With his twiggy frame, razor-blade necklace and bandanna-wrapped mullet ‘do, Jeremy Scott looks like he should be tweaking on speed and cruising in a Camaro somewhere in the Midwest. He certainly doesn’t appear to be an internationally acclaimed powerhouse designer -- and one who pals around with Karl Lagerfeld to boot -- but his conceptual clothes have been inspiring lovehate responses (and sometimes both simultaneously) among fashion elites since he started showing about five years ago. In fact, his designs are more about ideas than about wearability -- witness his swimsuit with an attached 3-foot-high, boned half-shell, or leather dresses based on real and imagined New York skyscrapers, or a stiff, round, wool wraparound cape with nothing worn underneath.
Scott, who moved to L.A. a few months ago, prides himself for not designing in the context of day-to-day living but rather for his notoriously elaborate runway performances: fashion as pop spectacle, with themes ranging from “The Rebuilding of Chernobyl” to “American Greed.” His collections are extravagant, polemic, visionary, even kitschy, and while he dresses Peaches, Bjork, Madonna and Brit fashion doyenne Isabella Blow, and has costumed the latest production of the performance group Fischer-Spooner, one is more likely to see his clothes in a photograph than on the street: Nearly his entire current collection, which hasn‘t yet gone into production, has been checked out for celebrity shoots to photographers such as David LaChapelle.
Kansas City was unable to keep the boy down, and Scott left to study fashion design at Pratt in NYC, where he became a tailoring perfectionist. American design in the CalvinDonnaRalph era of crass commercialism turned him off, so he went to Paris at 22 years old. He wanted to intern with one of the big designers but couldn’t get legal work papers, so a friend dared him to just put together a collection. And he did. By his third season, he was receiving awards and had developed an obsessive following among fashionistas. France had been lacking a youth-culture movement, and the wild American country boy became the exotic outsider welcomed in, a huge deal in a culture where following fashion is the national pastime and foreigners aren‘t always embraced.
By his 10th show, Scott felt he had become “too small and too big at the same time.” He decided to reclaim his American heritage, after putting on a final extravaganza in Paris that featured a garish TV-game-show-influenced finale with refrigerators, fur stoles and Scott himself on the runway throwing money into the audience. The spoof was caught by Vanna White’s stylists, who, rather than being miffed, seized the moment and capitalized on it: Scott dressed her for an entire week on Wheel of Fortune, which also brought him on as a guest and used him as a clue.
Goodbye ooh la la and hello east Melrose, where Scott has a studio filled with customized silk textiles (with his portrait on a dollar bill) and mink pelts bleached into zebra patterns. Although he opened Fashion Week in New York this spring with an homage to futurism, he plans to start showing in L.A.
“I love it here! Three years ago, Mario Testino brought me out here to do a photo for American Vogue, and I stayed for two weeks. I kept coming back, and I felt so good here. I thought, ‘I can live in L.A.’ For fashion designers, it‘s still this weird thing. [Vogue editor] Anna Wintour asked, ’What are you doing?‘ But my favorite designer is Rudi Gernreich -- he changed everything in the ’60s. And it‘s super glamorous here, the whole idea of this amazing culture that doesn’t exist anywhere else. The architecture, sunlight, car culture, fashion, it has a different way of seeing, and I was inspired by it. This is the most quintessential American city, the epitome of ‘50s Americana is here! Which is where America was so influential in discovering itself. And Hollywood, anyway you slice it up, is iconic in our culture.”