Christina Iskandar embroiders a portrait of Jonny Cota, the creative force behind fashion brand Skingraft. Photo by Anthony Dodds.
JONNY, you’re originally from San Francisco Bay – what brings you to Bali’s shores?
My spaceship crash landed in Bali about six years ago. What started out as an innocent adventure soon turned into a creative endeavour. I was mesmerized by all the craftsmanship of the island and decided to start producing garments and accessories here . . . and six years later here I am continuing on this creative path.
You are a former travelling circus performer . . . tell us more.
After university I ran away with the circus for a few years as a stilt walker and fire performer. We travelled all over the west coast of America and even performed across the pond in Ireland and Italy. I learned a great amount of skills in the circus including costume design and the basic fundamentals of sewing. After my circus years I found my calling as a fashion designer using skills I learned on tour. A lot of those performers and beautiful freaks that were part of the circus have also found their way to Bali to pursue creative interests.
Judging by all the social media hype Skingraft is really going places – tell us how it all started for you.
Skingraft started with just two freaky performer boys and a rusty sewing machine trying to create some weird alien clothes. We struggled to make ends meet for years but we were constantly evolving the brand, our aesthetic and our commitment to quality craftsmanship. Everything from designing, sewing, patterning, website creation and sales was all done by us. I feel fortunate that Skingraft made it through those years and has matured into a really exciting and stable creative project.
With a store in New York City now, was it a dream of yours?
We opened our first Skingraft store in L.A. five years ago and last year opened Skingraft NYC. I think it is every young American designer’s dream to open a store in NYC but for us it just felt like the next logical step. It happened very organically and we hope to continue to open more stores over the next few years. My dream is to bring Skingraft to Japan within the next few years.
Skingraft was recently named Logo’s NewNowNext Fashion Honoree in menswear, this is kind of a huge deal and one you must be so proud of?
To be 100 per cent honest, I work so much that I often forget to savour the moments of recognition or accomplishment. Winning awards, or opening a store or showing at New York Fashion Week, the next morning I wake up just thinking about the next collection and how urgently I need to get back to work. We have been very fortunate over the years but my main focus is on the clothes and the rest is just fantasy.
You have a huge celebrity following from Rihanna, Tyson Chandler, Adam Lambert and Justin Bieber. How does it feel to have your brand associated with people who have such a strong connection to fashion? And who would you love to dress or work with?
I always love to see celebrities wearing my designs. It is definitely a thrill to see one’s designs in such a public way but I get a similar thrill seeing any random kid on the street wearing Skingraft. I do believe that all the celebrity support Skingraft has received has definitely advanced the visibility of our brand over the years but isn’t celebrity culture so funny? It kind of weirds me out most of the time. I would love to dress Grace Jones or Tilda Swinton.
Your amazing collection at New York fashion Week – most designers only ever dream about it – the lead-up to the collection must have been surrounded by so much hype, how did the end result make you feel?
I was thrilled with our show at New York Fashion Week in February. It really does take a fashion army to produce a show like that and one of the most rewarding aspects of showing at fashion week is to be able to look around at all these talented behind-the-scenes people busting their asses to help manifest your vision. As nerve wracking and stressful as it is, it was very humbling.
Is anyone else in your family as creative as you are?
Skingraft has grown into a family business. My business partner who handles all the business matters of the company is my brother and my sister recently joined the Skingraft L.A. team. My parents have been sitting front row at every fashion show I have ever done (even the old-school ones that were held in dirty, sketchy warehouses). They are definitely Skingraft’s number one fans.
Where do you call home?
Home is where my fiancée and my pit bull are. I used to call L.A. home but Bali is becoming more and more my home each year.
Name a place you haven’t been to yet but would love to get to someday?
Who or what is your biggest inspiration to date and why?
I have always been fascinated with death. As far back as I can remember I have always romanticised death and the idea of an afterlife. To me it isn’t dark, it is more like a shade of bright light we don’t fully understand.
What can we look forward to with Skingraft in the near future?
Expanding the collection into shoes, perfumes, sunglasses and furniture. I really love creating the Skingraft retail experience so I hope opening a few more stores is in our future.
JONNY’S TOP FIVE:
Greatest love? Family.
Fashion prediction? Radical self-expression overcomes the monotony of the fashion industry.
Favourite artist? Matthew Barney.
What are you most passionate about? Art and design.
Lover or fighter? Lover.