By the time Franco Moschino (1950-1994) introduced his "Cheap and Chic" line in 1988, he had already earned a reputation as the irreverent "court jester" of the fashion world. From the time he debuted his first "Couture!" collection in 1983, Moschino treated fashion as an absurdist playground. Models were sent down the runway with candy-box tops instead of hats, wearing dresses patterned with faux tire tracks or dressed in giant Moschino shopping bags instead of garments. Tailored suits featured quirky details such as a collar made of teddy bears or pockets resembling miniature purses. "Stop the Fashion System" was a favorite catch-phrase, used in Moschino ad campaigns and as a logo on garments. Moschino considered being a fashion designer "a superficial, stupid job," stating that he was more interested in the "social-psychological aspect" of fashion.1
Despite Moschino's stated disdain for the exalted role of the fashion designer, this Cheap and Chic sweater demonstrates his deep knowledge of both artistic and fashion traditions. The additional collars mark it as a tribute Surrealism, an artistic movement originating in 1930s Paris which urged a broader perspective on reality. Expressed in both literary and visual terms, Surrealism attempted to use aesthetics as a means to liberate consciousness. Its visual qualities were based on the surprising juxtaposition of unexpected elements, such as those seen in the paintings of Salvador Dali. In the 1930s, fashion and Surrealism were linked most notably in the designs of Elsa Schiaparelli. Coming about 50 years after the heyday of Surrealism, Moschino's sweater is a tribute to both the history of Surrealism and the talents of Schiaparelli.
In addition to their underlying intellectual references, Moschino's designs should also be understood in terms of a playful silliness. He was aware that his more extreme designs sometimes bordered on the vulgar or tacky. In 1988, Moschino declared, "We've been doing vulgar, unfeminine, tasteless clothes. People say we're not very refined. But just go out on the street and see how un-chic is humankind."2 In the same interview, he called his own work "a little tacky."
The Moschino Couture suit seen below is a more subtle example of Moschino's quirky aesthetic. Perfectly appropriate and wearable, it is only on close examination that the somewhat outlandish comedy/tragedy buttons become apparent.
Based on what you've seen of Moschino's aesthetic, what do you think? Tacky, vulgar, or just playful?
1 Gross, Michael. "Moschino: Milan's Impertinent Designer" New York Times 9 Oct. 1986: C8.
2 Hochswender, Wendy. "Patterns" New York Times 6 Dec. 1988: B16.