Jonathan Cohen is a designer known for pretty dresses, not politics. However, it was impossible to miss the statement he made in his opening look: a shirtdress embroidered like the American flag, except craftier and a lot more vibrant, with rainbow stripes and fraying edges. He said it was hand-stitched by women in Mexico City, where his family is originally from, and he was happy to share that the model was Mexican, too. Growing up in San Diego, Cohen doesn’t remember there being a “border” between the U.S. and Tijuana; it was all “a beautiful blur of colors and cultures.” That dress represented his own identity and the idea that we’re all better together. (Later in the evening, Prabal Gurung continued the conversation with a 10th-anniversary collection titled, “Who Gets to be American?”)
A Mexican serape blanket that looked nearly identical to that dress was Cohen’s inspiration, and it became the jumping-off point for everything else. Memories of his childhood in California and Mexico City informed the prints, with Día de Muertos skulls mingling with surfboards and many of the looks styled with crystal-bedazzled Teva sandals, including some of his fanciest gowns. (Does it get more SoCal than that?) Cohen is known almost exclusively as a dressmaker, but what stood out more than his familiar scarf-tied frocks and A-line minis was a single slinky, sky-blue jacquard suit. His eye for gorgeous fabrics translates nicely to tailoring, and in what will no doubt be a big season of tailoring, this one felt distinctly feminine; there was nothing “menswear-inspired” about its design. It would have been great to see Cohen go more boldly in that direction, or even to introduce separates. Here’s hoping it’s a sign of what’s to come.