Katharine Zarrella sits down with Mandy Coon and talks collections, expansion and her plan to take over London while keeping it real and having a laugh.
Comedy isn’t the first thing that comes to mind upon viewing the sharp leather frocks, strict floor-length skirts and tailored faux fur jackets from New York designer Mandy Coon’s fall collection. But it’s not the last, either. “I like really structured things, but they always have to have a sense of humor. I don’t want my clothes to be so serious,” says the dark-edged designer, 34, of her stern black, taupe and crimson collection. Enter the cartoonishly oversized black leather bows that close a dramatic faux fur coat and accent the sophisticated keyhole back of a slick black dress. The accompanying creepy-crawly leather, gunmetal and Swarovski beetle brooches, necklaces and rings, which mark the designer’s first foray into jewelry, are yet another display of Coon’s wit. And if those don’t conjure a grin, rewind to fall 2010 when she debuted the oft-copied floppy-eared bunny bag. In short, Coon’s clothes may appear austere, but her lighter side always shines through.
Originally from Texas, Coon is now based in New York’s East Village, where she cohabitates with her black and white French bulldog, Petunia. “I think the East Village is one of the last places that’s kept some of its original character. It’s totally gentrified now, but there’s still weirdos and drug addicts and people who have been there with rent-controlled apartments for 50 years, so you have a really good mix of people. The East Village is really special that way,” explains Coon. She especially enjoys playing with Petunia in Tompkins Square Park, which, now a (relatively) friendly communal green, was formerly known for its flourishing homeless population and heroin dealers.
Tall and lanky with ivory skin, piercing eyes and her signature new-wave pixie cut (at the moment, dyed plum red), Coon was a model and DJ before launching her line in 2009. It was only after interning with Fashion East alum Camilla Staerk that Coon decided to take the leap. “She pushed me out of the nest. She’s been really amazing,” says Coon of her early mentor.
After debuting her first collection, which earned her the steadfast support of American Vogue via effortless jumpsuits, inside-out cream and caramel suede pants and sheer asymmetrical frocks, Coon quickly became New York’s new indie darling. “I always thought [my line] would be a small thing,” she confesses, still with a hint of disbelief in her voice. “I thought it was just dark and weird. I’m really happy with the way it’s been received.”
Aside from a few appealing quirks here and there (a knobby faux fur lined cape, bondage-tinged belts and a wool gown trimmed in black leather are a handful of intriguing examples), Coon’s clothes aren’t really weird at all. On the contrary—they’re completely wearable. The designer’s fall collection, which was inspired by a photograph of her mother in the early 80s, fuses practical pieces, like smart high-waisted pants, flouncy leather skirts and cozy hooded coats, with the aforementioned unorthodox embellishments, balancing the wild and realistic. But her looks need to be realistic because Coon doesn’t design for some ethereal woman; she designs for herself. “I ask myself “Do I want to wear this?” and if I don’t, I don’t see the point. I can’t get behind it. It doesn’t make sense.”
Naturally, the designer’s next project is her spring/summer 2012 collection, which will show during New York fashion week next month. Looking to the future, Coon hopes to evolve her accessories range and, perhaps, bring shoes into the mix. And up at the top of her list is eventually selling in London. “It’s a big goal!” admits Coon, who’s currently stocked at Opening Ceremony, Colette, and a handful of similarly cool concept boutiques in the US, Europe and Asia. But enough with the business talk.
Because, as Coon reminds us, “It’s all about keeping a sense of humor.”
Photography: Shawn Brackbill
Words: Katharine K Zarrella