The candy-colored, glossy galaxy of Jeremy Scott is filled with mouse ears and winged high-tops, with dresses made of mini metal AK-47s and leotards covered in cartoon fries. When the Midwest native looks out into the world, he doesn’t see stop signs or McDonald’s arches. He sees “icons” that influence a design aesthetic instantly recognizable across the globe.
Single-minded since his early teens, when he learned French to better prepare himself for the fashion dream that beckoned beyond the borders of Kansas City, Scott has maintained a brazen individuality in an industry dominated by big interests. Along the way, he’s become the unofficial designer to music-world starlets (Katy Perry and Rihanna are on speed dial) and the darling of brands eager to capitalize on his universal freak appeal.
Adidas came first -- and he gave them winged sneakers. Now, it’s Mercedes-Benz, who asked Scott to design the first all-electric SMART car. He obliged with trademark wings sprouting out of the taillights, as well as an interior of luxury leather recalling a ’60s-era cruise liner and a steering wheel that was stolen off the Millennium Falcon.
The Red Bulletin: Is your work designed to provoke?
Jeremy Scott: It’s a loaded question, to be honest, because people would say, “Oh, you just want to provoke.” I do, but for me it’s an expression. It’s my voice, and design is my medium. As Jeff Koons or Andy Warhol used art, I use fashion and design. I want people to feel things, and to think things and have a reaction.
Is there a message?
I think there’s always humor in my work. Any message goes better with humor. I wanted this car to have whimsy, to have sex appeal and desire. For me, that’s what the car was lacking. I’m in a very interesting place, where I have very liberal politics, and progressive thought, but I’m a design freak. I’m a fashion designer, and of all of the designers, we’re known to be the most flighty. At the same time, I have these political views and stances. I wanted to bring all of that into this SMART car, so that it has this appeal.
What does the word “icon” mean to you?
To me, it’s instantly recognizable. Mickey Mouse is an icon; Madonna is an icon; the SMART car is an icon. I feel like we’re in a world of icons, from the McDonald’s arches to Mickey Mouse. I’ve played with his image because it communicates instantaneously. Someone in Mumbai will know the same thing that you know from that same item without having the same design, fashion, or contemporary culture that you have. That’s what I’m trying to always achieve in my work, is that you can almost always understand my whole collection in an instant.
Why do you like to work with musicians so much?
Because they’re fun ... They’re pretty. They look cool in clothes. Putting a dress on Rihanna transmits that message across the globe in a way you can’t in a runway show. It takes my message so much further. My whole job is communicating. I’m like a silent film, and they’re my captions. I’m not compromising or having to compromise. In fact, I have to turn up the volume sometimes to make it more otherworldly to literally fit the stage they’re on. And that’s the fulfilling thing for me as a designer, as a creative person.
You seem to be a bigger fan of music than of the movie industry.
I always think of actresses doing red carpet; actresses are boring, because their job is to completely be someone else all the time. I like people who are personifications of themselves, and that’s why I have such a kinship with musicians.
How difficult is it retaining your independence?
There’s people graduating from college who have investors already, and I’m thinking, “Wow, are you ready for that?” At the beginning I said I never wanted anyone to twist my arm and say I had to do something, or couldn’t do something, because I’m fiercely independent. It’s a part of my character, not being controlled.
Will there be more Jeremy Scotts?
I think the industry is very controlled by interests and, ultimately, money. Fashion, even with the democratization via the Internet and via bloggers, is still very old school. People still crowd into one room and watch shows, and it’s been going on for decades and decades. Whereas we don’t buy records anymore.
Check out the March 2013 issue of Red Bulletin magazine (on newsstands February 12) for more articles. To read the magazine on your iPad, download the Red Bulletin iPad app.