Jeremy Scott does not know how to throw a regular party. In São Paolo, Brazil, to celebrate the launch of his new collaboration with iconic Brazilian footwear brand Melissa, not only did the fashion designer and Moschino creative director bring along his regular posse of BFF boys in bright, cool clothes, but DJs Skrillex, Diplo, and A-Trak—in town to play the city’s incarnation of Lollapalooza—stayed to be with Scott at his big launch, too. “I came full force tonight with my holy trinity of DJs,” the designer told me over a blaring soundtrack of Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé remixes. “Music matters.” The party was held at PanAm, a penthouse club with a sprawling view of the massive city, and local club kids (and a smattering of drag queens) dressed in their favorite shades of hot pink, some wearing Scott’s famous teddy bear sneakers in homage, came to dance with their prince. “I deejay a lot of Jeremy’s parties,” said Skrillex, perhaps the only guest dressed discreetly, in a black baseball hat and T-shirt. “And he always makes them just fun.”
Scott is about as much of a rock star as the EDM gods and famous women (Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Rihanna) he dresses. Though the teens who lined up all day outside the Hotel Fasano, where he and Skrillex and Diplo were staying, were screaming for the DJs, he had his own excited receiving line of followers. At the party he wore a big pair of yellow sunglasses, their only possible purpose at that late hour to shield his eyes from iPhone flashes. Anitta, one notable megafan—a vivacious local pop star with more than 11 million social media followers—danced behind the booth, wearing a Scott dress printed with red lips and cigarettes, and seemed to take a thousand and one photographs with her fashion hero. “He’s exciting, he’s stunning, he don’t take himself so seriously, he lives his life,” she says. “I was a little—what’s the word?—shy to meet him today, because I’m such a fan. But it was amazzzzzzzing.”
Scott’s collaboration with the shoe brand Melissa is, like his other famous pairings with Adidas, Longchamp, and Moschino, a perfect vessel for his playful pop art vision. His styles for the brand, the first of which debuted at the September runway show for his namesake brand, included Technicolor rubber high-heel mules, perfect for Jessica Rabbit. “I lovvvvvve them,” said Anitta. He has also created for them ballet flats with big pink bows, rubber ankle-high boots that come in rain-slicker yellow, and a children’s style that has a smiling monkey popping out of the front—all perfect distillations of his playful, personable, man-of-the-people ethos.
Before the mayhem of the party, ELLE.com caught up with Scott in a private room at his hotel and at the Melissa store in São Paolo for a quieter discussion about the Melissa collaboration—and why he thinks he’s become one of the most famous fashion designers in the world.
A lot of designers do the most random collaborations, but you always seem to find partners who make sense.
I have to love the DNA of the brand fundamentally. I need to be able to fuse my personality with theirs. That’s what I’ve done with Adidas, Swatch, and in a different way with Moschino. I really have to feel fused with it. I go with passion. I won’t work with people who won’t give me the freedom to be me. I know already that I can’t hide my light under a bushel. If you want me to shine, you need to give me the parole to do that.
With Melissa, I’ve always loved plastics and rubber, and it’s such a specifically unique material that you have to have the manufacturing abilities to make it. Even at Moschino, we wouldn’t be able to do this. Obviously, they’re an iconic brand—they’re the number-one in doing rubber shoes—but you still are putting your faith into something that you’re not really sure of. The mule with the nozzle, that was the first model that we worked on together. I sent them the sketches of my shoes and they made molds to present to me, and they kind of really hit it right. I think we had a tiny micro-wiggling of how much heel I wanted, but they really captured my designs instantly. And when I was convinced that they did good, and felt comfortable, then I felt like I could go even further because I had confidence. So I was like, Okay, I can push them like this and this and this and this.
How do you know what is the right amount of pushing?
When I’m excited about it, I just have to go for it. If there’s that excitement in me about it, then there’s going to be an excitement in other people. When I’m hell-bent on something, there’s no way around it. I can be a very stubborn, insolent child about it. I have to birth those ideas. Those designs have to come into the world. It’s not only my goal, it’s my reason for being on the planet. If I’m not doing them, then I’m not fulfilling my calling. It’s very instinctual for me.
Did the idea of putting a nozzle on the Melissa shoes come directly from the balloon sculptures by Jeff Koons?
No, but I love Jeff Koons. I did one of my winged shoes at Adidas with a nozzle so that it looked like it was a inflatable. There’s a wink to him for sure, but I just love the ideal of the surreal quality of putting it on a shoe.
