Life

Wednesday 18 September 2019

Scott Crolla

Fashion designer whose ornate clothes epitomised the peacock style of the Eighties

Scott Crolla, the fashion designer, who has died of cancer aged 63, brought 18th-Century dandyism to a new generation in the early 1980s; along with his then partner Georgina Godley he made the Crolla label and the opulent Crolla shop in Dover Street, opened in 1981, central to the London fashion renaissance of the time.

Crolla's clothes revelled in rich textures, patterns and colours; they were ornate and slightly decadent. Described as 'Raj', they featured brocade waistcoats and Nehru jackets, paisley and Liberty print shirts, damask and crushed velvet trousers, brocade jodhpurs, chintz gowns and embroidered velvet slippers.

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Although some aspects of the look were more reminiscent of 1960s psychedelia than end of Empire, Crolla's daring use of fabrics and colour appealed to the New Romantic peacocks of the era, attracting everyone from Boy George to Diana, Princess of Wales.

The store's decor featured dark-wood floors, walls of pale green, ice blue and azalea pink, and antique gilded chairs placed in front of a huge photomural by Gilbert and George bearing the message "Go To Hell".

"There was nothing else quite like it," recalled Deyan Sudjik, director of the Design Museum, "a kind of grown-up baroque sense of glamour, the sort of place that you could imagine Bryan Ferry coming to change his suit."

Fashion designer Denise L'Estrange-Corbet, who worked in the shop, recalled Andy Warhol visiting with his sidekick BillyBoy, Bob Dylan - a "scrawny little person" - coming in with a tall, bossy female companion, and Elton John, a regular, who would order "six of those and six of those" without bothering to try them on.

"What we were after," Crolla once explained, "was a revolt against good taste, basically - the traditional concept of good taste." Their inspiration, he claimed, came from the bohemian tradition "of rich, fairly cultured nutcases travelling the world, having a tailor in Hong Kong, bringing back fabric from the East and having little things made up".

Slim and darkly handsome, with chiselled cheekbones and Byronic locks, Crolla himself seemed to exemplify the New Romantic ideal and his influence can be seen in the work of designers such as Karl Lagerfeld, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Gianni Versace. From the outside it looked as if he had it made. When, in 1985, Sir Bob Geldof invited him to take part in Fashion Aid at the Albert Hall, Crolla called on an array of Eighties pop star customers to shimmy down the catwalk.

The reality, however, was rather different. As the business grew, Crolla's relationship with Godley began to fall apart. "Georgina had all the talent and Scott had the gift of the gab," L'Estrange-Corbet recalled. After she walked out in 1985, Crolla struggled to keep going, the shop and the label eventually folded during the recession of 1991.

"When my career was at its most successful stage, I was probably the most depressed I've ever been in my life," Crolla said later. "You're in the magazines all the time but you can't get any money from the bank."

Scott Crolla was born in Edinburgh on October 23, 1955, the son of Aileen and Romano Crolla. His father, a second-generation Italian immigrant, owned a restaurant; his great-grandmother was the sister of Alfonso Crolla, who in 1934 co-founded the delicatessen and Italian wine merchant Valvona & Crolla, an Edinburgh institution to this day.

His father ran a chain of newsagents. Young Scott showed little interest in the top shelf, preferring the glossies below: "While other kids were looking at Playboy, I was sort of drooling over this beautiful woman in Ungaro or something."

Crolla went to Wimbledon School of Art, where he met Godley. At the time he was doing conceptual art and she was studying sculpture. He considered it a "wonderful advantage" not to have gone to fashion college.

A friend told him about a shop to let in Dover Street and he and Georgina decided to take it on. Although women's wear was introduced in the summer of 1984, at the beginning Crolla specialised in menswear. There were some who thought he was mad, but in a matter of months other designers were leaping on the New Romantic bandwagon.

After his business folded, life became a struggle. "When I was doing well I built up an art collection, early Gilbert and George, things like that," he recalled. "I sold most of it. That gave me the money to live on for a couple of years."

When Elton John sold some of his clothes at Sotheby's, Crolla went along to take a look: "At the time, I didn't have any money at all. I didn't want to bid for my own clothes, but I watched these people buy six of my jackets for £600 … I couldn't afford them."

In 2013 his label featured in a V & A retrospective of 1980s fashion. Later he moved into interior design with Lionel Bourcelot, launching a company called Ether. Most recently he collaborated with the designer Vivienne Tam.

Scott Crolla, born October 23, 1955; died July 24, 2019.

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