Fashion

Franco Moschino, a Fashion Radical

On his birthday, we remember the late designer's subversive career.
Reading time 5 minutes

In the summer of 1971 a 21-year-old Franco Moschino, then a fresh graduate of the Accademia delle Belle Arti in Milan, worked as an illustrator for a young, burgeoning Gianni Versace. Moschino, encouraged by Gianni, created the Moschino label in 1983 and debuted his "Couture!" line that same year to the frenzy of the fashion world, who ate up his “waist of money” fashion witticisms like candy. The press heralded Moschino as Italian fashion’s enfant terrible, often comparing him to the likes of Jean Paul Gaultier, and went so far as naming him fashion’s official court jester, a label he would later loathe.

Moschino’s farcical interpretation of fashion was rooted in his paradoxical approach to the fashion industry. He ridiculed the industry’s hierarchies by parodying emblems of high culture, like the Chanel dinner suit, and crafting them with low brow materials like denim, or adorning them with real silverware. “Funny clothes have to be extremely well made because that is where you find the chic. It’s easy to be funny with a T-shirt, but it’s more clever with a mink coat. After all, if caviar was cheaper it would taste much less interesting” he said in a 1994 interview with British GQ.

The brilliance of Moschino’s technical arsenal lie at the crossroads of the post-modern and the surreal. He employed ironic self-awareness, well-crafted parody, sincere humor, and thoughtful juxtapositions throughout his designs. The words “This is an advertisement!” were front and center of visual campaigns. Models for the Moschino fragrance sipped from perfume bottles as if it were Coca-Cola. Events and parties were elaborate circuses of installation, performance, and celebrity that resembled a campy rendition of the Rothschild’s Surrealist Ball (his 10-year retrospective "X Years of Kaos" in particular). Moschino even starred in his own campaign, taking on a new persona for each Moschino product advertised. He championed freedom and challenged conventions of taste, asserting that "good taste doesn't exist." On the runway, his theatrical presentations imitated an open-air market, presented models on their hands and knees, or resulted in Moschino storming onto the runway declaring that fashion is over.

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Jeremy Scott’s revival of the Moschino brand exhibits similar collisions of high and low culture. Scott brings aliens, cardboard, and McDonald’s to the Moschino runway and releases capsule collections featuring the iconography of the Powerpuff Girls, Spongebob, and Candy Crush. The range of celebrities who wear Scott’s Moschino, from Cardi B to Madonna to Michelle Obama, demonstrate the sheer success and versatility of Scott’s creative directorship. And while the label’s satirical origins and eccentric devices are embedded in each collection, there’s something inherently different about Franco Moschino’s sense of “bullchic.”

“My approach is a contradiction, I know, but why not? Why should I have to embrace the fashion business just because I work in it? Why should I?”

Perhaps the crux of the difference lies in Moschino’s general outlook on fashion and society. While Scott uses his sense of gaiety and eclectic style to bring happiness through fashion, Moschino used his artistic abilities to curate ironic collections, experiences, and campaigns that criticized fashion’s role in society. “Fashion is absolutely tacky. Being fashionable is not positive at all. Fashion is over. Let’s talk about something worthwhile. Fashion kills people. It is Fascism. As a designer, I have to convince you to change–to cut your hair, to change the frames of your glasses. You’re a creature of the fashion system, a Muppet, not yourself,” Moschino explained in a 1989 interview with New York Magazine.

It’s no surprise that Moschino grew weary after his extensive commercial success within the very industry he criticized. “I don’t want to sound silly, but I feel sometimes as though I am in a golden prison. I can do exactly what I want, but in reality people expect me to do more of the same. A Moschino design must look and feel like the kind of Moschino design the public understand. Every year I’m expected to be just as banal, silly, stupid and vulgar as I have been in the past. Sometimes this business is just a horrible, horrible machine.”

“I myself am not doing clothes anymore. ‘Moschino’ is not my name anymore. Fashion is a source of money. It gave me celebrity, and I use this to be heard.”

In the following years Moschino's campaigns and installations turned towards combating the social issues of the era, raising awareness of drug abuse, climate change, violence, consumerism, pollution, racism, and the AIDS crisis.

Moschino himself died in 1994 from AIDS complications. He was 44.

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In the year before his death, Moschino remained a formidable businessman. He launched his "Ecouture!" line, solely using environmentally friendly materials and dyeing processes. He opted for faux fur in his collections and through his "Smile!" campaign donated proceeds to shelters for children with AIDS.

Franco Moschino remains a fashion radical whose wit, humor, honesty, free spirit, and critical lens became his legacy. The questions he asked of fashion  then are the same questions we ask of fashion now. And though there is still no clear answer, Moschino reminds us to leave something progressive along on the way.

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