Ken Scott

Image of Ken Scott
Release Date: 
November 8, 2022
Reviewed by: 

“One cannot flip through this book without feeling joy, confronted by page after page of vibrant, delightful imagery, beautifully reproduced and exquisitely colored.”

As one of the most unsung heroes of modern fashion history, Ken Scott is not a high fashion household name. The monograph Ken Scott—a hefty volume with a colorful, jump-off-the-shelf cover—hopes to remedy this, acting as both a fantastic introduction to the artist and designer as well as a solid tribute and expansive reference for anyone interested in his exceptional oeuvre.

For those unfamiliar with Scott’s contributions, the book provides a stellar visual narrative, juxtaposing vintage advertisements and runway shots with playful, whimsically staged contemporary photographs by Guido Taroni of dozens of pieces from the Ken Scott Foundation archive. Taroni’s compositions showcase just as much artistry as the garments themselves, each page as delightfully cheeky as the best Barney’s window display. In fact, rather than starting with a title page, readers are reeled in with 21 pages of Taroni’s images of vintage garments in effortlessly simple yet surreal situations. As such, one is immersed in Scott’s visual world before the book even begins.

Known as “the fashion gardener,” Ken Scott put the power in flower power by turning a hippie-era textile brand into a global juggernaut that helped transform its home base of Milan into the fashion capital of Italy. Born in Indiana, Scott began his career as a window dresser for local department stores before uprooting his midwestern life and relocating to the Riviera where he befriended none other than Peggy Guggenheim and Marc Chagall. These luminaries of modernism were attracted to Scott’s vibrant paintings, with Guggenheim briefly championing him to the art world.

All of this would change, however, the moment he discovered textile design. With a profound eye for color and deep reverence for art history, he brought electric drama to fabrics, taking grandmotherly stuffy florals and bringing them into the 20th century as icons of pop art. If you’re having trouble picturing this, imagine if Lilly Pulitzer were actually good.

At first, these designs were purely for interiors; however, when he saw another designer “butchering” his patterns in garments, he jumped headfirst into fashion and never looked back. Accessories, luggage, shoes, jewelry, and an entire lifestyle brand (including a restaurant) eventually followed—he became “a standard-bearer of the first hippies,” but with an editorial fashion twist.

Believing haute couture was “dead,” he brought democracy to Italian prêt-à-porter by embracing new, wrinkle-free synthetic fabrics so that those without hired help and oversized trunks could travel in style. Scott felt “everyone deserved to dress well,” making his entire line accessible and attractive to film stars like Audrey Hepburn and the average woman in Milwaukee. Even the way he promoted his products spoke to a new generation of consumer, turning closed-room runway presentations for select clients into open-air theatrical catwalks where his models dressed in animal prints while he acted as an overzealous lion tamer. In an era before the larger-than-life personalities of John Galliano and Alexander McQueen, such a move was unheard of, extraordinary.

The many essays in Ken Scott are written by a host of the fashion elite who clearly have a solid understanding not only of Scott’s work but of its important in the greater canon. However, two points—one more easily fixable than the other—detract from the overall quality of these contributions. While well-written, many of the passages go over the same biographical ground, repeating stories, even direct quotes, upward of three times—the punchline gets old.

The other “problem” is that this monograph fails to hide the fact that it is essentially a beautifully packaged ad for Gucci. Not only was the printing partially funded by the brand, but the latter half of the book focuses on the company’s 2020 Epilogue collection that incorporated Scott’s vintage patterns as well as an interview with Alessandro Michele, Gucci’s recently ousted creative director. One wonders if this will serve its role as an important-looking marketing tool now that Michele is no longer associated with the company.

Nevertheless, these minor flaws are easily overlooked, especially when the star of this show is the embarrassment of riches in the shape of Ken Scott’s scrumptious, irresistible textile designs. One cannot flip through this book without feeling joy, confronted by page after page of vibrant, delightful imagery, beautifully reproduced and exquisitely colored. And for the serious fashion historian, it also boasts a detailed career timeline, plenty of archival sketches, and a notable index to make this just as useful as it is attractive.