Early Madonna (think downtown club kid-turned-Cannes-flashbulb-bait circa Truth or Dare), and Gia Carangi, the troubled supermodel beloved by Richard Avedon, Albert Watson, and Francesco Scavullo, were fashion designer Jonathan Cohen’s starting points for his Spring 2015 collection. Cohen drew on these women’s “unknown-to-icon stories” not for literal inspiration, but to set the tone and the mood of the collection.
If the rise from unknown to style-superstar sounds familiar, it’s because Cohen, whose company is just eight seasons young, had a hand in crafting two show-stopping fashion moments for Academy Award winning actress Lupita Nyong’o during the height of the Oscars campaign season. “It was an incredibly satisfying moment, not only because of her extraordinary beauty,” Cohen says, “but also because of her story. I’ve always been interested in dressing intelligent, independent women.”
Fresh off the heels of a collaboration with Shu Uemera, the 29-year-old designer makes a strong case for the seamless collision of two disparate ideas. The looks sported by Nyong’o are good examples: an otherwise exquisitely feminine a-line mini dress contained “little surfer dudes” camouflaged in dainty stripes. Last season’s midi-length ponte knit sheath, often referred to by editors and customers alike as “The Lupita Dress,” was covered in Cohen’s own lip prints (“He used YSL #13,” his business partner, Sarah Leff, confesses). Cohen updated the body-skimming design for the current season with a “lesbian flirting flamingo” motif in navy and shocking pink.
Using a controlled palette of cool blues and soft pastels against black flecked with brushstrokes of 24K-gold leaf, Cohen is most interesting when he’s navigating the in-between. A Ross Bleckner-esque cell pattern is the designer’s spin on “the new leopard print;” trompe l’oeil layers of distressed denim printed on a gazar-like wool gabardine take shape in a sumptuously draped trench coat. And then there’s Cohen’s “new sweat pant,” fashioned in a summer tweed finished with a tech-y neoprene mesh at the waistband and cuffs—a cheeky riff on the current luxe gym/sportswear trend.
Patchwork tweeds—a slim skirt, say, and a coordinating jacket of 58 stitched-together pieces—echo Cohen’s denims but with a full-on couture sensibility. His fans can delight in the fact that his clothes, all raw-edged and street-tinged, much like their wearers, are finished as beautifully inside as they are outside.
JONATHAN COHEN IS PRESENTING HIS SPRING/SUMMER COLLECTION TODAY, SEPTEMBER 3.