For Jonathan Cohen, this coming fall starts with Karen O. Well, with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Well, with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs playing live in New York some years back when Cohen was in the audience, as visually dazzled as he was sonically. He took pictures of the light show on his iPhone, and it’s those lights—colorful, pulsating, and totally hypnotic—that were referenced everywhere in this collection. And it just so happened that he went with his images from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs show. It could have been Madonna (saw her in Brooklyn, loved her) or the Cure or Beyoncé. (He also saw—a major formative life experience this—the original four-girl lineup of Destiny’s Child.) “My favorite part of the concert is at the beginning when the lights go down,” Cohen said at a preview the other day. “That moment when you come out of pitch black. It’s why we have a lot of black this season.”
There was indeed a ton of black in this collection, but it existed in duality with the light-show inspiration. You could see it as a print on one of those soft and sinuous dresses Cohen does so very well, that combination of rounding out the silhouette yet also letting the fabric gently fall. Or as an allover fabric embroidery on a narrow skirt, the fragments of material falling like confetti all over it. (It’s become something of a trademark of his, and it comes with an even better backstory: It’s a thoughtful and thrifty way to use leftover fabrics, a sustainably minded waste-not-want-not approach rendered to good effect.) Or, perhaps most subtly, as the luminous gold thread on a rather chic black hourglass jacket, the yarn picking up the light in the same way a car’s headlights do traffic-lane markings at night. Or indeed, just before the lights go up, and a band comes on.
That jacket, incidentally, might have had a little of the spirit of Ms. O, too, in other ways. Cohen partnered it with an organic indigo denim skirt, fullish, shortish, and tiered in such a way that flattened knotted bows, which are integral to its construction. It took the formality of the jacket down just a tad, imbued it with a different spirit, an easier if no less dressy attitude. That knotting motif popped up elsewhere too—on a black satin coat, and yet more black satin in the form of a sleeveless long evening dress.
The knots were like other elements in the collection—the light padding used to create volume on the back of the short puffed-up sleeves on a standout cotton dress; the three months it takes to make 15 meters of the colorful tweed that looks like static on a TV screen and was deployed here for a jaunty suit—all done by hand. When it comes to Cohen’s fall, that’s another sensation he was looking to connect with: getting back to what it means to him, aesthetically and emotionally, to be doing his job. “Where we are right now…you keep thinking, What does it mean to be a designer?” he said. “I’ve always thought my purpose was to bring some joy to the world. And it feels like it’s more important than ever.”