Above the Trees

No Fashion Victim

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On paper, it never should have worked. Franco Moschino died in 1994, and with him his eponymous fashion label ought to have as well.

Being the name behind the brand, Moschino was famous for infusing the Italian–and worldwide–fashion scene with outrageous personality. He cov­ered his models in noncouture symbols such as the smiley face and the Union Jack. Red hearts served as handles on his office doors, and his advertising tagline read, “Stop the Fashion System.”

But last year Moschino, the company, celebrated its 20th anniversary, despite the fact that the last nine years have been without Moschino, the man. Annual revenues were reportedly above the $500 million mark last year, and a 4 percent growth in sales is predicted for 2004.

The 20th anniversary gala celebration was kicked off with new headquarters in Milan. Both were overseen by Rossella Jardini, a friend and colleague of Moschino’s who took over the role of chief designer when he died from complications of AIDS. In addition to sewing up collections that contributed to a healthy bottom line, Jardini has kept the brand at the forefront, rather than as a fad, of the fashion industry–difficult for any label to do for two decades, not to mention one that has lost its founder.

But Jardini says the transition was not as easy as the balance sheet or the runways now make it look. “The en­tire design staff had worked so closely with Moschino for so many years. When he passed away, it was obviously extremely difficult and sad for everyone,” Jardini says through a translator. “The design team had become dependent on Moschino’s direction and vision, and found it difficult to continue on with the next collections.” After Moschino’s death, Jardini felt it was her “duty to lead the individuals who had dedicated so much time and effort into designing past collections under Moschino.”

Designing without Distraction

Being able to focus allowed the design team to ignore the inevitable criticism the fashion press would hurl its way, as typically happens when a young designer takes over a label from an established name. Being immersed in the work at hand also distracted the team from its grief.

Nine years later, Jardini has adapted Moschino’s sense of humor and irreverence to a consumer marketplace that also demands a modicum of practicality even in high-end ready-to-wear. The junior Moschino Cheap & Chic line is now sold in major department stores, and the Moschino brand owns 24 boutiques across the globe. Aeffe, an Ital­ian conglomerate, controls the majority of the label (as well as other fashion powerhouses such as Jean Paul Gaul­tier), but Jardini still controls the brand’s style. That hasn’t been an easy charge. “The biggest challenge was, and still is, stylistic,” Jardini says. “However, everyone at Moschino wanted to put their hearts and souls into going forward.”

Her style is like his in that she updates “super classics,” but doesn’t take the twists to the degree that he once did. No longer does she base her design decisions on what she thought he might have done, although his original vision still runs through the company. The new Moschino headquarters illustrates the collaboration of Moschino’s and Jardini’s tastes. Stuffed toy cows graze in the entranceway, but they do so on marble floors rather than on velvety carpeting, as Franco Moschino perhaps might have preferred. And Jardini hopes more consumers will be able to buy into the new aesthetic: She plans to expand Moschino into housewares and home design.

“By continuing with designing each season,” she says, “I tried, and still try, to bring Moschino’s spirit into every aspect of the business, from the actual clothing to the ad campaigns to the design of the new headquarters.”

Above the Trees looks at leaders and industries outside the law. It lets you draw analogies to how you run your business, how you deal with your clients and how you face your own challenges.

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