10 Reads: Jeremy Scott
Toot-toot! Jeremy Scott pulls up outside The Ivy in LA in a slick, black Mercedes G-Wagon that has plenty of vroom. Given his taste for cartoonish design I had hoped he might be driving a monster truck, but this will do nicely. I climb up into his ride and off we go. He has lived and worked in LA since 2001 and is taking me on a whirlwind tour. First stop, the concept store Just One Eye, famous for selling Valentino on Skid Row (actually it’s round the corner from Skid Row but definitely on the wrong side of the tracks).
Scott casually flicks the rails of fashion, but a $25,000 black leather porcupine pouf that is the size of a Smart car steals his attention. He circles it and tests its quilted leather spines for comfort. Now this he could live with. It would go nicely with the collection of Memphis furniture and kitsch ephemera (burger phone, anyone?) in his mid-century house up in the Hollywood Hills.
From his big bay window, he can see the famous Chinese Theatre, where the Oscars are held. “I’m dead central, like smack dab. The Oscars happen down the street,” he says with glee. “It’s amazing because I’m watching TV and then look out my window and there’s everything you’ve seen on TV – all the helicopters, the blimp, it’s like, right there.” This proximity to celebrity culture makes him very happy indeed. “Some of my work is about pop culture and about speaking to people with the iconography of pop culture. LA is the ultimate beacon of light for that,” he says.
A pierced and tattooed shop assistant recognises Scott and twitches with excitement. For a particular kind of club kid, fashion insider, streetwear fanatic, or social-media-obsessed superstar, Scott is bigger than Kim and Kanye. He knows he’s a hero and an icon and takes his duties seriously. He gets mobbed in Japan and says the big, black, hip-hop-mad security guards who buy his Adidas designs are always stopping him at airports for selfies. Some fans want autographs, others want him to draw something. He always obliges. “I can’t say no. I love them so much and I love that what I do touches their lives. I have legions of fans that need me. So I have a purpose,” he says.
Today he’s dressed in faded blue denim dungarees cut off at the knee, and his impressive guns are on display. Like everyone in LA (with the exception of Lindsay Lohan, who danced on tables and dared to smoke inside at his Moschino men’s afterparty in London this summer), Scott is a health nut. “I have a very simple life,” he says, “I have a trainer, I spend about four to five days a week with her two hours a day. And I love to go hiking and jogging. My social life is going to SoulCycle. I go every day, sometimes twice. They play all my divas that I dress. They do special diva classes where it’s, like, all Rihanna, or Beyoncé vs Destiny’s Child and it’s, like, so much fun,” he says. A committed vegetarian, he also has his meals delivered: “So I have proper balance of protein and I don’t have to question where next meal is coming from.” Put simply, his life is exercise, healthy food and lots of work. It’s an exemplary LA existence.
He has a studio 10 minutes from his house and spends part of each month in Milan as the creative director of Moschino, but much of his time is spent alone dreaming and creating. “So much of what I do is about thinking. It’s insular,” he says. The incredible things that come out of his head – winged Smart cars, Betty Rubble cocktail dresses, sexy burkinis, teddy-bear trainers, Chanel-style suits done in McDonald’s livery – all have a jokey “look at me” quality.
“I know that I have a unique role,” he says of his place in fashion. “I’m kind of in my own aisle, in a sense. And I’m proud of it. I carved my own niche,” Minimalism simply doesn’t work for him. “For some designers the terrific blockbuster has to be something that’s simple, but that’s not the case with me. The terrific blockbuster with me is always, actually, the more ratcheted-up one – pink poodles with white sunglasses was a number-one global seller for Adidas,” he says, referring to the trainers he designed with stuffed toys attached to the toe. He always plays to his strengths. “What works for me is being me with the volume turned up. That’s what is really great, because on the flipside I’m creatively fulfilled and I’m not feeling restrained by the things I do. You know – like teddy-bear shoes and winged cars and such – and at the same time it’s successful.”
He talks a lot about “staying true” and creating designs that are “genuine and pure of thought”. Indeed, Scott has been making cartoonish, kitsch clothes steeped in popular-culture references since the beginning of his career, but it’s only now, in the Instagram age, that his full potential is being realised. “I think that time has caught up with me. I was ahead of my time by years. Now it all makes more sense within culture and time, and people have kind of got it,” he says and admits he deliberately designs to please the selfie generation. “I love to make things that people want to wear for their picture for their social networks. It’s identifying who they are. That’s the hoodie that they wore all night when they were out dancing with their friends, and these are the memories that they’ve created with my clothes. I want people to have fun in them,” he says.
His extrovert designs do have an intoxicating effect. Nowhere was that more evident than at his debut Moschino show in Milan. Rather than stride up and down like beautiful automatons, his models sashayed, twirled, grooved and strutted like a bunch of 1980s supers. Afterwards, as we spoke backstage, several ecstatic models came up to Scott and told him they had never had so much fun on a catwalk or felt more confident. “I loved that the girls felt so sexy and glamorous and had so much fun. There was optimism, humour, glamour and excitement,” he says, reciting his signature ingredients. “It’s the magic I sprinkle into every garment.”
