We love Ilana Kohn. Her easy, no-fuss collection is a direct reflection of her spirit. The pieces are playful yet understated and subtle while striking. A balance that’s tough to achieve and even tougher to fake. She comes about it organically, without overthinking, knowing exactly what she wants to create. Ilana’s laid-back, positive energy lends itself well to the process and makes its way into the final product. We spent the morning with the designer at her Fort Greene apartment, playing with her cats and sifting through her closet for one off pieces and old favorites, before heading to her studio (with a stop at Pecks for coffee!) for a quick chat and peek at her Spring 2017 collection.
We love that you come from a background in illustration and painting. Did you find that fashion design came of interest organically because of your experience with these visual, and often tactile, mediums?
My interest in fashion actually very much precedes my illustration/painting days! I was always super into clothes, for as long as I can remember. I actually considered going to school for fashion but decided that I didn't want to be one of THOSE girls and turned to painting instead. My parents were the ones who made me decide on Illustration in the end. They were like, 'there’s no way we are spending all this money for you to get a painting degree.' So, I worked as an illustrator after graduation. The recession was the best thing to have happened to me. It forced me to step away from illustration and reconsider what I was doing. I went back to school and started sewing on the side... it all snowballed from there.
Were there any less obvious or unexpected aspects that may have prepared you for becoming a clothing designer and running a fashion business?
I think working as an illustrator toughened me up! I've been putting myself out there and facing rejection forever. I had my ego brutally crushed pretty early on, which definitely helped, and now I can just focus on the work.
How do painting and illustration continue to inform or inspire your collections?
I still like to think of every collection as an overall composition - it has to be balanced and the colors have to work just so. And there are the prints of course!
We love your recurring, now signature, silhouettes. Your use of linen really helps to create these soft, relaxed shapes that move with the body and maintain a no-fuss appearance. Why did you initially select this fabric and why do you keep returning to it?
I'm all about the no-fuss approach to life. I love how linen feels so relaxed and lived-in.
We’re so excited to be carrying a handful of exclusive pieces that you conceptualized with the team at Steven Alan. How did you decide to come together and offer something unique for the Steven Alan customer? How did you settle on the chosen shapes and this new, silk noil fabric?
The collaboration was your team’s idea! I was so excited to have the chance to deviate from the regular collections and try something different. We all sat down together and talked about what kinds of fabrics we liked and agreed that raw silk would be a nice change of pace from my usual linen. Once that was established, we decided it would be fun to bring back one of last season's best sellers, the Kate Jumpsuit, in the new fabric. The Milo was a style that had always been bopping around in the back of my head and was based solely on a rough sketch but they loved the sound of it. No sample, no nothing, just straight to production. They really trusted me and I think it paid off!
How do you come up with the names for your pieces?
Most of our styles are actually named after pets! The Milo Jumpsuit is named after your buyer’s cat! I hope to meet him and shower him with catnip and kisses one day.
How do you want the customer to feel when wearing your pieces?
Happy and comfortable - the best version of themselves.
What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received?
I love when someone says they wear one of my pieces every day! I hate the idea of a garment just languishing in the back of someone's closet; it's so nice to know when something is truly loved.