Franco's Moschino moves on

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 November, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 November, 1999, 12:00am

Amid all the scrambling by labels to acquire each other which has been the motif of this extraordinary year of fashion, there was one company purchase which demurely sidled round the spotlight. Last month, with muted fanfare but much genuine emotion, the Moschino trademark was bought by the Italian production company Aeffe. The acquisition will be completed by the end of this month.

Moschino is not usually noted for its low-key method of operation. Franco Moschino, who launched the company in 1983 and who died of Aids in September 1994 at the age of 44, used to refer to himself as The Revolutionary, The Prankster and The Provocateur. At his spring/summer 1989 couture collection, he interrupted the catwalk show halfway through and replaced it with a video. Its unexpected message was: 'The person showing his collection is also poisoning you! Tell him to stop!' He thumbed his nose at fashion's foibles and, as is the way with that strange world, the fashionistas loved him for it. It helped that his tailoring was impeccable: wit, when it is combined with excellent cloth and cut, can have its own appeal.

Moschino, a man who vaguely resembled the cartoon character Popeye, gave the house its strength and its personality. When he died, that unenviable task fell upon the shoulders of Rossella Jardini.

This interview happened to take place in Milan on the very day the Aeffe acquisition was announced and Ms Jardini, puffing away on her cigarettes, was in a relieved mood. 'Until the day before the signing, I was very, very anxious. The night before, I thought of going to the Aeffe people and saying I cannot . . . I was thinking of Franco. But, at the moment, I am sure we did the right thing.' Aeffe is owned by Massimo Ferretti and his sister, the designer Alberta (the name is intended to convey the Italian sound of her initials, AF). The company has been producing Moschino since the first collection in 1983, so the connection - emotional and professional - is much stronger than that between this year's other fashion takeovers. This is not a shark devouring its wriggling catch: it is more like two fish deciding to battle in the increasingly turbulent stream together.

'Moschino does not produce its own line,' explains Ms Jardini. 'If we consider what is happening in the fashion business, it's impossible to keep up. There is a risk in being independent because we are too small. So this is a natural happening. Everything will stay the same, nothing will change. It is not a trauma.' That there has been trauma is beyond doubt. This writer interviewed Ms Jardini exactly a year after Franco Moschino's death and his presence was still, sadly, palpable.

Now, she looks less harassed, more rested and at ease with the direction her creative team is taking. 'During these five years, we have gone through different stages. Finally, we have understood what the concept is and what Moschino wants to say, what it has to be. We want to keep on making different clothes, not because we want to be different but because we are different.' She categorises part of this look, delightfully and accurately, as 'sunny foolishness', and that mixture of fun, whimsy and the perfect cut has been encapsulated in the spring/summer 2000 collection (which will be available in Hong Kong, where a flagship store in The Landmark opened in August early next year). The theme is Peter Pan, and witty references are scattered throughout the collection. There is even a crocodile motif (including fringes of fake crocodile teeth).

'Sexy,' murmurs Ms Jardini, constantly, as she flicks through photographs of the show. 'Franco would be very, very happy.' The fashion press was happy, too. Far from being poisoned by proceedings, they were enlivened by these sirens and what Ms Jardini calls 'the Peter Pan rockstar look' with its Indian embroidery and jungle prints. Not that Ms Jardini cares what the fashion mafia think. 'In the past few years, the style has been imposed by the press, by what the stylists choose,' she says, pulling an eloquent face. 'We are doing our own thing. We do not rely on stylists.' And amid the pirates and lost boys there is, as there always is with a Moschino collection, a trench coat.

'Because Franco loved the trench,' explains Ms Jardini simply. 'He thought it was a fundamental piece, like a little black dress, a white shirt and a pleated skirt.' That was always Moschino's great joke: everyone thought he was a naughty boy, revelling in his wackiness, but he knew that, in the end, the classics always last. Today, Ms Jardini says, she came to work in a coat which is five years old. She loves clothes which are 'out of time', which speak of a universal style. 'And these are the clothes that Moschino makes.' The house will inevitably shift direction under the influence of Aeffe, no matter how much Ms Jardini says there will be no change. Fashion does not favour the static. In fact, the sales showroom in Milan has just been renovated in typical Moschino style - that is to say, it embraces the classic and the irreverent with tongue firmly in chic.

All the lampshades bear the warning caveat emptor (buyer beware) and the glass walls are covered with the American writer Susan Sontag's Notes On Camp. But in the reception, there are two sweetly pristine christening robes set under glass. They are not there to amuse. These, say the Moschino people hopefully, symbolise new life.