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STYLE: Leaders of the Pack : Southern California Trendsetters: Portraits From the Creative Edge : Red-Hot and Cool: Mossimo Gianulli

March 13, 1994|MAUREEN SAJBEL

When Mossimo Giannulli makes personal appearances, autograph-seekers line up around the block. If you haven't heard of him, you're probably not jeek or josh. You're probably haggar.

Mossimo is a clothing designer who aspires to be Southern California's hip Ralph Lauren, putting his stamp on everything from leather jackets and boots to sheets and soap dishes. "Why not?" muses the USC dropout, who has already parlayed his three-panel volleyball shorts (the must-have beach item of 1987) into a sportswear, swimwear, bodywear, accessories, shoes, eyewear and retail empire reportedly worth $60 million.

Last month, Kathy Ireland posed in his "3-D" bikini on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Next month, Otis College of Art and Design will honor him. "He makes clothes my students wear," says Rosemary Brantley, chair of the fashion department. "To them, he's got rock-star status."

The 30-year-old designer, who recently launched Mossimo Supply at South Coast Plaza, likes that image. "When you hear the name Mossimo," he says, "you think of this old, fat Italian guy who doesn't get it. Instead, here's this young, thin Italian guy who doesn't get it."

Oh, but he does. He may be self-effacing, but he's smart. He knows that youth is the key to his unconventional company and that his customers know the nuances of cool. "Moss is laid-back and cutting-edge at the same time," says Jack Briggs, owner of Newport Beach's 15th Street Surf Shop. "I once saw this turquoise car of his that was so cherried-out you couldn't tell what it was originally. It's the same thing he does with clothing."

Mossimo, a native Californian, connects with his twentysomething fans by hanging out and riding motorcycles with his rowdy young staffers. A year ago, 15 of them took part in a group head-shaving, and now they're doing a group grow-out. On the flip side, Mossimo's the doting father of a 2-year-old boy, Gianni, and a neat freak who has his Irvine office repainted every two weeks.

A contradiction? No. In Mossimo-speak, he aspires to be jeek , which stands for GQ, and josh , which refers to architect Josh Schweitzer. Both are terms of high praise, while haggar refers to old guys' pants. Uncool? You figure it out.

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