You’ve been at this for a long time, but you seem to be more relevant than ever. Do you have a sense of why?
The world has changed around me. I’ve been me, and continuously being me in a constant, steadfast way. I think the way the world has evolved, it’s maybe caught up to me. It makes more sense and it makes it click on a larger scale.
You mean because of social media?
It could be that, but it could be all kinds of things, things beyond my comprehension even. Social media, the fact that people look at pictures so tiny on Instagram—people ask me about it popping on Instagram, but I didn’t alter myself to be that. I didn’t change for the screens, I’ve just been doing me. What’s the line from Sunset Boulevard? “I’m big, it’s the pictures that got small.” I was already being my normal, colorful, genuine self.
But also globally, proving myself working well with Adidas, showing my work could be globally distributed and loved and appreciated and still be challenging. Maybe I’m one of the first people on a larger scale to make more challenging and more unique items, where the old model—it may still be a model for a lot people—to dumb it down to reach more people. I didn’t dumb it down. In a lot of respects, maybe I turned it up.
There’s a big debate in fashion right now about whether social media has made everything too fast-paced. What do you think of the designers who complain about the hyper speed and the expectations?
I think they’re babies. I love what I do, and I only want more. I love the whole process. I love designing, I love figuring out how to make the clothes happen, I love the ad campaigns. Working with Moschino, a real high fashion Italian brand, maybe I’m under tighter deadlines, but sometimes under tight deadlines you do your best work. Working at Moschino has been great because I just have to deliver when I have to deliver.
Even though you’re a very popular designer, you’ve always had a kind of distance from the high fashion inner circle. How do you feel about your relationship to critics and the fashion elite?
I guess I always think of myself as more of the people. I always feel like a bit of an outsider. Without having all the knowledge, people get confused when I say that, because people think I’m being stupid or false humble. It’s not. I don’t think I always fit in. Maybe it’s a complex you get as someone who has always been fighting on the outside. I think I’m one of few American designers doing a house in Europe, and I think I’ve been proving myself there very well. Other than Alex [Wang], who left recently, it’s not a big pool. And as an American designer, do I feel like I get celebrated for that? No, not at all. And I think that’s a grossly overlooked thing.
Why do you think you get overlooked?
I don’t know. I also don’t spend a lot of time developing thoughts about it, to be truthful, because I have so much to be thankful and grateful for, and I just think about my fans, who did put me to where I am. I can promise you this: my appointment at Moschino did not come from anyone but them. Let’s just say that other people in the industry—whoever—didn’t put me there. And I really cherish it.
You’ve become a celebrity in your own right, and you are actually a model in your own new ad campaign. Has it always been a part of your plan to make yourself an icon?
For the ad campaign, I just love Oliviero Toscani. I loved Benetton growing up and the ads he shot for it, as well as things he shot in the past, like Fiorucci. It’s my first ad campaign, and I wanted to work with one of my heroes. I have a connection to him. Like me, I don’t think he’s exactly celebrated by fashion people as much as some others. So he agreed to do it, but only under one condition: that I appear in it. So part of it is beyond me in that respect.
But when I first started my own brand, when I needed an icon, I had no other icon but myself. I had to create that. I didn’t have Coco, to do a little shape of her head and put it on a sweater. There was no Coco, there was just Jeremy, so Jeremy had to be the brand’s everything.
Then there are the great people who have grown and loved me, like Katy [Perry]—who started as a fan and told me that one day she hoped I would dress her, and asked for a picture with me at a fan meet and greet. Now she’s became one of the world’s most important pop stars. I’ve supported her since the beginning, out of believing in a spark in her and giving her a chance because she was a girl who obviously seemed very passionate about what I am doing.
These mega-famous women, like Rihanna, Miley, and Katy, seem to feel protected and comfortable around you personally. Why do you think that is?
One thing that they all do have in common, and Miley pointed it out to me, was that I took chances on them when other people weren’t. Miley was already famous, but she hadn’t transitioned, and people didn’t know if they were going to believe her. Everyone in Hollywood thought her career was over after she quit Hannah Montana. When she wanted to be her own person and she wanted to wear my clothes, I was there for her instantly and did not judge her.
Same with Rihanna. I was there at the beginning when she was just a good girl, not a good girl gone bad. I was already there dressing her, I
did tour looks for her when she was opening for Kanye. And Katy, obviously since before she had her album out. I took a leap of faith with them when I was already established. I had something to lose, instead of nothing to lose and just along for the ride. I have real friendships with them in different ways. Katy and I go on holiday together. She lives within walking distance of my house. It’s real.