Now You Know: How the Smiley Face Fits into Fashion
Welcome to Now You Know, Eric Wilson’s column that will help you become a fashion know-it-all in one quick read. Each week, he’ll take a look at an endearing fashion influence and why it’s relevant right now. Enjoy!
Maybe this will put a smile on your face. At his first men’s wear show for Moschino in London this week, designer Jeremy Scott revisited the smiley face, a signature element of the house during Franco Moschino’s most amusingly glorious period of creative output in the early 1990s. Fashion audiences have been somewhat divided about Scott’s arrival at Moschino since he presented his first women’s collection as a tribute to junk food (complete with McDonald’s Happy Meal-inspired handbags), and likewise, the appeal of his men’s offerings will certainly be subject to personal taste.
But Scott has done his homework at Moschino in bringing back the smiley face, a recurring motif of the late designer that perfectly epitomized his whimsical, irreverent approach to fashion. (Franco Moschino, who died in 1994, was a designer known to say things like “the new look is the old look refried,” or “I have a feeling I will say only serious things ... no, no, I’m already bored.”) Moschino paired the little yellow icon of happiness with symbols of a red heart, peace, and anarchy on a belt, and also inset them into tiny pearl buttons on a corporate blue blazer, in a way that's noticeable only to the wearer. Scott designed yellow evening slippers emblazoned with the smiley face, or doubled them in overlapping circles so that the smiles looked like the interlocking C’s of the Chanel logo.
The smiley face, as Moschino recognized, is a powerful symbol, but its use has not always been entirely viewed in a positive light. Smiley World, a company that holds trademarks for the symbol known as “Smiley” in several countries and collects licensing revenues from places that use it, has famously battled retailers like Walmart for its commercial use of the icon. According to the company’s web site, the Smiley brand was founded by Franklin Loufrani in 1971 as part of a French newspaper campaign to spotlight good news (to help readers “see the bright side of life throughout the day”) and has since evolved into appearances on coffee mugs and emoticons everywhere.
Of course, such a simple symbol predates conventional commercial use by hundreds of years, and happy faces have appeared everywhere from movie posters (for “Lily” in 1953) to buttons. Harvey R. Ball is most widely credited with inventing the symbol in its familiar yellow version as a button he created for the State Mutual Life Assurance Company of America in 1963, to cheer up employees during a corporate merger, but the Loufrani family was the first to seek a trademark.
Whether Scott’s use of the symbol at Moschino will cause frown lines is an open question, but he is clearly not shy about tweaking famous brands (there are also prints evocative of Coca-Cola and Louis Vuitton’s monogram in his collection) and is embracing the legacy of the label’s founder. Franco Moschino used smiley faces to provoke as well as amuse. Two examples seen in Moschino: 10 Years of Chaos, published on his 10th anniversary in business, were a 1992 yellow blazer with the smile on the back; a T-shirt from 1994 showed smiley faces in white, black, yellow and red printed with the slogan, “No to racism.”
Other designers have used smiley faces in their work, including Anya Hindmarch, who recently designed a python shopping bag printed with the words “Have a nice day, thank you,” and Philip Treacy, who made a hat in 2012 that made its wearer appear look like a giant smiley face come to life. Marc Jacobs, as a Parsons student, started his career designing smiley face sweaters in 1984. Flash forward to today and you’ll see in one of Scott’s prints for men, he combined smiley faces with national flags, a motif that looks strikingly similar to a Nutella promotion currently featured on Smiley.com that is timed to the World Cup.
Happy minds think alike. :)
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