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Dossier in Conversation with Mandy Coon


Looks from S/S10. Top center: Designer Mandy Coon by Hanuk.

Mandy Coon may be best known for her turntable talent, but she has always been a fashion designer at heart, a fact that her debut S/S10 collection makes eminently clear. Experimenting with asymmetry, sharp lines and transformative versatility, Coon’s succinct looks are a reflection of her own eccentric aesthetic. Her lanky frame, translucent skin, crystal eyes and signature half-black, half-blonde pixie-meets-Satan haircut are all manifested in the collection’s black and neutral palette, tapered pants and angular dresses and jumpsuits—many of which can be reversed or split into separates by way of smartly placed zippers. Meanwhile, tight ruffles on chiffon looks, a pair of distressed buttery-suede pants and a flowing tiger-print dress reflect the designer’s softer side.
Dossier sat down with Coon in her Chrystie Street studio to discuss this break-out collection, design evolution and what the designer plans to wow us with next.

Katharine Zarrella: You were originally, and are still, a DJ. How did you go from spinning beats to starting your own line?

Mandy Coon: Well, the thing I’ve seen everywhere in the press is “DJ-turned-Designer”. I, actually, have been in fashion for ten years in different forms, and I’ve only been DJ-ing for a few years. It’s like a hobby and I love it, but it’s very funny that everyone’s like, ‘The DJ!’ I guess that’s the part of me that was out there more than anything else.

Katharine: Well then, let’s set the record straight: How did your career in fashion begin and how has it evolved?

Mandy: I always loved fashion. I grew up in Texas and then I was a model for a while. That really brought out my love of fashion and creativity, and I wanted to be on the other side of it and have more control.

: Was it easy to transition from one side to the other?

Mandy: No. I don’t think that transition is easy. I started [modeling] late and I went to college for computer science before I started, so it wasn’t like I’ve been a model since I was 13. But the whole time I knew that this was what I wanted to do, and it took me going back to school at FIT for me to feel like I could actually do it.

Katharine: Why did you feel that spring was the right time for your designing debut?

Mandy: I think it was because I went to school and I started interning with Camilla Staerk. Then I started working with her, and last season she knew that I was launching the line and that I wanted to keep it kind of small, and one day she came up to me and said, “This is the contact for the fashion calendar. You’re going to call her and get a date because you’re going to have a presentation next season.” So then I freaked out and said, ‘No I’m not! You’re crazy! I’m not doing that!’ Eventually I came around to it and realized this was the next logical step. So that’s how it started; she pushed me a little bit.

Katharine: After Camilla gave you that little nudge, how did the collection start to evolve?

Mandy: I feel like a lot of these pieces I had been thinking about for years, especially the kind of multi-functional versatility of things. I’ve wanted someone else to make it. So I guess my starting point was that this [concept] had been building up for years and years. I already had ideas and themes that I knew I wanted to work with.

Katharine: What were these ideas and themes, specifically?

Mandy: There’s a lot of versatility, volume, geometric shapes. That’s something that I think is just a general theme for me, and actually some of these pictures [on my inspiration board] were taken through kaleidoscopes. That was one of my first inspirations for it as well. Those were my main inspirations.

Katharine: The collection starts with these very sharp, geometric looks and then becomes softer, ruffled and more feminine. Why did you make that choice?

Mandy: I really wanted to make this evolution. It starts out with these black geometric shapes: simple. Then you start to deconstruct and you get these ruffles, but they’re kind of tight ruffles in the beginning and they start to fall apart until you get to the last dress with its big trailing train.

: Can we chat about these suede pants?

Mandy: This [suede] is actually meant to be used on the other side. At the leather place that I always go to, they think I’m crazy because I’m turning it around and using the back. The more messed up it is, the more I want it! I love the places where it’s worn to the suede. I just think it’s really amazing!

Katharine: How did the tiger print come about?

: I was going to do at least one of my own prints, but then I found [the tiger print] at one of my fabric agents and I was just like, ‘This is it! It’s exactly what I want. It’s exactly what I’m seeing and just promise me no one else is using it!’ It was perfect.

: You’re clearly very comfortable in your own skin. How does this translate into your collection?

Mandy: I think it takes a certain level of confidence to wear these clothes. I don’t think that they’re hard clothes to wear, but I think it’s on the—I hate this word—but edgier side of wearable. I think there’s a confidence. I like to play with this masculine/feminine duality.

Katharine: What were your trials and tribulations with this first collection?

Mandy: I have to admit that, so far, I haven’t had many—only because I had been working for Camilla Staerk for awhile and you learn a lot: what to do, what not to do, etc. But so far, so good; no major disasters. Knock on wood. I really wanted to keep this very focused, so I didn’t have the situation where you make so many pieces and you have to cut them. I cut maybe two pieces.

Katharine: Did you have someone come in and style the collection?

: Yes, my friend Natasha Royt styled it. We have a great working relationship. We just went to Paris—both of us—and stayed together, and on the way back on the plane, we made friends with the stewardess and the steward and they kept bringing us bottles after bottles of those little bottles of wine. We got so drunk. I had a book full of our drunken sketches. We basically have a whole book and have already pretty much planned out the themes and details [for the next collection] in sprawling notes and sketches.

: Can you give us a glimpse of what it might look like—other than airplane sketches?

Mandy: Again, I’m really playing with this versatility a lot, but in different ways. But I don’t want to give it away!

Katharine: So are you more of a sculpture or a sketcher in the studio?

Mandy: You know, in the beginning it was just in my head. I’m not great with sketching…I’m not that kind of artist. But Tasha [Royt] gave me really good advice. She said, ‘The best thing I can tell you is just sketch, sketch, sketch, sketch. Make hundreds of sketches, and it will be clear which ones you feel the most strongly about, which are the strongest and which ones work.” That was some of the best advice that I got. So it’s a lot about sketching and sometimes it’s about, ‘Now I have this idea for something and I just need to try it,’ but a lot of it starts out as sketching.

Katharine: What inspires you, not only in your designs but also in your other creative endeavors?

: I think it really depends on what it is and the moment. I’d love to be one of those people that can say, ‘I have one inspiration for each collection and I base an entire collection off that one movie or that one book or that one artist.’ But I’m definitely not that person. I’m someone who takes from a lot of different inspirations and ends up with this hodgepodge of things. I don’t know that there’s a general every time thing, but these photographs—they’re from this series by Deborah Turbeville’s—are always is on my board. Always, always, always.

Katharine: You’ve been quoted as saying that you design clothes that you want to wear. Were you one of your inspirations for this collection?

Mandy: For me to believe in it, I have to want to wear it. That works for me because I know how I want it to fit. I know the details. It’s not this imaginary woman; it’s me. I know what I want and the features I want [the collection] to have. But, I mean, I don’t want to have a little army of me coming out!

: On an unrelated, or perhaps, related note, people can’t stop talking about your hair. What’s the story there?

Mandy: I don’t know. It’s ever evolving. My hair grows really fast, so I can do whatever I want. I really like change, so I embrace that evolution. There are times when I think about going blond again, but I also feel like the dark is more fitting.

: It definitely suits you.

Mandy: It’s my darker alter ego.

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