the importance of fighting for your dreams, by jeremy scott

Growing up on a small farm in rural Missouri, Jeremy Scott’s determination, resilience, and motivation to follow his dreams (against all odds) is one of the most inspirational success stories in the business. He’s gone from small town farm boy...

by i-D Staff and Jeremy Scott
26 April 2017, 3:25pm

As a young boy I didn't have the access, or the money, to purchase new toys, so I created toys out of other things — namely my imagination. I'd turn dilapidated cars into space ships, old tractor seats into the best table at a fancy French restaurant and, with the help of my grandmother, transformed the empty plastic bags from loaves of bread into jump ropes. We lived a life of recycling when recycling meant poverty. The necessity to create — not only with what I had, but with my mind — harbored inside me a way of looking at the world that would become the basis of my artistic self expression.

Living on the farm and imagining a world very different to mine, I spent my childhood longing to be somewhere else — somewhere I would fit in, where I was understood, where I could touch people's lives. I often wonder if the remoteness of where I grew up helped to propel me so passionately into wanting to communicate with the world through my work. In today's hyper-connected world, it's nearly impossible to imagine how cut off one could feel growing up and how that could inspire you.

On paper, moving from the farm to the city for junior high and high school should have been a step in the right direction. In my daydreams, I thought it would get me closer to the world. Instead, I had a rude awakening. The kids at school only saw the differences in my speech, my mannerisms, and my expressive way of dressing as an invitation to ridicule me. I was made bluntly aware of how different I was and how threatening that was to other kids my age.

One thing I've never understood, even to this day, is why anything I choose to wear would be of any concern to another person? I was harassed verbally and physically at school for simply wearing something that wasn't seen as the norm. It took its toll on me in a way that I now see as a gift. I grew stronger in my resolve to be who I was without apology and without regret. All this, of course, is so much easier to say in hindsight, as the constant onslaught of abuse and hate that I endured on a daily basis could've had a very negative outcome on another person.

Throughout my school years, I escaped into my imagination. I took art classes and created the world I wanted to live in inside my mind. I was always dreaming of the high fashion world I saw in magazines, movies, and on television. When it was time for me to take the first steps towards making my dreams a reality, I sent my portfolio of sketches, along with a humble letter, to the admissions office at the Fashion Institute of Technology. That portfolio not only contained all my precious ideas, it contained all my hopes and dreams of escaping small town life.

The rejection letter from the Fashion Institute of Technology read, 'You lack originality, creativity, and artistic ability…' , I cried, I cried and I cried some more.

After waiting several weeks with no response, I finally received my portfolio back and then, a couple of weeks later, a letter — a letter from the Fashion Institute of Technology! Wow! For me, this was like Dorothy getting word from the great Oz himself. My anticipation was great as I opened the letter. My excitement was palpable as I started to read and my heartache even greater as I read the following sentence —a sentence that has since become etched into my brain— "You lack originality, creativity, and artistic ability…" Needless to say, I cried, I cried, and I cried some more. I perceived it to be the voice of authority telling me I was not good enough. This letter really did a number on me. It made me doubt my talent. For all I knew, I was just like a million dreamers before me who thought they had something special when they didn't. The fact that it came from a supposed arbitrator of fashion made me think I must take heed and find myself another occupation and passion.

As anyone in love can tell you, there is no telling the heart that it cannot have what it wants. With that in mind, I set out to New York in a different direction: art history. I was accepted at NYU to study it as my major. Upon hitting the streets of Greenwich Village, I immediately felt at home. My long braided hair, tied up with colorful rubber bands, garnered compliments on every street corner, whereas it had elicited altercations with every step I took in Kansas City. My sarong skirts, lunch box bags, rice paper parasols, and patent leather platform shoes all changed from things I had to wear with bravery to things I simply wore because it was a Wednesday.

