MILAN: A front row filled with stuffed animals, an invitation made from a napkin tied around a set of silverware, and an open delivery truck with runway models flowing out of the back are just a few examples of how the Moschino brand continues to harness humor in the name of fashion. For the past 25 years, the company has prospered with a foundation of irreverence, fun and a surrealist frivolity that runs counter to the way slick, big-business fashion functions today. And its creative director, Rossella Jardini, wouldn't have it any other way.
"The glossy, glamorous and cool world of fashion have never particularly fascinated me: I adore fashion and many of its representatives not for those aspects but for the creativity, the research and the effort that remains behind every collection," said the designer.
Jardini - who started working alongside the company's founder, Franco Moschino, in 1981 and took over designing the brand after his death in 1994 - has long kept a low profile, letting the sunny brand image and the colorful clothing speak for themselves. But in the new fashion world order, where designers are almost as famous as the brands they work for, Jardini has started to step into the spotlight in hopes of giving a face to a brand.
A slim woman who often dresses in large sweaters and easy trousers worn with big jewelry and thick dark-framed glasses, she offered frank responses to questions about her approach.
"I don't design the collection in my head," she said in a recent interview, speaking in a mix of Italian, French and broken English. "I have a team that helps with that. For me it is all about the choice of fabrics and the mixing of textiles. That is always my starting point when I put together a collection."
Since its inception in 1983, Moschino has been known for its playful style, one that particularly enjoyed poking fun at its own industry with comical messages on clothing like "Fashion Ready to Where?" or the words "Channel No. 5" inside the image of a TV set on a T-shirt. Cheeky clothing, including teddy bear collars on dresses, trompe l'il swimsuits, or a jean jacket made from denim pants and a matching leather belt as a collar have all found their way onto the Moschino runway in the past.
Jardini only recently started taking bows at the end of her fashion shows, and she almost always does it with at least one member of her design team. "I didn't go out on the runway as a form of respect for Franco Moschino. But now I think it is O.K. for me to be seen, but it is also important that I show that I am not the only one doing everything," the designer said.
Over the past quarter-century the brand, which is owned by the Aeffe Group, has gradually expanded and now has more than 20 different clothing and accessories lines that bear the company's name, from the high-end Moschino line and the younger Cheap and Chic collection to accessories like ties, underwear, perfume, gloves and sunglasses. The brand has grown, more or less under the fashion radar, and now counts 90 stores worldwide in places as far flung as Capri, Italy; Vilnius, Lithuania; Istanbul; New Delhi; and Singapore, with plans to reach 100 stores by 2010.
Under Jardini's direction over the past 14 years, there has been a subtle shifting of the more over-the-top, ironic and playful aspects that are the DNA of the brand, out of the clothing lines and into the supporting categories of accessories, store designs, runway backdrops and advertising. Of course there are still big bows on dresses, witty prints and cute embellishments in both the Moschino and Cheap and Chic collections, but they no longer seem to overpower the clothing. They have become accents to solid design work that can be appreciated on its own. The celebrity world has certainly taken notice, with the likes of Nicole Kidman, Beyoncé Knowles, Jessica Alba and Debra Messing choosing to wear Moschino on the red carpet.
Jardini said she is happy that Hollywood's leading ladies like her clothing, but regrets there is not a more personal relationship between the stars and designers.
"I wish that such beautiful and communicative women had their own personal style, in an independent way, apart from the stylists and fashion brands," she said. "Maybe it depends on the self-confidence that women have or don't have in themselves, confidence with their body, but I know that I would love to again see women and actresses who leave a mark with their personality in current fashion."
Italy still rings up the most business for the Moschino brand, bringing in 32 percent of sales. The remainder of Europe takes up another 30 percent; North America, 11 percent; Japan, 9 percent; and 18 percent is culled from the rest of the world. In 2007 Moschino generated 136.8 million, or about $187.4 million, in sales, up 9 percent over 2006, which had already seen a 7 percent increase from 2005.
But 2008 has been a particularly fruitful year for the company. "It is a bit like a strange cosmic aligning of the stars that all of this is happening this year," Jardini said, referring to the number of new ventures that are launching this year.
This year the company has added a line of whimsical Cheap and Chic jewelry that incorporates the tongue-in-cheek style of the house. Earrings are made from the pairing of a goose on one ear and an egg on the other. Cufflinks spell out "strike" and are fastened with bowling pins, and link bracelets are made with the house's iconic heart motif. The company has also revamped its watch line, starting a new partnership with the Binda Group for its spring/summer 2009 collection, and has added a new line of colorful motorbike helmets that should do well in its Italian market.
In May Moschino returned to New York, after closing its last shop there in 2000, with a new 2,500 square-foot, or 230 square-meter, flagship store in the meatpacking district. The store carries most of the Moschino clothing and accessories lines and is designed in the same arresting and amusing way as the rest of the company's shops. This means couches in the form of purses, light fixtures sprouting out of boots and eye-catching window displays.
The brand also made a move away from its core fashion business this year and broke ground on the new "Maison Moschino" luxury hotel, reappropriating an old neoclassical railway station on Viale Monte Grappa in Milan. The interior is designed by Jardini and is faithful to Moschino's quirky love of surrealism, taking inspiration from the world of fairy tales and the dreams they conjure up. It is slated to open next year.
"The beautiful thing for me is that when you create a first project you have fewer boundaries: the fantasy can run freely and the limits are less oppressive, " the designer said.
But even if all of these new ventures are sure to keep Jardini busy, it is clear that her focus will always be on creating wearable clothes. "I want people to notice the person wearing my clothing and think they look beautiful first," Jardini said with a laugh. "It is not as important that someone recognizes it's a Moschino design, at least that way they can wear it for more than just one season."
7 months ago