February 20, 2019

GREAT SCOTT

Jeremy Scott brings a feel-good retrospective of cartoony couture to the Dallas Contemporary

Jeremy Scott is an instantly recognizable designer. If collections inspired by fast food and SpongeBob SquarePants weren’t enough to add him to the pop culture vernacular, red carpet appearances with the likes of Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus have helped make him a celebrity outside of the fashion world.

You might not notice if designers Phoebe Philo or Miuccia Prada walked into a room, but no one’s going to miss Jeremy Scott. This makes him a perfect subject for a retrospective at the Dallas Contemporary—even if you have zero clue what he sent down the runway for Spring.

“Jeremy is very America; he’s what America is now,” says the museum’s Executive Director Peter Doroshenko. “It is very much is about color, theatrics, the in-your-face component and naughtiness that exists. He amplifies it, and there’s no way to confuse this with any other aesthetic happening in the fashion world.”

Although Scott has been in business for over 20 years, Doroshenko says he was first introduced by the designer’s work after Scott became creative director of the storied Italian fashion house Moschino in 2013.

“There were a lot of contemporary art overtones in his work, which is not unusual as fashion designers have always turned to art. Then literally two years went by, and Jeremy was in town because of an event, and we started a dialogue. He connected me with (contemporary artist collaborators) Rosson Crow and Kenny Scharf, and I got to hear their side of working with him and said, ‘We should do a show.’”

The result is “Viva Avant Garde: A Jeremy Scott Retrospective”, which opened in late January. Staged in an all-white setting Doroshenko calls “Pee Wee Herman meets the architect Frank Gehry,” the show features eye-popping tableaus from (almost) every age and stage of Scott’s career.

Ball gowns screened with homages to Hershey’s chocolate bars and urban graffiti line a spacious runway. Mannequins in paper doll outfits twirl over onlooker’s heads. And, deep in the heart of the exhibit, a stern sculpture of the designer faces a row of Scott’s twists on the tuxedo, including suits printed with smiley faces and test-pattern stripes.

Though the initial impact can be overwhelming to the eye, as you look closer you’ll see ongoing themes Scott returns to again and again. Bikers, ballerinas, cartoons, cowboys, trash, and treasures are a few of the concepts the designer has mined throughout his decades of work.

“I just kind of kept playing and tried to start mixing and hopefully make sense of it all,” says Scott of his curation process. “I didn’t plot it out in a meticulous way. Like all my work, it’s emotional and fluid. I just started to shuffle the deck of cards to see if it could make sense together and show different time periods and themes together and somehow have a visual coherence. Also, as large as this, it’s just a thumbnail sliver of my work. Not to be boasty, but it’s 126 looks, and I usually do that four times a year in a collection for Moschino!”

In his un-ironic embrace of consumer culture, Scott could be the spiritual twin of Andy Warhol. Both are enamored by the sublime and the banal. Both are beloved by collectors, yet have their fair share of critical detractors. Like Warhol, the Missouri-raised Scott virtually willed himself into success, from his first self-financed show in Paris in 1997 to his takeover of Moschino.

In a pivotal scene in Scott’s 2015 documentary The People’s Designer, he discusses his dismissal by the so-called fashion elite before flipping off the camera. It’s clear that whatever his career ups and downs (and he’s definitely on an up), Scott remains true to character. A self-professed “outsider” in the industry, his clothes may not be for everyone, but there’s something for everybody in his work.

Says Doroshenko, “The aesthetics and connections that even the smallest children would make are here. From the American flag to pins and needles to the McDonald’s logo, (the work) goes from the rudimentary and basic to a super complex dialogue. It’s all here.”

What Scott hopes viewers will get from “Viva Avant Garde” is a little bit simpler: “I hope it puts a smile on their face, honestly,” he says. “I think that’s really the main thing. I think it’s not so necessary to know a lot about fashion to enjoy my work and relate to it because I use a lot of things that are pop cultural references or common things (as inspiration)—everything from a sock to a dog tag to a hanger. The main thing is that you can find some enjoyment when you look at it.” —Kendall Morgan

The Details: Dallas Contemporary, 161 Glass Street. Exhibition on view through March 17.