Not long after moving to New York, I found the confidence to make a fresh attempt at pursuing my dreams and contacted the city's three fashion schools; Parsons, Pratt, and finally F.I.T. My first interview at Parsons was promising. I felt like I was being taken seriously and I had a real chance. Then I set foot in Pratt. For the first time in my life, I showed my work to someone who understood it as I intended it to be! Someone who looked at my work and saw potential. Someone who was enthusiastic about my vision and spoke the words right out of my mouth before I could even utter them. It was a breakthrough. I found where I belonged! I saw my way forward! And my dreams rose up like the sun on the horizon.

Not to say that everything came up roses from that moment on. I had to apply for a student loan and a scholarship, and then learn how to cut patterns, drape dresses and sew the ideas I had in my mind and bring them to life. I could not afford four years of Pratt, so I did a four-year degree in three years, often undertaking two or three internships at a time on top of working at the school library to make ends meet. It was hard, but I was finally following my dreams and that was all that mattered.

During this time, I plucked up the courage to make a call to the US headquarters of Aeffe, who manufactured and represented some of my favorite designers — including Rifat Ozbek, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Franco Moschino. I met with the president, Michelle Stein, who offered me an internship that involved helping on everything from press to sales. It was brilliant to be around all the fashion I loved on the runway and see it first hand. I was in heaven!

    Finishing my senior year collection, I felt enthralled to bring my vision to reality on the catwalk. I'd never felt more alive before in my life. By sharing my designs and seeing them take shape, I realized I was starting a dialogue between my work and the world at large, even if it was only on the small scale of my student show. It had whet my appetite and I couldn't get rid of the hunger.

As my third year grew to a close I knew it was time for me to make another leap. As much as I loved New York after the farm, I longed for Europe. I wanted to see the cool kids in London that I'd read about in i-D. I felt a burning desire to go to Paris where my fashion heroes were all showing. I decided that I had to choose a date to leave and stick to it or it would never happen. So I packed up all my clothes and headed to Paris a few weeks after graduation. Paris was an entirely new beast — my high school French was enough to get me bread, as in "le pain", but not enough for me to deal with the daily obstacles that I encountered. My French quickly improved, but times grew more and more desperate. I was, for all intents and purposes, homeless. I had no place to live and no job prospects. I had a word with myself — and a strong one at that — and I made myself a deal. If I could find work and an apartment before my ticket back to the US for Christmas then I would continue this journey and solider on. But if I couldn't, then I had to come to terms with the fact that fashion was not god's plan for me.

As fate would have it, spending every night in the clubs because I had no home to go to paid off. I was offered a job promoting parties and paid to go to parties because I "looked cool". It was not exactly what I was hoping for, but sometimes a door is shut only for a window to open.

Through the friends I made in Paris clubs, I found somewhere to live and was able to put on my first fashion show. Through their encouragement and connections, I secured a venue to show in free of charge, my artist friends lent me their installation lighting to illuminate the space, and my friends modeled in the show. I never in a million years thought "I'll move to Paris and start my own line." It just happened. It taught me that things in life don't always go to plan. Sometimes it's not Plan A, Plan B, or even Plan C that's right. It may be Plan X, Y, or Z! You can plan and imagine life all you want, but you have to be ready for what the universe throws your way.

I'll be celebrating my 20th anniversary in September. 20 years of designing, 20 years of being an independent designer, 20 years of fighting for my voice to be heard, and 20 years of being a rebel. I was born into a poor family and grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. I had no wealth, no connections, and nothing in my circumstances to point me into being where I am today, except one thing: a dream. I fought to make that dream a reality and to keep on dreaming bigger and bigger.

If you can wrap your mind around your dream, it's not big enough. Dream bigger! Dream bolder and fight. Fight for your dreams, as they are the most precious things we have, and sometimes they are all we have."

Look: In the cover story for The Creativity Issue, Tim Walker captures the electric energy of bright young things Adwoa, Slick, King, Leo and Elliott.


Text Jeremy Scott
Image taken from the i-Cons: Jeremy Scott. Courtesy of Pablo Olea, 1995.

Jeremy Scott
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