His time is now. Back in the 1990s, being a show-off was niche, but today everyone is at it and nothing gets you noticed like a piece of Jeremy Scott. His clothes, he says, work like megaphones, amplifying the personalities of the people who wear them. It’s one of the reasons that social-media-mad celebrities such as Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj can’t get enough of him. “It helps them do their job,” he says. “This girl came up to me and she said, ‘Oh, can I have my picture with you? I’m a big fan.’ I was like, sure! She said, ‘I’m making music and one day I hope you’ll dress me’, and I was like, yeah, absolutely. I mean, I had no idea that she would become Katy Perry.”
Cara Delevingne likes to wear his men’s clothes. “When I think of her I think she must have been climbing trees as a little girl,” he says. “She takes the piss out of her beauty and I think that’s why people respond so well to her, because it’s so refreshing. I mean I remember Naomi telling me about zit cream back in the early 1990s on some House of Style thing, and it was very endearing.” Rihanna, for whom he has created tour outfits, “loves it and gets it. She can create the vision immediately in her head. And I think she’s right – fuck ’em, do it. It serves her well and I feel like it has served me well. Just be who you are and not be constrained and worry about what other people think”.
It’s all a long way from Kansas, where he grew up. As a kid, “fashion seemed like oxygen to me. I can’t imagine how I ever breathed without it. Now I can’t breathe because of it”, he says in a reference to his packed schedule. He describes his look at school as “controversial. There were physical altercations because of that”, yet he refused to tone his outfits down. “I’ve always been into mixing pyjamas and sleepwear with sportswear. I’ve always been inspired by hip-hop culture and music culture and mixing unexpected things together.”
After school, he would jump in the back of a pick-up with some friends and head to thrift stores to find the ingredients for the next day’s look. “Every day was like a new fashion show for me. I’d wear giant Aztec necklaces, whatever I could get my hands on.” It wasn’t exhibitionism, he insists. “I’m rather shy. It’s hard for people to understand that when you are doing a strong look, it might not be because you want people to look at you. This is just the way I feel I look good.”
He simply couldn’t conform, so there was only one option. Instead of being cowed by bullies, he says, “I grew stronger and more solid in in my convictions. At one point in high school I walked with my chin up so high, like a snob, as a protective mode against the other kids. I had to have super confidence to walk through school.” Ever since he was a teenager he has used fashion as a medium to communicate. “It’s my canvas – these are my paints, these are my strokes and this is my way of speaking to people. This is my music, this is my song. It fuels me; it’s why I do what I do. When I see these people and their enthusiasm, their excitement, I want to do more.”
As well as learning the power of fashion individualism, the other thing he studied hard was French, because all he wanted to do was move to Paris and be a fashion designer. He went to the Pratt Institute in New York, and then bought his airfare to France, where finally he was living his dream. Sort of. “I thought it would be, like, runways everywhere. I came with such big eyes, but I was the only one walking around in a gold lame jacket,” he recalls.
He didn’t know anyone, had no money and nowhere to live. “I had a place to stay for, like, four days.” He sofa surfed and sometimes slept on the Metro, all the time making new friends and finding his way in the city’s avant-garde fashion scene. He met Karl Lagerfeld through their shared muse Devon Aoki, and became part of his inner circle. Lagerfeld even famously declared Scott the only person he could imagine taking over from him at Chanel. “That was one of highest compliments I’ve ever received. It was a wonderful, generous thing to say. He has set the benchmark for designers doing brands,” says Scott.
Those were heady times in Paris. It was the late 1990s, and luxury conglomerates were competing with each other to buy into hot young designers’ talent. Scott was high on their hit list. “I had the same deals offered to me that Stella and McQueen had,” says Scott, who recalls having the creative directorships of six fashion houses offered to him in one day. A lot has happened since, but what is surprising is how little the man and his aesthetic have changed. I remember interviewing him in Paris in those early days in a freezing apartment in a rundown part of town. The place was empty save for a white crystal Judith Leiber polar bear bag on the mantel. It was clearly his most prized and only possession. He has still got the polar bear, although the love affair with Paris didn’t last. He turned down all the big jobs because he wanted to stay independent. “It’s always been really important to me to be and remain a voice of my generation and speak about my generation, and not get caught up in a system where I’m not really speaking from a place of being genuine. Freedom matters first and foremost to me. It’s still always about my spirit.” He made an exception for Moschino, of course, because he shares a kindred spirit with Franco. “I’m having the time of my life creating this vision and seeing it resonate with people.”
He’s happy with the way things have turned out. “If I think about some of those things I was offered – if I’d taken them, I never would’ve moved to Los Angeles and I’m so happy with my life.”Ahhh, LA. His move here in 2001 was like the final piece of a puzzle being put in place. “I made what was, for a lot of people, a bold choice at the time to leave Paris. You know, I’m sitting on top of the world and doing photoshoots with Karl and tra-la-la-la-la and then I’m moving to Los Angeles. I remember Anna Wintour looking at me and saying, ‘You mean New York?’ and I said no, Los Angeles. She couldn’t even fathom why a successful fashion designer would move to Los Angeles. It was disgusting to her.”
LA at that time was a fashion dead zone, not the creative hub it is today. But for Scott it was always his spiritual home. “I loved the sun, I loved the culture of this kind of fabulous make-believe life. There’s something about LA – it’s like the Wild West. You can imagine anything; you can be anything you want. It’s the land of make-believe.” It’s also the land where Scott’s American dream came true.
Photographer: Maria Ziegelboeck
By Claudia Croft