An urban-fetish mix of Ishioka and McQueen, the world of Skingraft is a modern-primitive wasteland set post apocalypse in butoh bad dreams. Brothers Johnny and Chris Cota created their otherworldly vision of fashion through harnesses and holsters, and then got to stitching. Having started in Downtown over seven years ago, their work has become the fabric of Downtown’s look. Johnny, Skingraft’s Creative Director, remembers, “Downtown became less of a store and more of a home. It became the DNA of the brand. It even changed our aesthetic.” The leather jacket has never gone out of style, but you’ll know a Skingraft creation from a distance. Stunning and stark, the multiple, often superfluous, angled stitches and tight cuts are calling cards of their couture fit and finish. Their clothes are both fantastical and practical at once — dramatically futuristic but clearly born in the city, for the city.
Of course, being worn internationally by A-listers helps establish any fashion brand, and Skingraft’s list of high profile celebs is long, but it was their early work in Downtown that got them noticed amongst the neighborhood’s creative scene, “People get inspired by us and vice-versa. 10 years ago, it was all just poor artists doing favors for each other. No one had any money, so the people who would model or were doing photography for us were all wearing our jackets for trade. So every artsy person for a four block radius was wearing Skingraft,” explains Chris, the company’s CEO. “Now, people genuinely love the brand and think something special is happening here. The first three years, our customers would save up for a year to buy one of our pieces, then wear that jacket everyday for three years. It was a younger customer, a deep subculture. To transition to people who can afford it on a more natural basis, is risky. Once you appeal to a broader audience you run the risk of it not being special anymore. You maintain that authenticity by not getting huge.”
“Of all the brands I’ve seen come out of Downtown, the most replicated and imitated have been Johnny’s designs...they’ve made such a huge impression on the Downtown aesthetic. Big brands are picking up on it,” says Brad Robinson of Skid Row Housing Trust. In April, they partnered with Skingraft to raise both funds and awareness at their Sample Sale in the Arts District, and their partnership continues from product donation to employment opportunities for the Trust. “One of our biggest supporters is Skingraft,” says Brad, “It’s always been a part of their vernacular and culture, ‘What can we do to help?’ from the beginning. They speak directly to the culture of the neighborhood, all while shaping the aesthetic.”
After a second store stint in NYC, the brothers have taken back complete control of the company and consolidated business into their flagship store on Spring and 8th Street. “When you’re here at the store, and you know the designers are here, it brings soul to the store. It makes it a more tangible experience,” Johnny explains. “We’re more excited now than we’ve been in years. It feels really authentic, it’s nice.”
Written by Scott Meisse
Photographed by Christian Thomas