Franco Moschino: Anti-Elitist Haute Couture?
On the 18th of September 1994, Italian fashion designer Franco Moschino died in Annone di Brianza, Italy. He is still seen as “the irreverent enfant terrible of the fashion industry who poked fun at the excesses of the 1980s with his “tongue in chic” designs, most memorably creating suits festooned with cutlery, jackets with faucet handles or dice used as buttons, coats and hats made from teddy bears, expensive linen shirts embroidered with outrageous puns and slogans, dresses that looked like shopping bags, and ball gowns assembled from plastic garbage bags. After studying painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Milan, Moschino started in the fashion industry as a freelance illustrator.” (Britannica).
Moschino was always eager to express his views of the world. His first boutique in Via Sant’Andrea in Milan allowed the designer to use a very effective means of communication: the shop window, which was a natural extension of the shop, the venue for regular mise-en-scène and a chance for direct contact with the public He used it to share messages, moods and opinions. He did the same with with designs which were paraded during eccentric fashion shows. “Mr. Moschino was as much social commentator as designer, delighting in ridiculing the excesses of the 1980’s with whimsical appliques, logos and slogans. His humor often took the form of outrageous sendups of fashion icons like the Chanel suit, which he once parodied by embroidering the words “This is a Waist of Money” where the traditional gold chain belt would have been. (…) The designer himself became easily recognized after his mustached, crew-cut image was used in advertising campaigns that pictured him in a variety of guises including Popeye, a Mafioso, a child and a transvestite.
Strongly influenced by the Surrealist art movement of the 1920’s, Mr. Moschino was known to decorate a dinner suit with real cutlery, to use dozens of miniature teddy bears as a hat and scarf, to fashion the bodice of a strapless dress totally of gold safety pins and to make a skirt that was nothing but vertical rows of zippers. He covered the backs of jackets with images like a pair of women’s eyes or an oversize playing card. He once showed a man’s white shirt with exaggeratedly long sleeves that were wrapped around the body to simulate a straitjacket. On the back were the words “For Fashion Victims Only.” He also made totally wearable, well-cut suits and dresses that he showed with wildly crazy hats fashioned like a bishop’s miter, an airplane, a giant light bulb or an assemblage of life preservers. “I’m not a fashion designer,” Mr. Moschino was quoted as saying in a 1991 article in The New York Times. “I’m a painter; a decorator. I’m not the author of a new era.” (Anne-Marie Schiro, ‘Franco Moschino, 44, Is Dead; Designer Known for Irreverence’, New York Times, September 20, 1994).
“When one thinks of Moschino’s clothes, one thinks of words – puns and rubrics. A jacket with ‘Waist of Money’ printed along the waistband. ‘A shirt for fashion victims only’ embroidered across a garment with 10ft sleeves; ‘I’m full of shirt’ on another. A camel- hair coat, with a camel and the words ‘hair coat’ stitched on its back. A little black dress printed with a goose and captioned ‘I Love Fashion’. Moschino was a spin doctor and stylist rather than a designer. He experimented with the messages and symbols applied to a fairly classic array of garments rather than inventing new shapes or fabrics in the way that, for example, Issey Miyake does. Moschino belonged to that long line of stylists who use fashion as protest. But rather than protesting against the Vietnam war (Yves Saint Laurent), the Establishment (Vivienne Westwood), environmental abuse (Katherine Hamnett) or even that vainglorious act of gesture politics the Gulf war (Valentino), he protested against the fashion system and its manic consumerism. His styles were the clothing industry’s equivalent of viral streptococcus, the body devouring itself.” (Jane Mulvagh, ‘Obituary: Franco Moschino’, The Independent, Wednesday 21 September 1994). In some ways, Franco Moschino was in Haute Couture what his American contemporary Andy Warhol was in Pop Art. Both used and abused the imagery of the worlds they both equally worshipped and criticised. Moschino – the overpriced fashion of the elite, Warhol – the empty consumerism of a capitalist society: ironically, both worlds made their protagonists notorious.