IIt felt like the good old days at Elizabeth Anthony’s Friends & Trends style lunch and presentation. After a two-year pandemic hiatus, the 13th Annual Gathering resumed and the Uptown Park boutique was filled with energetic Houston shoppers curious about innovative designer Jonathan Cohen.
The Mexico City-born, San Diego-raised designer — who now lives in New York City — is attracting a lot of attention for his inventive, hand-crafted prints and commitment to sustainability. Cohen launched her fall collection in Houston before it was even shown to fashion heavyweights such as vogueas well as its spring collection, accessorized with haute couture jewelry by the Bostonian designer Catherine Jettera longtime favorite of the store’s loyal clientele.
The energy was so high (i.e. loud) as guests mingled and excitedly browsed the collections that Cohen and I escaped to a dressing room on the second floor of the store so we could hear us in the din during a brief interview. After the long pandemic, the 36-year-old designer is excited to get back on the road to meet clients and talk about his work.
“For me, fashion has always been a means of escape. Every struggle I had in my life, I designed my way out of it,” he says.
Although the pandemic has seen many heartbreaking and heartbreaking moments, it has allowed Cohen and the company’s CEO, Sarah Leff, to press the reset button on their business. (The duo first met 16 years ago as classmates at the Parsons School of Design and officially launched the company in 2011.) They suspended production and looked for ways to keep the brand online.
Cohen has designed masks, pins, brooches, necklaces, headbands and children’s clothing, all using recycled textiles. He also opened a digital floristwhere a sketch of a floral bouquet designed by Cohen could be purchased online and sent to friends and loved ones to keep in touch.
“It was a way to engage with people and create a sense of community when we all missed it,” he says. “With the pandemic, we really tried to make the best of the situation as much as possible.”
Cohen sued the online flower shop, with the latest offering titled “Ukrainian roses.” The draw for a bouquet of yellow roses costs $20, with a portion of the proceeds going to Voices of Children.
Jonathan Cohen and the Italian Connection
After Cohen and Leff ramped up production again last year, they moved manufacturing to Italy, closer to where they source materials. They also decided to show the new collections on a more customer-friendly schedule than during New York Fashion Week. For his spring collection, now in stores, Cohen leaned towards the idea of escapism as he designed many of his prints while in quarantine.
Inspired by the 1988 surreal film What dreams can come, he’s been watching during the pandemic, Cohen has created textiles for the spring collection featuring stained floral prints, woven bumblebee jacquards against a honeycomb pattern and air balloon flowers. It’s made to “look like these bouquets are actually hot air balloons flying through the sky (to convey) this idea of transporting to another place and using fashion to bring joy and escape from everyday life”, explains Cohen.
For the fall collection, he collaborated with a friend to photograph dahlias submerged in water. They then improvised with hand sanitizer instead of water to achieve the desired effect. They also took a close-up view of the tail of Cohen’s pet fish, Selina, creating abstract prints that emphasize the idea of reflection and self-reflection in a post-pandemic world.
In a commitment to sustainability, Cohen reuses leftover fabric in a variety of ways. Several signature smocked pieces from the new collections are made from leftover tape and a striking mini dress features hundreds of upcycled crystals covered in recycled fabric that hang like colorful sequins.
“I’m constantly pushing the idea of fabric remnants like I push any collection, to make it something new, to make something people haven’t seen, a new way to see it,” says Cohen. “We do all this work so that our customers don’t have to. At the end of the day, she just wants a great dress.
Jonathan Cohen had his moment in the spotlight last year when first lady Jill Biden wore a striking purple coat with velvet beltt from her collection when she and President-elect Joe Biden flew to Washington, DC, to kick off the inauguration festivities. The coat was made from leftover fabric in keeping with Cohen’s commitment to sustainability.
“And she kept wearing it. It’s a really important message to send,” says Cohen. “From a durability perspective, you want pieces that stand the test of time and can be worn more than once, that aren’t based on trends, and that really fit into your life.
“She’s a perfect example of that.”