Beam me up Scotty
Good art, or bad taste? More than most, white-trash fashion innovator Jeremy Scott treads the line, Caroline Ryder writes.
Who else would send models down the catwalk wearing conch-shell inspired swimsuits with three-foot high collars, dresses that look like jukeboxes and army helmets with Mickey Mouse ears? Was the helmet an anti-war statement, I wonder? “Let’s just say our president is no different to Mickey Mouse,” he says, perched cross-legged in the living room of his Hollywood Hills house.
I had expected Jeremy Scott’s home to look like his fashion, some kind of ironic homage to bad taste with neon walls, chandeliers made from dangling Big Macs, and portraits of Alexis Colby. The reality, to my surprise, is much tamer — black floors, white walls, and zebra print furnishings. And then I spot a bust of Beethoven wearing a pair of Wayfarers — Scott, it seems, likes to keep his sense of humor close at hand. “Humor is a clear method of communication,” he says. “It helps everyone understand what you’re trying to say.” It must take supreme confidence to be able to be humorous with your art? “Yes,” he nods, “or supreme stupidity.”
Along with Terry Richardson, Corinne Day and Harmony Korine, Jeremy Scott represents the 1990’s generation of fashion anti-heroes. With the support of magazines like i-D and The Face, they spearheaded a new era of artistic irreverence, one which visited the margins of pop culture and transformed them into high art. Some people weren’t into the whole lowbrow = high art thing, but that’s OK as far as Jeremy Scott’s concerned. “To me, making fashion is about creating and enlarging my vision, not about selling blah number of units. It’s not healthy to even think in terms of sales.”
For Scott, the obsession with bad taste and Americana was no artsy bourgeois amusement—it reflected the world he came from. Growing in rural Missouri, America’s heartland, it was impossible for Scott not to absorb the Big Mac/trailer park/Rikki Lake culture of his surroundings. He has worn his hair in a mullet, the classic trailer park style, since he was 18. It’s the only look that really suits him, he says. “Even Vidal Sassoon told me never to change my hair,” says Scott.
And yet he was always different. He wore his mullet bright orange, for starters, to match his idol Cyndi Lauper. He was vegetarian (“I have never eaten a piece of chicken in my entire life,” he says) and has never smoked a cigarette in his life. Aged 18, He applied to New York’s prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), and was heartbroken when they turned him down. They said his work lacked “originality, creativity and artistic ability.” He flew to New York City to appeal the decision, and found that his unconventionality was embraced by professors at the Pratt Institute. “They didn’t care that I wasn’t interested in designing khaki pants,” he says. His graduation show was typically outrageous, inspired by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
Months after graduating, Scott moved to Paris, he dreamed of an internship with Jean Paul Gaultier. “I would have picked pins up off the floor,” he says, but try as he might, he couldn’t find a way in. Scott did, however, find himself drawn into the heart of the Paris club scene, and became a friend, muse and rumoured lover of Karl Lagerfeld, creative genius behind the House of Chanel. He art-directed photo shoots for Lagerfeld and in return, Lagerfeld gained access to Scott’s youthful, avant garde world. When asked what he thinks of Parisian street fashion, he suggest it’s not as avant as the rest of the world might want to believe. “Yes, there is a cool kid look, but at its heart Paris is about sophistication, and you can only have that with age, familiarity and security. If you’re talking about street style, London and Tokyo are where the envelope is really being pushed.”
In 2002 he left Paris and moved to Los Angeles where, tucked away in a mid-century modern home overlooking Hollywood, he enjoys a quieter, more anonymous existence. “My life here is about working on my ideas, and cocooning,” he says. Los Angeles, which is still struggling to find its place in the fashion world, was for many a surprising choice of location for Scott, who has only shown in his adopted hometown once. He showed in New York for five years, before returning to Paris. It was like a homecoming, Scott says. A recent runway show, called Happy Daze, had British model Agyness Deyn marching down the runway in a dress that looked like a pink Cadillac, complete with spare tire on her ass. For many, that show was the highlight of Paris fashion week. At the end he emerged triumphant onto the runway, wearing a smiley-face sweater. Naturally, the smiley-face had a bullet in the head.
British style bible i-D recently ran a 10-year retrospective of Scott’s work, calling him “bad taste personified…an i-Con for a generation...spreading bucket-loads of silliness in his wake”. Scott was featured side-by-side with model Devon Aoki, his number one muse. Scott first laid eyes on Aoki eight years ago in a Nick Knight magazine spread. She was 13, and Scott was smitten by her heart-shaped face and cushion-like lips. “My best friend when I was growing up was half Japanese,” he says. “Maybe that’s why her beauty resonated so much with me.” He had a friend of his call Storm, her agency in London, three times a day until she agreed to take part in his groundbreaking “Rich White Women” Paris show in October 1997. “I will never forget her walking in the room with her mom,” says Scott. “She has the best lips. I’m into the rarest, most unique, most precious things - and that’s her.”
There’s friends, and then there’s business. And in L.A., the only real business is show business. I ask him about his celebrity clientele, and it reads like a tabloid magazine’s wet dream. “Britney, Paris, Lindsey, Mary Kate, Ashley, Kristin, Mischa, Nicole…” he lists. “I dress rap people, I dress pop stars, I dress Kanye, Madonna and Fergie. I like to mix it up. They come to me because they know I have such diverse inspiration. I’m an anomaly.”
His greatest collaborative relationship, however, is with Bjork. She’s the one who ‘gets’ him the most, he says. “Maybe it’s because I’ve had such a long friendship with her,” he says. “She is such a pure, genius artist, with such respect for other artists.” A year ago she sent him a copy of the then-unfinished album Volta and he designed a tribal skeleton bone corset and rainbow-colored hairy skirt for her, while playing it. She wore it on stage this Spring, at the Coachella music festival in the California desert. “I am able to translate her music into clothes,” he says. “That to me is one of the most amazing things.”