the catwalk, actress Jamie Clayton flitted around in one of last season's infamous shopping-bag dresses. Scott was bounding about from one camera crew to another, making the Moschino mantra known: "I don't speak Italian, but I do speak Moschino," he proclaimed, ad infinitum. Leigh Lezark and Rita Ora were already seated, having done some megawatt catwalk posing, and Katy Perry was on her way. Meanwhile, the crowd was getting antsy—when Perry arrived, she was booed, as most attendees blamed her for delaying the show. (Scott later attested that a tardy model was the cause.) Then, finally, the lights dimmed and came up again, and Lily McMenamy exited wearing a bon chic bon genre tweed suit in the bold colors made famous by McDonald's.
Once upon a time, Franco Moschino left tomatoes and flowers on editors' seats at a show, suggesting they could judge his collection as they pleased. Had Scott chosen to do the same, there would have been quite a mix of tomatoes and flora greeting his SpongeBob sweaters and junk-food gowns. Some front-rowers beamed as the models camped their way down the runway to the house track "From Disco to Disco." But a few others weren't so impressed. Notably, Vanessa Friedman, writing for the Financial Times, called out Scott's debut for being insensitive to women and frivolous at a time when Kiev was burning. She also asserted that, in comparison to Miuccia Prada's Fassbinder-inspired collection, Scott's homage to Budweiser and Hershey's bars lacked depth.
Scott has a pretty buoyant personality, but speaking to him after Friedman's review had come out, it was evident her Prada gibe had gotten to him.
"My show is no more or less frivolous than Prada's!" he pointed out. "What can I say? I'm an easy target. It's a very lonely island that I occupy." Scott shrugged. "My brain thinks in icons and working with things that universally bring people into it. I'm never going to be inspired by some obscure film, which isn't to say I don't enjoy that sort of thing. I just want to share my work with everyone."
Scott's egalitarian impulses take a form that's easy to disparage as one-dimensional. It's not, but he actually favors people staying on the surface of his work. He's a what-you-see-is-what-you-get designer. His designs invite some parsing, what with their playful, postmodern recontextualization of familiar images and tropes, but Scott would rather people take it all in as fun. "I like to think of my work and the way people approach it in the same way people approach a Lichtenstein painting," Scott said. "You can write a one-hundred-page dissertation about why he used comics. Or it could be like, 'This is cute!' "
When critics such as Friedman decry Scott as frivolous, they're simultaneously getting and missing the point. Scott is the perfect designer for the Instagram age, because he wants his work to be immediate—to be "liked," re-grammed, smiled about. He's not making a play for social-media attention just to be shrewd; he genuinely understands the platform and the way his work touches his audience. His superficiality is his authenticity—that's what accounts for the rabid response by fans to his work, whether he's designing for his Jeremy Scott label or collaborating with a mega-brand like Adidas. And Scott's fans are intense fans: There are people who have his face tattooed on their bodies, and Scott has received countless pieces of fan art, which he duly re-grams and re-tweets. "I couldn't have this much love if I didn't have a bit of hate," he noted.
This season, Scott earned some new fans of a different breed. "I got to hear feedback from people like Franco's former boyfriend [and] his graphic designer," he said. "These are people who knew and loved him. They felt like Franco had come alive again—I mean, they were crying after the show!" It's hard to argue with that sort of approval.
Also hard to argue with: the commercial reception of the Moschino collection. A capsule made up of pieces such as a cashmere Moschino-Golden Arches sweater and a French Fries iPhone case and matching backpack went live straight after the show, as well as into key retailers, including Browns and Colette. A day later, Anna Dello Russo got papped wearing a McDonald's-homage sweaterdress and bag. And about a week after that, the capsule had sold out, and Moschino's e-commerce Web site and partnering boutiques put in an urgent restock order. Eyeing those sales figures enviously, stores that hadn't stocked the brand raced to write purchase orders for the new collection. Savvy, savvy, savvy.
The kids queuing up at Moschino boutiques and demanding a fashion Happy Meal probably don't know who Franco Moschino is. They haven't heard his mantra, "Good taste doesn't exist." But they appreciate the sentiment, and that's why Scott was brought on by Aeffe—to excite the fashion-mad youth with his reenergized vision for the brand. And there's no refuting the broad and visceral enthusiasm for Scott's Moschino expressed via social media. Jezza girl Miley Cyrus sent Scott a WhatsApp message that read, "Immmm dying over a Moschino." Messages of approval chorused on Scott's Instagram—"Want want want!" "This is so perfect!" and "I fucking love this shit!" Likes racked up in the tens of thousands. Fashion criticism it's not, but in this digital day and age, you have to ask: Who or what matters more, the critic or the critical mass?
After the show, at Scott's party at the restaurant Giacomo, overlooking the Duomo, I found myself in the kitchen, where Scott and Perry were hamming it up for the cameras. "I feel excited and free, and I feel like I can finally share this secret that I've been keeping with everyone!" he shouted to me, over a tune by Britney Spears. "I'm just glad people liked it! People should be excited! This shouldn't be drudgery or a chore! Fashion should be fun and uplifting!" And with that, Scott declared the party to be "Fa-fa-fabulous" and went all out on a hilarious selfie with Perry and a dish of leftover lasagna. That's 18,600 likes on Instagram and counting.