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Jonny Cota

Wildly creative designs that deftly bridge the gap between fantastical, and real world wear-ability have made designer Jonny Cota of Skingraft a star among L.A's "in-the-know" fashion followers. This season, Cota has his sights set on a bigger stage, as he brings Skingraft to New York Fashion Week for the first time, with a sure to be mega-buzzed about debut. Style Wylde caught up with Cota via e-mail this week to talk about fashion, stilt walking, and what it means to show in New York. 

SW: In previous interviews it has been very well documented that you got your start as a costume designer (and stilt performer) in a San Francisco Bay Area based circus troupe. How much (if at all) does that sort of dark and fantastical theatrical point of view still influence your design? It what ways has your point of view moved away from it?

JONNY COTA: I believe that there is a certain dark and fantastical spirit embedded in the DNA of the Skingraft brand that was born in the costume world and continues to recreate itself with each evolving season.  In the workroom, my team dreads to hear my critique of “it’s too ‘of this world’,” which is me critiquing that there isn’t enough day-dream or fantasy in the idea and that we need to bring the design to an otherworldly place.  But also, years away from the circus world, my general aesthetic has drifted more towards cleaner lines and more neutral palettes.  Very different from the circus days.

"As RuPaul once said, we are born naked everything else is drag."-- Jonny Cota

SW: Can you still stilt-walk? Do you still keep in touch with any of the other acrobats and artists?

JONNY COTA: Of course I can still stilt walk.  I haven’t been on my stilts in years but I think that it will be one of those skills that always remain with me.  I am still quite close to many of the performers and artists that I used to collaborate with in the circus years.  Actually many of them have remained with performance troupes and others have grown into notable designers, djs and producers that are making big waves in international nightlife culture right now.

SW: What was most difficult about making the transition from costumer to fashion designer?

JONNY COTA: There is no transition from costume designer to fashion designer for me.  All of my designing still exists in some sort of fantasy, whether it is designing a leather-armored performance artist or a chic downtown fashion lover.  As RuPaul once said, We are born naked. Everything else is drag.”

 "I don’t have time or desire to dress anyone who vocalizes bigotry in their music and makes hateful language fashionable to the younger generations."-- Jonny Cota

SW: In an interview with Concept Magazine last year you mentioned that all of your production is done in Bali, where you spend a lot of time working directly with local craftsmen. Is this still the case? How has this multi-location living impacted your design?

JONNY COTA: I spend about 6 months a year working at my design studio in Bali.  I have a close personal relationship with many of my craftsmen which helps us brainstorm together and push the aesthetic and craftsmanship past what we think is possible.  We grant ourselves the time to experiment together.  Bali is a beautiful place and a quiet place that allows me to tune out the noise of NYC and LA and focus on the next collection.

SW: Your past client list is an insane who’s who of the music industry roundup, including Rhianna, Britney Spears, Adam Lambert and so many more. Who have you not yet dressed but would love to?  Who would you never want to dress?

JONNY COTA: Grace Jones is one of my ultimate style icons.  I would consider my design career complete if I were able to create something for her to perform in.  I would never want to dress any aggressively homophobic rap artist.  I love rap music and have been lucky enough to dress many artists in that community but I don’t have time or desire to dress anyone who vocalizes bigotry in their music and makes hateful language fashionable to the younger generations. 

SW: Speaking of music and performers, if you could to only listen three albums for the rest of your life, what would they be?

JONNY COTA: Fever Ray, Nine Inch Nails’ “The Downward Spiral,” and Bjork’s “Debut”

SW: Let’s talk Spring 2014. What are the major influences for the collection?  Will there be any surprises in store for fans of Skingraft? What about the Skingraft collection do you think will surprise all the magazine editors in attendance at the show?

JONNY COTA: Spring 2014 is very intriguing to me.  I am experimenting with prints and color for essentially the first time.  Of course the collection still has a very dark aesthetic but this season is more playful and sexy than seasons past.  I think that editors will be surprised by the range of the collection, because as newcomers to New York Fashion Week  I am proud of the fact that everything on the runway including garments, jewelry, bags, shoes, hats and accessories are all Skingraft.

"The game is very different, the stakes are much higher"--Jonny Cota

SW: This will be the first season that you show during New York Fashion Week, how has the prep for this differed from your many season showing at LA Fashion Week? As this New York debut approaches, does it feel different than you expected?

JONNY COTA: The game is very different.  The stakes are much higher.  After doing LAFW for a number of seasons I felt confidence in everything we did there and now New York Fashion Week, in just these few short weeks of preparation so far, is humbling me with its monstrous presence. 

SW: What are you looking forward to the most about showing in New York? Is there anything that you are not looking forward to?

JONNY COTA: I am looking forward to working with some top-of-the-line models, artists, PR, photographers and editors.  LA has treated us well over the years but even the most successful show pulls from limited resources and only reaches a small sphere of publications and influencers.  I am excited by the capacity of NYC. 

SW: Finally, and just for fun, if you were to be asked to design costumes/do wardrobe for the blockbuster film adaptation for any book or graphic novel, which one would you want to do?

JONNY COTA: The Tibetan Book of the Dead

For more on Jonny Cota and Skingraft, check out the Style Wylde follow up Runway features here and here.