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'Enfant terrible' Jeremy Scott aims for the top.

November 03, 2000

Nothing a fashion designer wears for an important appearance is randomly selected. As Jeremy Scott stood backstage at his first U.S. show last week, he was dressed in a shawl-collared tuxedo jacket, a mostly unbuttoned ruffled shirt, Miu Miu sandals, a gaudy rhinestoned eagle necklace and, hanging from his shoulder, a tattered, yellow and white striped cotton tote bag from Giorgio of Beverly Hills.

On anyone else, the bag would just be another rescued relic from the '80s. But on Scott, a 27-year-old Paris-based fashion designer from Kansas City, Mo., it's a point of reference for his spring 2001 collection, an ode to the Giorgio '80s if there ever was one.

The allusions to Giorgio's era of big shoulder pads, bright yellow clothes and loads of accessories sparked '80s memories for many in the audience at Scott's spring 2001 show at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood last Friday.

Scott, one of the few American designers working independently in Paris, is an anomaly in an age when luxury conglomerates dominate high fashion. Five years after graduating from the Pratt Institute in New York, the young designer is gaining credibility, even as his sometimes avant-garde ideas earn scorn, or worse, disinterest.

Though his new collection drew mixed reviews when it debuted three weeks ago in Paris, it nevertheless offered a perspective on the '80s from a person who was too young in that decade to be jaded by it.

Scott's theatrics are hiding a true talent, said Vidal Sassoon, as he stood backstage observing his donated hairdressers coiling hair into a "My Little Pony" look. Sassoon said that Scott may be known as an enfant terrible, or even the Alexander McQueen of Paris, but under it all, "the man's a tailor." Scott also was nominated for a Perry Ellis award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America this year.

He certainly has a wicked wit, which has shown up as a logo print of his name when he was a virtual unknown, or on this season's bathing suits with tall shell collars that surrounded the model's heads. The show here attracted celebrities such as Courtney Love, Luke Wilson, Lisa Marie Burton and Monica Lewinsky, but few stars would have risked certain ridicule by wearing a Jeremy Scott design from his earlier collections. His fall 1998 collection included jackets with irregular, wing-like protrusions and semi-hunchback shoulders, rendered in gold or fur, or a large tentacle that arched over the head and shoulders.

That collection inspired fashion's self-appointed talent scout, Isabella Blow, who that season wore a gold tentacle jacket at select Paris fashion shows. Like a walking signboard, the daring outfits that Blow continued to wear helped get the name Jeremy Scott into the fashion press. Logo-print trench coats from his spring 2000 collection began appearing in fashion magazines. By his fall 2000 show, Scott turned more serious with a collection of sharply tailored trench coats, full skirts and riffs on tuxedos remade into T-shirts and other tops.

Scott's work still inspires scathing reviews, some of which he's partly memorized, if only to counter what he called their misstatements of fact.

"I have no problem with people not liking my show," he said. "But I don't consider what I do low-rent culture," he said, alluding to one of the recent criticisms.

"Each collection is a serious body of work to me. It has a message and a point of view. It's what I want to say about fashion and culture. I'm proposing different ways of saying what's acceptable, what is, what could be. Something to make us say, "Hmm," to make us say, 'What if?' " Often, those odd creations, such as this season's swimsuits, become attention-getting window props for stores or collectors, such as Blow, who flew in from London for his show and other L.A. events.

Scott is aware that he must work hard if he is to enter fashion's pantheon, like Valentino, who is celebrating his 40th anniversary in the business with an upcoming L.A. party. "It's a funny thing, fashion," said Scott, growing reflective. "I am an easy target because I am not potentially making lots of money for people." His company of 10 employees is self-supporting and sells to nearly 80 stores in Italy, Japan and, in L.A. at Fred Segal, Naked and Maxfield.

He was able to present the collection, thanks to the sponsorship of Courvoisier, the French cognac brand hoping to connect with young, hip drinkers. His sponsor hadn't targeted L.A., however.

"I was asked to do my show in New York and I said no. I want to do it in L.A.," said Scott, who moved to Paris to work in an atmosphere that reveres fashion. "Paris may be the fashion capital for the runways, but L.A. is the fashion capital for the U.S."

The diverse L.A. style has become a key inspiration for the designer, who saw the city for the first time last year. "I fell in love," he said of L.A. "It's taken me a year, but I always wanted to come back to say, 'Thank you for being so cool and inspirational.' "

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