If you thought strongly structured designs cannot have a romantic feel, think again. Fashion designer Jonathan Simkhai has been mastering the art of adding whimsical details to linear, contoured shapes since he launched his brand in 2010. Since winning the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Award in 2015 and fine tuning his skills under the mentorship of Michael Kors, Simkhai has made a splash with his unique perspective on womenswear.
A favorite of the young Hollywood crowd, Simkhai has recently dressed Milly Bobby Brown, star of the Netflix hit Stranger Things, model Ashley Graham, and Diane Kruger, who won the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival for her starring role in the German film In the Fade. He custom designed a dramatic black open-shoulder gown with cutting-edge long puffed sleeves that drew raves when Kruger accepted the award in France on Sunday.
We caught up with the designer while he was at Tootsies to debut his his fall collection at a champagne reception and luncheon hosted by Amanda Weeks, Elizabeth Douglas, and Megan Cushing. Among those raving about his designs were Allie Fields, Christina Stith, CJ Yanofsky, Ericka Graham, Stephanie Fleck, Amber Hartland, Vivian McNair, Ashley Sloan, Julie Chen, and Sara Ashley Moreno.
On his fall collection:
Known for innovations with fabrics and custom lace, Simkhai explored the possibilities in his fall collection. “I fell in love with this beautiful guipure lace that incorporated grommets and stunning graphic patterns,” Simkhai said, which he used in a fabulous black and white trumpet dress that's a collection standout. “I looked at different types of architecture, which always inspires me. I like to use things that feel strong, architectural, and statuesque, so the person who wears it stands strong. I don’t usually use like a floral motif and anything that is too soft.”
The new collection also touts unexpected embellishments and play with fabrics like denim — think crystal and pearl studded jeans hand beaded in India.
After researching the fabric shows in Europe, Simkhai developed a “tower lace,” which is a boldly intricate lace made in cabernet, midnight blue and ebony black that is the centerpiece of several styles in the collection. Designing and innovating fabrics is in his blood. His grandfather had a lace mill in Iran in the '60s and '70s. At the start of the country’s revolution, he had to leave his mill and only had time to take a few samples. “When I found out that this was my heritage, I knew this was my calling,” Simkhai said.
On dressing Texas women:
“Texas is one of the most fashion-forward states in the country," Simkhai said. "Texas women love wearing bold fashions and taking risks.” He notices that Texas women don’t pay attention to fashion restrictions and use color and texture in bold ways. “It's really great; makes me happy,” he said.
Simkhai said he enjoys creating designs for the spirited Texas woman who isn't afraid to make fashion fun and play with statement pieces. “Texas people have a lot of fun with their clothes,” he explained. "It’s a thing.”
On women’s empowerment:
Simkhai has made it his mission to use his designs and his platform to empower women and make them feel invincible. “The fall collection is more than anything thinking about how this garment is going to give the person who wears it confidence to take on the day and feel good about themselves. I’m not saying materialistic things can always do that, but for me, when I wear something that I am excited about, it helps,” he said.
Simkhai envisions the wearers of his designs leading their communities and families and taking a stand on what they care about, and he makes sure they have the proper attire to conquer those goals. “The fall collection was about bold silhouettes that made women feel at ease, yet protected — almost like a beautiful armor,” he said.
He incorporates this movement in every aspect of his brand. The guests seated in the front row of his fall 2017 show at New York Fashion Week were given T-shirts with “Feminist AF” on the front. These tees are also sold on his website, with all proceeds going to support Planned Parenthood.
He is making a stand "to let women know that they are able to do whatever they choose to do, I feel like in a lot of societies, cultures, countries there is a restriction and uncertainty, and I want to take any opportunity to say there is not," he said.