Survival jacket and trousers is an attention-seeking exercise in self-parody and so qualifies as an exemplar of Franco Moschino’s ironic and comic style. Not surprisingly, this work was a highlight of Moschino’s 1991 spring–summer collection show in Milan. As with many of the designer’s sartorial jokes, the outfit reflects the good-humoured ambivalence that he felt towards the world of high fashion; the milieu in which he thrived.

Moschino’s attitude towards fashion was formed during the heady days of the 1980s when expensive-looking clothes, designer logos and gleaming luxury goods were becoming indispensable signs of success. His response was to make fun of it all. Working, in his own words, ‘more like a painter and a decorator rather than a fashion designer’ (New York Times, 20 September 1994), Moschino often used fashion classics like the Chanel suit, the strapless ballgown or the little black dress as his starting point. He would then cover such classics with symbols, slogans or paraphernalia drawn from high and low culture to create discordant combinations and visual puns.

Moschino’s use of visual pranks links his work to that of Elsa Schiaparelli, the Italian-born couturier, notorious during the late 1930s for her Surrealist-inspired creations such as the Lobster dress, Tear dress and Shoe hat, all in collaboration with the Surrealist artist Salvador Dalí.

Survival jacket takes the classic khaki safari jacket with its multiple pockets to make a pun on life in the urban jungle. In this instance, the essential tools for survival include an assortment of shiny, gilded beauty aids such as a mirror, compact and nail file, as well as dispensers, brushes and combs for hair, blusher, lipstick, mascara and nail polish. A tiny compartment securely holds a boxed vial of Moschino perfume. Finally, and most prominently, there is a wallet for holding an assortment of credit cards. Not wanting us to miss the point, Moschino stencilled the words ‘survival jacket’ in bold black letters across the back. Survival jacket is reminiscent of late 1930s works by Dalí, of naked bodies conveying open drawers stuffed with objects, as well as the subsequent suits and coats by Schiaparelli featuring pockets imitating drawers.

Franco Moschino was born in Abbiategrasso, a town outside Milan. He studied at Milan’s Accademia di Brera between 1967 and 1969 and then worked as a fashion illustrator. From 1972 he worked freelance for numerous fashion houses including Versace and Cadette, where he became head designer and, in 1983, Moschino founded his own fashion house and launched a ready-to-wear collection the following year that was irreverently labelled ‘Moschino Couture!’ From the beginning he became known for his entertaining collections packed with a succession of witty one-liners that parodied the whims and excesses of fashion. In 1993 he held an exhibition in Milan to celebrate his tenth anniversary and in 1994 he launched Ecouture, an ecological collection using environmentally friendly fabrics and dyes. That year Moschino died of an AIDS-related illness. The fashion house has continued under the direction of collaborators from Moschino’s former design team.

Roger Leong, Curator, International Fashion and Textiles, NGV (in 2010)