When CRAVE first previewed the Spring 2016 collection for SKINGRAFT, a seductive image sprang to mind regarding the menswear and womenswear: a fleet of G.I. Joe meets the Runaways in punk camp and they take over the world in style.
“We have a lot of super simple things.” Says Chris Cota, 34, who joined the neutral hued line (black-white-charcoal-navy) founded by his younger brother Jonny, 32, just under a decade ago in Los Angeles. The tricks however lie in the detailing, evident as he pulls a denim gray shirt with criss-crossed strap harnesses in the back.
Gradient dots line the black rock ‘n’ roll jackets for men and Jonny tells CRAVE they are meant to resemble the dots that form on peyote, the cactus often found in Mexico and filled with psychoactive alkaloids like mescaline. There’s a “puddy” colored men’s knit tunic of horizontal lines sewn together with thin cotton yarn, made to mimic “a snake belly.” Numerous pockets and zippers border jackets, especially for men (thus the army reference.) And the women’s collection features corresponding chic trenches, a kimono shaped leather silk organza jacket, leather shorts, and soft tee shirt dresses.
For SKINGRAFT’s fifth runway show in the Big Apple for New York Fashion Week, the brothers took over a loft in Nolita to prepare. While the city outdoors buzzes chaotically, the trucks of the seasonal San Gennaro food festival, replete with loud vendors, clank outside. But inside, the ambience remains Zen.
Perhaps it’s because Jonny – the design half to his brother’s business vision – spends half the year in tropical Bali overseeing the production. He sits in fitted black shirt, shorts, and black sneakers with similar white peyote dots on them. He’s got a nickel-sized silver ring in each ear. And his hazel eyes flicker when he tells their story.
Once Jonny graduated from UC Santa Cruz with an undergraduate degree in journalism, some friends asked him to join a traveling avant-garde circus. “They told me if I was going to stay, I’d need to pull my weight, to learn something.” So he took up walking on stilts. But the costumes for the show really ignited an interest in designing. So his older sibling put together a business plan. (Chris studied business at Thunderbird University in Arizona.) Their first piece was a jacket choppily sewn together from multi-fabric skirts found at a local Goodwill – snakeskin, sheepskin, etc – with one sleeve a couple inches longer than the other. Then came orders for custom items from friends who performed in the circus and elsewhere.
One day, Marilyn Manson‘s stylist heard about them from friends and tracked them down. “We were living in a bedroom with sewing machines in Echo Park,” laughs Jonny. Others found them via MySpace. Pink, Missy Elliot, and Britney Spears placed orders, the latter for a leather catsuit popping with bright graffiti. “It was nothing like what we normally do.” says Jonny. But they loved the process of experimenting with her outfit.
The duo have since discarded custom work, to focus exclusively on their in-store line. And the influences they cite reflect global curiosity and shamanism: “Mayans, Maasai warriors, Mongolian eagle hunters. We make mood boards every season. Some take six months, some two hours,” says Jonny.
He’s already jumping ahead to the next season. “Sometimes the whole collection revolves around one image no one outside ever sees. Like a shaved head with a rat tail in the back,” he says, pausing.
“Fall’s going to be so exciting!”