On a recent trip to New York, Couturing caught up with the brains behind up-and-coming label Jonathan Cohen, designer Jonathan Cohen and head of business operations, Sarah Leff.
Featuring as a label to watch in last months issue of trendsetting magazine Nylon, and gracing the sites of industry staples, Harper’s Bazaar and Women’s Wear Daily, Jonathan Cohen is on the rise.
Business partners Jonathan and Sarah met while studying at the prestigious Parsons School of Design. Soon realising they both shared the same dream of starting a label, they decided to combine their talents and Jonathan Cohen the brand was born. Fortuitously, each possess a set of skills, complementary to the other. While Jonathan brings the creative design side to the label, Sarah covers the all-important business side.
Jonathan has mixed his training and experiences gained from interning with industry stalwarts such as Oscar de la Renta and Patricia Field, with his experiences growing up to Mexican parents in laid back California to create a unique label, which combines bold prints with classic silhouettes.
1. Since launching in 2010, Jonathan Cohen has featured in Nylon, NY Mag Harper’s Bazaar and Women’s Wear Daily. How important is it for the fashion industry to support up-and-coming designers, particular given the tough economic times?
Jonathan Cohen (JC): I believe it is extremely important. Without there support, nobody would give us the time of day. By being in these publications it has given us a certain credibility. It really helps to get the brand out there, and in a way when these publications write about you, people trust your brand more. Anything to get the name out to people is always great.
2. You have collaborated with L’Oreal for their Mizani line and created a scarf design for an up-market hotel. How do collaborations challenge you as a designer and who would you love to collaborate with?
JC: I think collaborations are great way to bring two worlds together. I think it is always great to work with other people and their teams. It is always important to keep true to our brand and vision when doing outside projects. Participating in collaborations has always been a fun side project to work on while in the process of developing our upcoming collections. It always keeps us on our toes!
3. You both met while studying at Parsons School of Design. Jonathan has also completed internships at Oscar de la Renta, Doo.Ri Chung and Patricia Field. How have your studies and past work experience helped you with developing Jonathan Cohen?
Sarah Leff (SL): Our internships throughout school have allowed us to do what we do on a daily basis. We learned many things in the classroom, however it became applicable at the office. We still work with vendors and factories that we were educated about via internships. The relationships we built while in school have been a huge support system for us emerging into the industry.
JC: I think while you are in school, you must intern. It’s almost just as important as being in school. It will show you what the industry is really like and what is going on. Also it’s crucial for connections.
Had I not had these internships with respected brands in the industry, many buyers or editors wouldn’t even look at us. One of the first questions I get asked by a buyer or editor, or interview for any type of job, is who did you work/intern for? What was your experience? I am very lucky that I had a very positive experience at each of my internships. I learned and grew so much in each place and I would not be able to do what I am doing without those experiences. I still keep in touch with many of the people I worked for and they are always open to giving me advice or helping me in any way they can. Also just being able to work under someone you have admired since you were young is such a rewarding experience.
4. What have been some of the greatest challenges you’ve faced from a design perspective and business perspective since starting Jonathan Cohen?
SL: Breaking into the high-end market has been a challenge. However, every challenge we encounter, we overcome and grow as a team and a collection. Many of the top mills require high minimums for their fabric, so we have had a learn how to work around that and make it work best for our collection.
Everyone always is a little scared of the new guy, we have overcome that challenge and built such wonderful relationships doing such.
5. You are very involved with the prints used in your collections, either creating them yourselves or working closely with other people to create them. You have also worked with a range of materials from neoprene to leather and silk. How do you ensure that you keep developing as a designer and that your collections are always exciting, whilst still maintaining the Jonathan Cohen design aesthetic?
SL: We design all prints in house and that is one element that sets us apart. It is such a big part of our design process that I do not think we would ever consider outsourcing that. Each collection is designed around an inspiration from past or present. Living in New York and having the ability to travel with our collection, I think we will always find something to be inspired by.
6. Great attention to detail goes into making your pieces. For example, you use a picot finish to hem your clothes, which gives them a relaxed feel without the rawness of an unfinished hem. What else makes Jonathan Cohen stand out from other labels in the market?
JC: Of course the biggest aspect that sets us apart is our prints. They are ALL designed in house so you wont find anything like them in the market. Each one is designed to be special and unique. Even if we use a solid color in a fabric it, we dye it so that the color is our own for the collection. We constantly push ourselves each collection to think of innovative ideas both in our fabrics and construction of garments. Each piece is thought of and looked at for so long to make sure you are seeing something fresh and new.
7. You both bring different skills to the label with Sarah focusing on the business side and Jonathan on the design side. How has having a partner with different skills helped in such a tough industry when facing the challenges of starting a label?
SL: Jonathan and I have learned so much from one another. We both have our different strengths and bring those fully to the business. When initially starting the business we thought there was a line of separation between the business and design side. However, we run our collection with them merged together. Every decision from the garment to the hanger it lays on as well as our brand image and press out there, all has a business and design element to it. It the best working experience since there is a different view point to shoot ideas from and trouble shoot together.
8. When designing a collection, how do you work together from the initial design and budgeting stage to get to the final product?
JC: It is important to have a budget in mind when conceiving the upcoming collection, however we work very hard to not let it stifle the design process. We consider fabrics and the different design costs when coming up with the initial process. It is important that everything is of the highest quality, so we need the design vision to take the lead.
After we have the first round of sketches, we go through and discuss fabric choices and what our special pieces are for the collection. In the past we have done unique embroideries using horsehair as well as painted leather dress. These are always budget splurges, but always work it!
9. Which celebrities and style icons do you think best suit Jonathan Cohen and what pieces of yours can your see them in?
JC: There are a lot of woman in the industry that I admire. Woman who really love fashion and appreciate every aspect of it. I have always loved Lauren Santo Domingo and I think what she is at Moda Operandi is really innovative and amazing, and her own personal style in always on point. I also find Taylor Tomasi Hill very inspiring as well as Shala Monroque, Amanda Brooks, and Dasha Zsukova. They all have done amazing things within the industry and really have their own unique style. I also love Lyn Yaeger for always being so consistent and true to her
vision and look. I would love to do a collection based around her.
Actress wise, I really love Tilda Swinton and Melanie Laurent. Everything they put on looks so effortless. I would love to see Tilda wearing one of the column print dresses from Spring 12. I also love these young up coming girls like Elle Fanning and Hailey Steinfeld. They always look they are having so much fun dressing up and for being so young, still have a sense of sophistication.
10. What do you have planned for Jonathan Cohen over the next 5 years?
We have our set goals for short team and long term of the collection, however we try taking everything one season at a time. We always say we cant wait for 50 years to pass by and see a girl on the street wearing our first collections, with the hope it was passed down from someone!