Jonny Cota and Katie Kay of Skingraft Designs have roots in the vaudeville circus performing arts scene - Cota as a stilt-walker and Kay as a tribal bellydancer - and that love of theatricality and flair for high drama shows. Their work is an exercise in contrasts - soft feminine ruffles and brawny masculine leather, demure coverings and exposed skin, silks and metals.
What started in 2005 as custom-wear for sideshow performers and musicians has grown ~ into a full label that's rapidly gaining ground, with a show in L.A.'s Fashion Week tomorrow. I was completely transfixed the first time I saw an image of their designs. Shot at the legendary Los Angeles bar The Edison, the model leapt from the page, stark and raw, and yet so elegant, luminous against the industrial background.
On one of my favorite fashion blogs, Haute Macabre, Jonny described the style as “victorian punk rocker riding a regal horse to her gothic wedding.” You can see why I'm drooling. I'm thrilled to feature Jonny speaking up about Skingraft's astonishingly gorgeous work here. Click the images for more incredible detail.
How would you describe your style of work?
I would describe my work as a constant juxtaposition of dark and light, hard and soft, and natural and synthetic. Skingraft is a dark Victorian dreamer living in a city of concrete and noise and somehow finding comfort in it. The work is very detailed and very meticulous, as each piece starts as a story that almost writes itself.
Where do you find inspiration?
I think that Skingraft's greatest inspiration is the animal kingdom, beasts, birds and the natural world in general. No matter how dark or metropolitan any of the designs can be, they always somehow relate back to the shapes and imagery of animals and plants. We are also often inspired by silhouettes and techniques that are ancient, classical or even just a few decades old. From Victorian corsetry to classic millinery, we are easily excited by old techniques and craftsmanship.
What do you do besides design amazing clothes?
Skingraft can be a bit consuming at times, so my life outside designing clothing seems to be shrinking more and more. Outside of Skingraft I spend my time collecting and altering taxidermy, producing electronic music for my DJ sets and spending time with my partner and pit bulls.
Outside of designing clothing, my partner Katie Kay collects vintage clothing, spends time with her partner and their pit bull and has spent quite some time on tour as a tour manager for Amanda Palmer and the Dresden Dolls.
What are three things that please you the most in the world?
Fog, coffee and leather
How did you get your start making clothes?
We started out as circus performers creating costumes for ourselves for our stilt acts and dancing acts. That costuming grew into a business of making costumes for other performers as well, and the next thing we knew we were transitioning more into fashion and creating clothing for everyday wear. None of us were trained in what we do, it just happened naturally.
What was the most challenging piece you've designed or made?
Every wedding gown that we make is always a huge challenge, but fortunately each project has run smoothly and has turned out really beautiful. One of my first gowns I ever made was my greatest challenge, because it was made primarily of leather and burned silk, two materials that are very difficult to work with. The gown was topped with a leather Victorian jacket covered in thousands of small metal studs that I put in each by hand. The shoulders were decorated with fur fox faces dripping in chain and metal, and the detail was done by hand.
What piece of work are you most proud of?
I am most proud of the new gowns I am working on right now for our runway show this October. The lines are much cleaner than before and the details are extremely meticulous. The dresses are constructed with a lot of hand-sewn feathers, metal studs and extremely form fitting corsets. I am terribly excited to see them on the runway, I feel that they are the true evolution of Skingraft.
Where can we find your line?
We just opened up our first store in downtown Los Angeles and we carry our entire line here including our couture fashion show pieces. We are also are carried in stores around the country in such cities as New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Chicago and Atlanta.
Thank you, Jonny, for the interview, and for your brilliant vision in collaboration with Katie. You may find Skingraft ready-to-wear designs for both men and women online, at Hunters and Gatherers and Five and Diamond, among others.