Interview. Rooftop Talk with Designer Mandy Coon

Designer Mandy Coon with her designs on the balcony of the W City Center
I had to admit, this was a first. Upon arriving to the W Hotel City Center for my interview with featured designer Mandy Coon, I was surprised to hear I would be interviewing Coon on the famed W balcony overlooking downtown Adams Street. Coon was in town as part of the W Fashion Next program, an initiative started by the W Hotel to highlight the latest in fashion and support emerging designers. As I watched the scene above me, the musical stylings of DJ Nancy Whang from LCD Soundsystem sailed down to rush hour traffic while passerby paused to look up at the posing models, resplendent in confections of leather and fur. I was immediately excited to join in. After a somewhat treacherous climb out a second story window in heels, I was face to face with Coon, a pixie-like figure who could easily be out of a storybook with a creamy complexion, sparkling eyes and whimsical haircut. Slight and willowy, she looked like she may fly away on the occasional second floor gusts, yet remained firmly planted while her brightly patterned tunic dress, a pattern she had designed herself, billowed around her.
Mandy Coon fall/winter 2011 designs presented inside the W Hotel City Center
Though her first eponymous collection debuted in spring 2010, the Houston native has been immersed in the fashion world for some time. Discovered by a model scout at a mall, Coon began her modeling career at age 20, enabling her to travel the fashion capitals of the world. Through her time as a model and her travels, Coon gained a deep appreciation and understanding of fashion construction which led to her to study Haute Couture Sewing and Tailoring at FIT. An apprenticeship with designer Camilla Staerk cemented Coon’s talents for handmade, avant-garde pieces and eccentric detailing and in spring 2010, she began her own line of innovative and beautifully crafted fashion. She showed her fall/winter 2011 collection in the tents of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week  in New York for the first time last season. And that was exactly what we were able to witness on the second floor of the W that balmy afternoon, Coon’s fall/winter 2011 collection—a study in decadent fabrics and textures cut into shapes that toed the line between masculine and feminine. A mostly black and gray palette was punctuated by the occasional bursts of color, part of an homage to the collection’s curious source of inspiration. In between shouts from the hovering photographers, we chatted.
Models in Mandy Coon designs
SCS: Your fall/winter collection was apparently inspired by jellyfish! What can you tell us about that? MC: (laughs) that’s true. It was in fact inspired by jellyfish but I wanted to use the jellyfish as a jumping off point, so that it’s not like the designs look like them, but more like you can see the idea of them behind the clothes. I do that, where I’ll start with an idea or an object and then the collection sort of evolves out of that organically. I was also inspired in this collection by a picture of my family, specifically my mother, from about 1981. In the picture, she’s wearing this turtleneck and a pair of high-waisted trousers and looks just so chic. I ended up incorporating a lot of those shapes into the collection to obtain the same kind of elegantly effortless style my mother embodied in that picture. SCS: How did your modeling end up sparking your interest in design? MC: Well I was always interested in fashion. Even as a child, again with my mother’s influence, I grew up to appreciate vintage and finding great things at thrift stores. But I never had any design experience until I got into modeling. The traveling really was a big factor, I lived in New York and in London and being surrounded by such cutting edge fashion all the time, suddenly I realized that I appreciated the other side of things, how the clothes were being made. Then once I got the technical skills, my initial creativity came from designing clothes that I wanted to wear myself.  Now I have my pieces in 14 stores across the world, which is still pretty crazy for me to believe sometimes. SCS: Included in those stores are Opening Ceremony in New York and Lissa in Chicago, two stores known for carrying edgy and artful designs. Do you believe that ultimately describes your customer? If not, what does? MC: I’d have to say my customer is generally a woman between 25 and 45. I do think my customers have an appreciation for clothes that are different and make a statement, but also carry a level of sophistication with them. My customer is definitely not super young, if anything I would love to start a following of the funky, high fashion 80 year old women in the East Village that hang out pink hair and lipstick smeared on her cheek. That would be great. But really, anyone that carries that kind of certain confidence is who I’m designing for. SCS: And what can we expect from the Mandy Coon collection for next season? Are you returning to the tents? MC: I’m actually not sure yet if I’ll be returning to the tents. What I can tell you though is for spring there will be more color, more layering and definitely a solid mix of texture.
Mandy and me!
As recent recent recipient of the Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation Award and already a Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week veteran, Mandy Coon is steadily rising to the top of today’s hottest young designers. View her collections at and shop her looks at: Lissa 750 N. Franklin St. Suite 104 Chicago, IL 60654 (312) 563-9470 -Alia Rajput Photo Source: Second City Style    

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