"I hope people don't think I'm mad," says Jeremy Scott in complete earnest while his gold teeth with razor sharp vampire incisors flash, and his eyebrow-less forehead moves suggestively to imply open-faced naivety. The teeth spell out his name - J E R E M Y - but this 24-year-old from Missouri won't need to spell it out for long. For 1998, he is the new darling of the fashion world - and also undoubtedly a few sequins short of a party frock.
This may be due to his supreme talent (he has won the title of "future top designer" at the French Venus de la Mode awards twice in a row, both last March and in October) or because he is loud-mouthed and opinionated, or even both. It's hard to say really, but when he burst down the catwalk last October after his third Paris show screaming "Vive le avant-garde" like a maniac, the right cast of players sat up and took notice of him. In fact they included US Vogue contributing editor Andre Leon Talley, stylist Isabella Blow and Nicole Fischelis, Vice President of Saks Fifth Avenue (who had what she described as a "moment" at the show) and they had no choice: Scott's "Rich White Women" collection, executed entirely in white leather, white jersey and milky opaque pleated polyamide was so modern that the word in Paris was "see Jeremy Scott".
The fuss was about jersey T-shirts and dresses that could be worn in several ways, leather evening wear, sculptural pleating, and reworked versions of traditional sports wear. His tee's are in fact very clever. Worn "upright", one style - a short sleeved tee with two strangely placed armholes, and an extra collar situated above the sternum - looks plain odd. Then after a quick demonstration it becomes clear. This is two garments in one. Turn it 90 degrees and you have, not a short sleeved tee, but a no-sleeved tee with the redundant short sleeves hanging down front and back like shrivelled elephants trunks. It still looks weird, but so did bumsters, at first. Scott carries through this multi-purpose angle with a cocoon like hood which then becomes an artful drape on a dress and other jersey garments which can be worn up to four or five ways.
There was also much ado about his showing-out clothes. As Lucille Lewin, owner of Whistles which will be stocking the collection this spring, points out, "The clothes actually appeal to both sides of the female personality, the relaxed and the extravagant, which is why I bought them". Lewin particularly liked the leather pieces. There were strapless jumpsuits, a half mini / half trouser with the option of an additional half leg of leather (to play with proportion says Scott) and the sculptural pleated polyamide used to create "wings" firmly attached from the side seam of a leather jumpsuit to elbow length leather gloves. Lewin also loved a shell-like pleated top which stands up on it's own, and the "no-shoe shoes" - a high heel strapped to the foot with a nude band. Scott wanted them to look surgically implanted.
It all began for Scott, not two years ago when he came to Paris from New York's Pratt Institute armed with a fashion diploma, but on a livestock farm on the prairies near Kansas City where he lived a fantasy life through fashion magazines. He was by his own admission a freak at school. The kind of freak that always knew he was different but didn't quite know why. After his brief spell in New York, Paris was, in his mind the only place to be, and he arrived there with nothing in 1995. "London is too closed, and it's not the centre of the fashion universe as everyone thinks; Paris is the Capital of world of fashion and the melting pot for everything." He spouts this in an accusatory way, like he's had enough of London and Cool Britannia. In reality Scott simply wanted to be in a place where he would stand out. He has said "Paris needed someone like me," and he was right.
Fortunately, he has been lucky in Paris. During his first week in the city Scott was tapped on the shoulder by Gaultier's fashion PR who said "I like your hair" - he cuts it himself and has done since age five - and was promptly invited to a party where he met the "right" people. From then it seems Jeremy Scott's road to fame has been preordained, set in stone, fated, whatever you want to call it.
His fashion influences are fairly simple, his opinions are not. "I grew up in sportswear," he says, "I never wear anything that doesn't have a zip or poppers." Indeed he's wearing a cowboy shirt with poppers, zip front Levi's and white Nike's with a gold swoosh when we meet at his Parisian studio. From the neck up, however, it does get weird: the gold teeth from Brooklyn which cost $150, shaved eyebrows and hair that's extremely short at the front, and asymmetrically cut at the back. But after a while, on Jeremy at least, it seems just right.
Scott has quite a few fans already. In September he held an exhibition at the Parisian shop of the moment, Colette, which is a fashion, objet d'art and book shop as well as being a gallery. He asked some of the best fashion photographers around to interpret his first collection and nearly all complied. Scott thinks magazines stifle fashion designers, so the brief was "do what you want". They did, and he loved it.
Call him a maverick, or a modernist's modernist, or even a pushy American kid and he won't mind at all. In fact he likes it. Don't call him what he is though, a basically sweet and slightly odd guy who's so in love with his muse, the model Devon, that he asks me to write her name on his hand. Regardless, his work is based on a need to be a new voice in fashion, and to gather people to his way of thinking.
Indeed he's got nothing to lose, yet, and proves it by saying, "There is no-one that really inspires me, I have such a feeling about my own style, the only house I'd love to work for is Pierre Cardin or maybe even Laura Ashley." And, "When the people copying other people are doing it better than the people they are copying then there's a problem in fashion. Helmut Lang looks like Calvin Klein looks like Donna Karan, it's just not interesting anymore."
He is also provocational. He says Galliano is "garbage" because "we've seen it all before and who needs another pretty slip dress anyway," and thinks McQueen has shown disrespect to the house of Givenchy by misrepresenting its image. His gallons of hot air will hopefully not raise hackles. It should be put down to youthful ambition and a large degree of 21st-century vision. Alexander McQueen has done OK being a loud-mouth, and so will Jeremy Scott.
Jeremy Scott's collection is available from Whistles, 12 St Christopher's Place, London W1 from mid February.