Tuesday, October 13, 2009


  • Style Section L.A.
HIDE AND SEEK: Skingraft's Jonny Cota and Katy Kay inside their downtown L.A. boutique. All photos courtesy of Skingraft.

Second Skin

Leather-heavy L.A. label Skingraft rolls out its sleek hides at Downtown L.A. Fashion Week.

The ever-amorphous L.A. Fashion Week officially kicked off this past weekend, and now we’re in for three weeks (you heard me) of soirĂ©es and shows – half of which, truth be told, I’d love to take a pass on.

But hovering above the compost pile of subpar labels staging events this season are a few sparkling gems. One of which is downtown L.A.’s Skingraft, a darkly romantic, leather-centric collection that’s been hovering below the fashion radar since launching in 2005.

Founded by Jonny Cota and Cassidy Haley, two ex-circus performers (stilt walkers, to be exact), the label began as a one-of-a-kind clothier, turning out specialty leather pieces for sideshow and circus performers and a handful of hide-loving celebs including Juliette Lewis, Marilyn Manson and Fergie.

Haley eventually exited the company, which had added a third partner, former professional tribal belly dancer Katy Kay (sideshow pedigree was apparently required). Shortly thereafter, Cota and Kay started dreaming up their first ready-to-wear collection.

“We had been making stilt pants and crazy costumes and headpieces for circus troupes,” says Cota, who used to perform with gothy circus troupes El Circo and Lucent Dossier. “But the demand for making it more accessible kept growing.”

The brand’s biker-tinged brand of gothic—laced with fetish details—won’t always be at the height of fashion, but thanks to leather-heavy designers such as Rick Owens and Ann Demeulemeester, not to mention a major pendulum swing to a Road Warrior-style toughness in fashion, the slightly sinister look is definitely having a moment.

And Skingraft does it very well, from harnessing fashion-forward silhouettes to pristinely finishing each garment.

Sleek leather jackets are at the heart of the collection—a staple the designers twist and tweak in numerous ways. There’s a Victorian-style fitted body with blousey sleeves, cropped-and-studded models, sporty styles with stretchy fabric on the sides and rocker looks with lace-up details. Core prices range from $120 for a collared men's shirt to around $500 for a signature leather jacket.

“There are lots of nods to classic shapes,” says Cota, who, with Kay, still runs a custom wedding dress business (of the crimson leather-Marilyn Manson ilk). “It’s always a combo of classic imagery and something very now.”

The brand, which bowed its own downtown L.A. boutique (sharing a space with like-minded L.A. label, Elmer Ave.) in April, will be flaunting its wares tomorrow night for the second consecutive L.A. Fashion Week, this time as part of Downtown Fashion Week’s lineup at the MOCA Geffen Contemporary museum. The invite-only runway show will kick off, for the second time, with a performance by an experimental dance troupe.

“MOCA felt like the most respectable place that we could show in L.A.,” says Cota, who perceives the rocky, “tough” local fashion scene as an irresistible opportunity to stand out. And at the end of the day, “We have a lot of L.A. pride.” Source: By Emili Vesilind for Soft Style LA.

Skingraft, 125 West 4th St. #102, Los Angeles, 213-626-2662

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