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On a 4-degree night in Manhattan, hours before his fall 2015 show at New York Fashion Week, Jeremy Scott wears a navy sweatshirt with Mickey Mouse’s rear-end stitched onto the back of it. A blunt line of bangs cases his forehead (he’s cut his own hair since he was seven) and though the designer often wears a tough-guy scowl in photos, he’s quick to smile in person. “Ca-yooot,” he exclaims approvingly as a model slips into a teddy bear-printed dress. Bags of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos lay scattered throughout the 2,000 square-foot workspace.
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If junk food, cartoon butts and teddy bears didn’t already make it clear, the zany universe that Scott, 40, has built during the past two decades is unlike that of his contemporaries. It’s saturated with humor and steeped in iconography (think Snickers bar- and Cheez-It-inspired dresses). And though his designs can sting with satire, they tap into the pulse of a pop culture-attuned America in a way that refined Dior frocks never have.
Scott’s loud, anti-couture ethos, which he says is “a convergence of music, fantasy and culture that’s not just immersed in boring high fashion,” is precisely why envelope-pushing pop stars including Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj and Miley Cyrus revere him.
“Jeremy has a vision that’s about more than just fashion,” says Charli XCX. “I fantasize about literally everything he makes.”
The 45 psychedelic baby-doll-inspired looks that made up his fall collection didn’t disappoint his fans. ASAP Ferg, who, along with Kanye West and Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Anthony Kiedis, got a front-row look, observed: “If fashion were a Bible, Jeremy would be one of the main disciples.”
Fashion critics, however, have been tougher to please. Though Style.com went on to call the latest looks “mind-bogglingly original,” the outlet is among a handful that refused to review his work for years after the highly controversial spring 2004 Sexybition collection in which models wore pasties and fishnet body suits.
Even his peers have come down hard. In 2002 Chanel creative director Karl Lagerfeld claimed that Scott had become “like a cartoon.” Previously a fan, Lagerfeld had once said Scott was the only designer who could replace him.
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If anything though, Lagerfeld’s insult proved prescient — and profitable. In February 2014, Scott served up clothes emblazoned with actual cartoons (SpongeBob SquarePants) when he made his high-profile debut as Moschino‘s new creative director. The Italian luxury label, for whom he now creates six collections plus swimwear and accessories lines annually, is historically known for its tongue-in-cheek approach to style.
It is, by all accounts, Scott’s perfect match and the epitome of an American dream realized. The designer interned with Moschino’s PR department in 1996 during his senior year at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute. Michelle Stein, president of Aeffe Group (the parent company), remembers working with Scott “back when he wore raccoon eye makeup and 1940s dresses.”
And now? “Absolutely everything has changed since Jeremy took over,” she says. In his 16-month reign, global sales have risen 14 percent overall (dresses typically retail between $675 and $2,000). “The brand was dormant, and he has sprung it to a new area of visibility, bolstered by his relationships with women in entertainment.”
In addition to Moschino, Scott produces two ready-to-wear collections every year for his namesake line and two collections for Adidas (with whom he has collaborated since 2001). The workload has “meant giving up a chunk of freedom,” he says. “Two movies in a row is no longer an option.”
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It also has Perry, who lives “five seconds away” from his Hollywood Hills home, concerned. “She was lecturing me about [the work]. We’re in my kitchen and she says, ‘You’re doing so much; I just worry. How are you handling all of this?'” he recalls with a smile. “I was like, ‘Thanks for the concern, but you’re the one on a world tour!’ “
World tour or not, Scott’s artist posse has been carving out time to play more than just spectator roles. Perry and Rita Ora walked the runway at his Moschino debut. Last September, Cyrus (whom he met at a party hosted by Madonna and now describes as “family, like a bone off of my rib”) collaborated on an accessory line titled Dirty Hippie for his music festival-themed collection.
“I sent her a text about making pieces for the show and swoosh! She responds immediately and full-on like Miley will do: ‘OK. I have all of these ideas. I’m going to get my clipboard. Do you want earrings? Do you want this?’ ” he remembers.
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The jewelry, tiaras and sculptures Cyrus crafted from an off-the-wall hodgepodge of neon beads, refrigerator magnets and car-freshener trees are the first of what Scott says will be a series of life-long collaborations. “We’re both hoarders,” adds Cyrus. “But I’ve never met someone who throws away less shit than me!”
Turning trash into couture is what first catapulted Scott into the high-fashion stratosphere. After graduating from Pratt in 1996, the jobless designer moved to Paris where he pulled together his first two collections by way of dumpster diving; most of the material came from paper hospital gowns, scraps of fabric from the Porte de Clignancourt flea market and garbage bags.
“I grew up with the idea that things should never be wasted, that they could always be altered from their intended use,” says Scott, who was born in Kansas City, Mo., and raised on a livestock farm built in the 1800s by teacher and engineer/barbecue-champion parents. My grandmother would take things like bread wrapper bags and braid them into jump ropes or rugs.”
By the time his fourth collection debuted, Bjork had caught wind of Scott’s work and placed her first order by phone. Though Madonna, Kylie Minogue, Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears followed suit, Scott also has proved to have an instinct for cultivating unknowns. “Rihanna, Miley, Rita, even Nicki — I dressed these women way before a lot of high-fashion establishments paid attention,” he says. “I see a spark, they see a spark in me, and then we spark together.”
Those muses will make appearances in Jeremy Scott: The People’s Designer, a documentary directed by Vlad Yudin (Death Metal Angola, Generation Iron) slated for release this fall. In it, Scott returns to the farm in Missouri for the first time in a decade and takes viewers through his creative process. Though he says it’s a way for him to “touch culture,” the film will likely affirm how powerfully enmeshed he already is. “I’ve had a great year and maybe this will be another big moment,” he adds.
An accomplishment, yes, but it will be hard to top the 2015 Super Bowl, where a record-breaking 118.5 million people watched Perry perform in four custom-made Scott looks. It was there that he stood beside the pop star as she mounted the gargantuan mechanical lion that carried her onto the field in a dress constructed out of leather flames. Though he says the fiery configuration was inspired by a sneaker he designed for Adidas, junk food might have also played a role. The popular Internet meme that immediately started trending? A split-screen image of Perry’s dress and a bag of — what else? — Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.
Check out more exclusive photos of Jeremy Scott at New York Fashion Week here.
A version of this story first appeared in the Mar. 14 issue of Billboard magazine.
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