San Diego-born fashion designer Jonathan Cohen started his eponymous line three years ago after graduating from Parsons and finishing apprenticeships at Doo.Ri Chung, Ashleigh Verrier and Oscar de la Renta. Now stocked at fashion Mecca Maxfield, the designer spoke to us about how he got his start, what it takes to branch out with your own fashion range, and advice he's learned along the way.
theFashionSpot: When did you first think seriously about getting into fashion design?
Jonathan Cohen: I was always interested in clothing and how it was constructed. Growing up, I also was very into Anime. I noticed I would focus on the costumes of the characters more than anything. At that point, I would then want to create the outfits I would sketch; I started taking sewing classes. It always felt very natural to me and a way of expressing myself.
tFS: How important do you think it is to get a degree from a school like Parsons?
JC: Parsons was an amazing experience where I was able to focus on developing my vision and what I wanted to portray. It also gave me the opportunity to work with designers I had admired since I was young. I think as a student, it is your job to take advantage of all opportunities in and out the classroom. If you are really driven to be in the industry, I think the more focus you put towards your craft, the better.
tFS: What do you consider your first "break"?
JC: Definitely having the line picked up by some of our first retailers (Susan of Burlingame, The Grocery Store, Maxfield…). It's not easy taking a risk on a new designer, but the buyers at these stores have been so supportive and the advice they have shared has been indispensable. Growing up in Southern California, I would always visit Maxfield. To be not only carried in the store, but also featured in their window is a dream come true. A moment I will never forget!
tFS: You've worked in a number of big name designer studios both big and small. Can you tell us about some of the biggest lessons you took out of those experiences?
JC: Working within companies ranging from start-ups to well-established brands has given me knowledge on both the design and business elements of a fashion brand. One key thing I always reflect back to from my time at Oscar de la Renta was how kind and respectful he was with everyone. Everyone who entered the studio was treated equally. I believe it is an important aspect to keep in mind in order to give your brand longevity.
tFS: What are some of the qualities you think are most important when branching out and starting your own line?
JC: Self-motivation and perseverance. When I first started the line, one buyer told me, "It is not over until you say it's over." That has always stuck with me. It is all about survival.
tFS: What made you do it? Was there one defining moment that you can point to where you thought, "Now I'm ready!"?
JC: Post graduation after entering the workforce, I had also sent out lookbooks of my Parsons Senior Thesis collection. Within days I heard from top retailers around the world as well as high profile editors. This continued over the next few months. Sarah Leff, my business partner, and I sat down and seriously discussed if we should leave our jobs and start the line. We knew we would regret it if we didn't do it. We knew in our hearts it was the right time.
tFS: What are some of the biggest challenges when it comes to quality control?
JC: We have been beyond lucky to have a great team behind us. Our collection is designed and made in New York. Sarah and myself are there every step of the way from cutting the garments to the final production shipments. When starting the company, we additionally laid out a plan to grow the company at a realistic speed allowing our quality and relationships not to suffer.
tFS: How do you go about finding inspiration for new collections? Do you ever find yourself stuck?
JC: It's more about narrowing down what I want to say for that particular season. I'm constantly stimulated by current events and artistic elements occurring around the world. I think it's important to constantly be aware of what is going on around us, beyond fashion. This indirectly helps the process. Before I even start print development or sketching, I spend a minimum of a month in the research process. It's actually one of my favorite parts; one idea leads to the next and then I hone in on it.
tFS: How do you think your brand has evolved since you started?
JC: We have stayed true to the original vision of the brand of producing the highest quality. One of the greatest lessons we have learned and grown from during that time is truly understanding our customer. As seasons go by with our collection in stores, we have had great opportunities to fully understand our woman and how she wears and integrates Jonathan Cohen into her lifestyle. This only enhances my creative process.
tFS: One thing you know now that you wish you had known when you started your line?
JC: No regrets, everything has been a learning experience. The process and reflection is one of the most important parts.