Latin Grammys 2018

Designer Jeremy Scott on Working With Madonna & CL, Meeting His Idol Dolly Parton

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for FENTY PUMA
Jeremy Scott attends the Fenty Puma by Rihanna AW16 Collection during Fall 2016 New York Fashion Week at 23 Wall Street on Feb. 12, 2016 in New York City.  

As a go-to designer for stars like Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus and Rihanna, Jeremy Scott sees his collaborations with artists as extending far beyond dress. “It’s just about that creative sharing and I feel very at home in the world. I feel very protected and appreciated and nurtured and supported and it’s a very nice feeling,” says the designer, who has helmed Italian fashion house Moschino since 2013 in addition to his eponymous label.

This year has been full of music world milestones for him: Scott created costumes for Madonna’s Rebel Heart Tour, met his hero Dolly Parton at the Country Music Awards, and logged studio time with K-pop star CL (a current muse) on her debut English single “Lifted.” In a conversation with Billboard, Scott discusses his musical heroes and explains the difference between dressing musicians and actors.

K-Pop Star CL Reaches New Heights on 'Lifted'

What are some of the highlights of your past year?

I’ve been very excited to be working with my friend CL, whose debut track just came out for her first solo album and full English album, which is really exciting because I feel like K-pop has continued to be such a big import and influence globally. To have her actually have full songs in English and to broaden people’s understanding of her is really exciting. I dressed her for most of the video for “Lifted” which just came out. I’m really, really excited about that.

This is the anniversary of my documentary, Jeremy Scott: The People’s Designer, being in theaters. Now it’s been on Netflix for the last few months now and it’s one of the most watched documentaries they have. They sent us some statistics and notes just saying how wonderfully well received it seems to be because when people watch it, they watch it all the way through. It was very flattering to hear that. The story is just, in my opinion, the American success story -- you might not be born with a famous name or lots of money or all these connections but if you really have a dream and you really believe in it and you really fight for it, it’s still possible to make those dreams come true.

What has inspired you recently?

There’s a lot of people that I like. Like Tove Lo, I love her songs and her music. I’ve been supporting Grimes since the very beginning and it’s great to see her. She’s now really getting a lot more exposure which is wonderful. My music taste is also very eclectic. I can [listen to] Fetty Wap and Tove Lo and DNCE and be happy in all those places. I can rock out to Demi Lovato, as well as Bjork.

What is it like being based in Los Angeles, when the fashion industry is primarily in New York and Europe?

I love it. The reason I moved here was not only was I inspired by Los Angeles in general -- from the color of the sky to the textures and to the just open mindedness, the political views -- I also loved that I could isolate myself away from all of that and continue to incubate and curate and create my own world more fiercely. I ultimately do still feel like an outsider and I do feel actually I’m more in the world of music because of how much I participate with musicians -- in all aspects, not just clothes. I was in the studio with CL constantly working on her album. Wale asked me to record things with him for his last album. Kanye’s played music for me that’s not yet released. There’s always these things. And then the ideas. Katy or another friend will be like "what about this as a song?"

Who was the first musician you dressed?

It was Bjork. It was amazing because it was my third show and she called and said, "This is Bjork" in her distinct voice, and I was kind of like, "This isn’t even real" because at that point it was just my third show. I was like 21 or 22 and at 16 I had been screaming at Lollapalooza during her Sugarcubes concert and totally mesmerized by her. I learned a lot about things, especially for her to breathe while she sings and how to change the garment so that it fit her for what her job is. I had to learn -- there’s my job and then there’s their job. Sometimes it doesn’t always mesh perfectly in the sense that there are needs that sometimes they have as a performer that I don’t need as a fashion designer for the runway. So I learned with her, she’s so wonderfully gentle about helping me find my way, to create my vision that could work for her and still be authentic to my vision.

She was a wonderful person for me to start with and then the second person I started dressing was Madonna. I dressed her since very, very early on. It was wonderful to bring her last year with me to the Met and dress her for such a high profile event and to do her tour this year. Her favorite outfit was the crystal fringe crazy concoction that she wore for the finale of the show. It was amazing to do and amazing to see her perform at Madison Square Garden [on her Rebel Heart Tour]. That was the second person I ever dressed and that was the second concert I ever went to. I saw Madonna actually at Madison Square Garden when I was in college and my friend won two tickets from the radio station, like Hot 95, and we went and saw The Girlie Show. For me to end up dressing the first two people that I went to see in concert is kind of mind blowing.

Is there a difference between dressing a musician and dressing an actor?

Yes, I can tell you exactly what the difference is. Musicians are meant to be themselves -- you’re turning up the volume on who they are. So it’s really about this persona of who they are and they way they live their life and who they are on stage. For me, actresses are constantly chameleons and so they are taking a backseat to their own personality. I don’t feel like we’re trying to show off their personality as much as let them be a blank slate. It’s precisely the reason why I dress more musicians than I do actresses. I’m much more of a musician designer because my clothes are flamboyant and strong and they help convey and carry that which more musicians have. Maybe I’m being a little unfair because, yeah, sometimes musicians’ music is written by someone else, and of course they’re shot and edited by other people, but there’s still something about their real daily life, their real persona, their realness, which makes them rock stars. Rihanna walking down the street is a motherfucking rock star and there’s no denying it.

Tell me about meeting Dolly Parton this year.

Katy [Perry] called me and was like are you in town. I’m like, "yeah, I’m in town." She was like "I want you to dress me and come with me to the Country Music Awards because I’m singing with Dolly Parton." And I’m like "AHHHH!" So we went out to Vegas to do that and so that I could meet Dolly. I went with Katy to the rehearsal first. Dolly was already there so Katy went right on the stage and I planted myself in the front row. So they went through the set and began soundcheck, sang their songs and then at the end Katy’s like, "oh that’s my friend Jeremy that I was telling you about Dolly!" And Dolly looks up and goes, "Well, hi Jeremy! Thank you for loving me so much." Because Katy had told her I loved her so much. And then I said, "Oh thank you Dolly I have a present for you" and I kind of held up this bag I had for her and she goes "ohhh present for me, I can’t wait!" So then after they were done I went back there with Katy and Dolly, gave her her presents and she was so adorable, so sweet. I felt like she’s the closest thing to God. She really is holy and it’s like a white light coming from her and I love her. I love her music, I love her persona, I love her optimism.

What was the gift?

I gave her a pair of pink rubber high heeled cowboy boots I made with crystals on them and a pink biker jacket fringed bag that I made for Moschino. She loved both, she was so cute about it.

A version of this story appeared in the Sept. 17 issue of Billboard.

Bonus: Sofia Richie on How Madonna Influenced Her Personal Style