Interview with Jonny Cota from Skingraft – Archive Issue iii

December 19, 2014

Fashionprint magazine | by Suzie Street

At the forefront of the dark undercurrent is Skingraft contributing perhaps the most loyal followers to this darkling tribe. I speak exclusively to Jonny Cota, founder and designer for the cult brand and Stylenoir favorite, here we take a very insightful trip into his underworld.

Have you always been drawn to a darker style aesthetic in your designs and brand ethos or did this evolve over time?

JC: I found a photo of myself the other day at 13 years old with chin length permed-straight jet black hair, black nail polish, black elbow-length lace gloves and a ripped up Nine Inch Nails tour t-shirt.  Finding that photo really contextualised my current aesthetic with Skingraft for me as an ever changing “50 shades of black.”  My style has always been dark for as long as I can remember but I think that “dark” continues to evolve for me and change shape as I evolve as a person and as a designer.  

Within the L.A Fashion movement you were and still are the pivotal brand to drive a darker vision, how was this vision received in the beginning, did you come across any resistance or misunderstandings in terms of your brands message?

JC: We have often been met with surprise and confusion when we claim LA as our home base to the greater fashion world because our dark aesthetic is often related more closely to European or Japanese fashion movements.  I definitely gather a lot of inspiration from these international fashion aesthetics however Skingraft is still very Los Angeles in the way we filter our vision into something comfortable, wearable, relaxed at times and always very body conscious.  LA doesn’t receive much attention as an international fashion hub however this city has long been fertile breeding grounds for DIY punk rock, underground electronic music parties, late night Goth scenes and visionary artist cultures, all of which are huge inspirations to us and our aesthetic.  

Your progression into the luxury fashion market has seen you move and thrive in NY, how was this decision made, do you see any main differences in your darker vision being translated from LA to NY? Do you find it liberating or restricting in terms of keeping your brand identity consistent?

JC: Opening our first NYC store last spring has been an amazing experience.  I love observing how our NYC customers relate to our collections differently (or similarly) than our LA clientele does.  Our brand is younger and newer to a lot of people in NYC and that is exciting to see someone discover us and our vision for the first time.  And then on the flip side, Los Angeles has treated us so well over the years and there is a definite feeling of ‘home’ there in our DTLA store that you feel from the moment you enter. That is comforting and inspiring to me. The two cities and two Skingraft stores are both quite different but fulfilling in their own unique ways.    

jonny cota
Albeit based in NY now, have you seen the Los Angeles fashion scene change in the last decade in terms of a darker influence and direction?

JC: There have been a handful of amazing dark fashion brands in Los Angeles over the past few years, some of which are close friends of ours.  Many of them are no longer around and some of them have found stronger markets outside of Los Angeles as the sun-drenched city is not particularly known for its dark fashion.  I think the brands that have survived best have found a path where they can maintain their sense of darkness and macabre identities while still being accessible to a larger audience who want to wear a piece of the vision but don’t worship at the altar of ‘dark fashion.’

Being a Los Angeles native, do you think or have you personally felt there are any cultural or sub cultural references that have influenced a darker lifestyle approach in terms of a visual / fashion point of view?

JC: I think LA is rich with regional subcultures that have inspired my own approach to a darker aesthetic.  I am sure these cultures have also inspired many others.  The hardcore punk rock scenes, late-night fetish communities and underground art queer parties have always created inspiring images, sounds and ideas that find their way into my collections.  There is a rawness of expression in these subcultures which are often almost primal in way.  This rawness is magnetic to me.

From an outsiders perspective it appears this darker fashion aesthetic is co-existing harmoniously with the signature relaxed Californian fashion aesthetic, do you think this will always be the case, or can you see a darker fashion subculture prevailing?

JC: I think California will always be California.  I was born and raised here and it is one of the most beautiful places in the world.  Though my personal aesthetic oftentimes feels alien here, there is a collective consciousness that is undeniable.  I think that dark fashion subcultures in California that exist now and in the future will probably always share a similar relaxed energy to the rest of the social scene.  There is always room for rebellion and individual expression, however California (and LA in particular) moves at a very relaxed pace which drives New Yorkers crazy but makes total sense when you’re living here, baking away in your black leather under the sun.