Moschino’s creative director, Rossella Jardini, doesn’t like to talk about herself or her talent. She’d much rather indulge in a little humor, political discussion or better yet, refer the success of the company to its founder and creative mastermind, Franco Moschino.

"I wanted his name and the brand to survive," Jardini declared, sitting comfortably back with one leg tucked under the other and drawing on a cigarette, during an interview at her office in Milan. "I never wanted my name up there with his."

Call it immense unselfishness, humility or simply a bond with a longtime friend, but Jardini has always been content with being the unknown name behind a known brand.

It’s not that she’s soft or intimidated; on the contrary, she’s quite outspoken and honest, referring to Moschino as a genius with a huge ego who happened to dislike doing the more mundane tasks that go into making a collection.

"He hated choosing fabrics — he would rather be designing or painting," Jardini recalled. "I was always the one to pick out the fabrics for the collections."

On personal and professional levels, Jardini had been virtually inseparable from Moschino. She spent the major part of her creative career with Moschino, working alongside him at the Italian fashion house Cadette and then joining his company shortly after the runway debut of Moschino Couture in fall 1983.

She also relished her downtime with him, whether it was spending a weekend together at his country house in northern Italy or summer vacations in Saint Tropez. "We always laughed. He could always make me laugh," Jardini said.

The laughter, unfortunately, was cut short when the designer died at the age of 44 in September 1994.

Although almost a decade has passed, Jardini still chokes back tears when talking about Moschino’s final days.

"I just didn’t want to believe that he would be gone and it’s still something that I’ve never truly gotten over," Jardini said.

The delicacy and the honesty with which she talks about him could be testament enough to the strength of their friendship. But actions speak louder than words and Jardini’s actions — to continue the life of the brand and keep his name — have been the most edifying signs of her devotion.Following his death, Jardini took the helm of a heartbroken fashion house and sought to assuage retailers’ fears.

While Jardini continually draws from the recognizable Moschino aesthetic, her own imprint over the past decade can’t be denied.

"I believe that I have introduced a more feminine part to the collection because when I work, I can’t help but create pieces that I would like to wear," Jardini said.

Taking over the reins of the house wasintimidating, both professionally and personally. "I was afraid, most of all, of the past," Jardini said. "At times the comparison to a charismatic person like Moschino was a challenge, but continuing the Moschino brand out of love connected me to him and permitted me to overcome difficult moments."

Although retailers say the collection floundered for the first few seasons after he died, it quickly got back on track and lately has been experiencing somewhatof a renaissance.

"I think what makes it sell is first the make — it’s a very high quality — and second, it’s for someone who wants a little whip, the feel-good element of clothes," said Joan Kaner, senior vice president and fashion director of Neiman Marcus.

Ron Frasch, chairman and chief executive of Bergdorf Goodman, praised Jardini and the rest of Moschino’s senior staff not only for carrying on the label, but also for making it successful.

"It’s terrific design and [she’s] always right on with the trends," Frasch said.

Unlike the founder of the house,Jardini realizes she has to play more of a conformist role to keep the brand moving ahead, yet she always worked to stay true to the irony and satire that characterizes the brand.

Although it would be easy to typecast Jardini as a typical Italian woman who took on the role as caretaker and shelved her own ambitions to better facilitate those of Moschino, the feisty girl that resonates inside her quickly dispels that assumption.

"It was never about becoming famous or trendy," Jardini laughed. "In fact, I always tell my staff not to believe the hype. The scope was and is to be happy with what we create."

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