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To Be, Or Not to Be, That’s Moschino!

Text Judith Torzewska
May 2013

The bizarre connotations which spring from this subverted Shakespearian quote, via Franco Moschino’s own curious translation of it for one of his slogans, perhaps sum up the provocative message which characterizes the late Italian designer’s identity within the world of fashion. For Moschino appeared to be an outsider, who ran his business more like an Avant Garde Art Movement than a fashion enterprise. His design techniques scream ironic, defiant, humorous, self-conscious, unpredictable. ‘Conformist’ was not in his vocabulary, rather he borrowed conventional shapes and silhouettes from prominent designers such as Coco Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent, took them apart, and reinterpreted them using his own thought-provoking embellishments.

So was Franco Moschino ‘the thinking man’s fashion guru’? It has been said that he appeared to be more of a decorator than a designer. Born in Abbiategrasso, just outside Milan, he studied to become a painter before turning to fashion, and it was his love of art, particularly Surrealism, which profoundly influenced the Moschino look. The Surrealist movement was formed in the 1920’s, and side by side with Dadaism, it was a reaction against the restrictions of an uptight conservatism which pervaded the world of art and the written word at that time. As the Punk movement of the 70’s did for music, Dadaists and Surrealists turned the art world upside down, art became anti-art, an expression of disgust against a world racked with war, with boring dogmas, with conventional sentiments, with literalisms. It was a declaration of the rights of fantasy, dreams, a feeling for nonsense, for the absurd chance discovery.

Alongside experimentation with the fine arts, photography, film and costume design, the Surrealists relationship with fashion grew through mutual plundering, collaborations sprung up between artists and fashion designers, artists became designers; designers became artists, raising fashion beyond the zone of mere style to an important cultural expression, and the legacy continues, Surrealism remains fashions favourite art.

There is no doubt that Moschino took part in the ‘anti-fashion-anti-art movement’. His love of the Belgian artist, René Magritte, alongside his own witty eccentricity, greatly inspired his work. The Surrealist influence is very much present in his illustrated advertisements, his conversation poems, and his collections. As Magritte transformed familiar objects and artworks, Moschino reinterpreted the fashions around him in an unusual context, giving them new meanings. The message was the same, displacement, dysfunction, contradiction, the discrepancy between the accustomed recognition and its new definition, Moschino was communicating this too. From dresses covered with teddy bears to jackets and shirts with puns and slogans written on them, such as ‘Waist of Money’ or ‘For Fashion Victims Only’, he used texts, images and quirky embellishments to challenge us, his high-quality designs have a tongue-in-cheek playfulness which is easily recognized. His free-thinking humour reflects the warm and loveable character he was, Moschino’s beautiful spirit lives on whenever we take the time to look at his valuable contribution to the world.