Illia: Leather at the Fringe

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Published September 23, 2009

Gender-neutral and ageproof, the leather jacket throws a wrench in the fashion cycle—which subsequently makes it a popular candidate for reinvention every season. Of this season’s many new interpretations of the leather jacket, some of the most sophisticated come courtesy of John Murrough and Robbie Moray, designers for LA-based brand Illia.  Their jackets feel as good as they look: the washed and crinkled suedes compares with the urbane grungy glamour of Anita Pallenberg and Alison Mosshart, but are as comfortable to wear as LA’s stress-free staple—jersey.  In earthy tones, “on trend” fringe, and asymmetrical zipper details, lllia’s Fall 2009 statement jackets are a perfect fit for the downtown style mafia. As the nights grow crisper, what would look better paired with those artfully slashed acidwashed jeans and paper-thin tees?

Already a cult hit at Bergdorf Goodman, Illia promises to be a future favorite among Owens and Wang-wearing “off-duty model” types. Interview talked to John Murrough about why Illia does leather better.

COLLEEN NIKA: When, where, and how did you start Illia?

JOHN MURROUGH: We started Illia in 1997.  Since I started designing, my main interest andforte has always been leather.  I am much more attracted to distressed, washed leather.  This gives the garments a matte crinkled finish that looks as if the clothing has been loved and worn in.

NIKA: Your designs are based in a very neutral, almost elemental palette. Is thatspecific to the current collection or typical of your label? How does nature influence you?

MURROUGH: My designs are definitely based in neutral, elemental colors—which are typical of my collection. I am not such a fan of trend colors.  Nature has been influential throughout my life having grown up in South Africa where it’s part of the culture.  It is a sensibility stemming from life in the bush, in Africa, starting at a very young age.  I think that comes through in the color palettes of my prints.NIKA: What makes a perfect leather jacket?

MURROUGH: The perfect leather jacket must look as though you have owned it for years. I’ve never liked traditional clean looking lamb or napa leather—which is why I use suede on the leather side, exposing all of its natural markings and imperfections.  We also do a number of jackets in our collection with strategically placed zippers, allowing you to wear our jackets in a variety of ways.

NIKA: How does LA’s fashion influence how you work with leather?

MURROUGH: I live in Venice and there is a great, low key hip vibe that is alive down there with all of the artists.  That is where LA comes out in my clothing. The ease of life style always applies to my clothes be it leathers or wovens.  Comfort is key!

NIKA: Are you intrigued by a particular era of fashion?

MURROUGH: The era of fashion that inspires me most is the late 1970’s and 1980’s; the time of punk and Japanese designers.  It redirected fashion into new silhouettes that still inspire to this day, and definitely inspire me.

NIKA: Do certain fashion or cultural icons influence your design approach?  The drapery of the lapels and fluid silhouettes of the jackets remind me of Rick Owens’ outerwear.  Is he a conscious influence?

MURROUGH: I am a huge fan of architecture and the cultural icons that have influenced me include Rem Koolhaus, and Daniel Liebeskind.  I feel that a structured jacket is always pertinent to any season, and these architectural designers have shapes that have influenced my designs. In regards to Rick Owens, I adore his work -but, after having been in the leather business for 25 years, feel that I have mastered a distinct look of my own.