“At the end of the day it’s about getting to be creative and doing what we want to do.”
Season 2 · Episode 10
Ilana Kohn is one of the most down-to-earth fashion designers and entrepreneurs you could ever hope to encounter. But, having coveted her designs for years, we were preemptively starstruck in anticipation of having her on the podcast. When she arrived with with her signature linen fabric fashioned into a simple, flowing silhouette and her contagious ease, we felt like we were sitting down with an old friend almost immediately.
Ilana was raised in Arlington, Virginia in a relatively traditional household. Her mother was a banker and her father was an engineer. Both of her parents were supportive of her creative pursuits and encouraging of her self-expression. Whether it was thrift store foraging or dying clothes in their washing machine, they always allowed her to be explorative with her fashion.
My mom used to joke that my favorite jewelry store was Petco, except my dad was really paranoid that someone would grab the choke chain, so my dad would saw it off and I would have to close the loops with a safety pin.
Ilana reminisces about her teenage years and planning her concert attire weeks in advance, to shows such as Greenday and the Foo Fighters. She recounts envisioning the perfect cargo shorts, which we feel has served as blueprint for her innovative line of womenswear today.
However, Ilana didn’t just walk out of a Greenday concert and start designing the world’s greatest jumpsuits. She began her career as an editorial illustrator, working with publications such as the New Yorker and the New York Times. Despite her commercial success in this pursuit, as the future of the publishing industry became more and more uncertain, the opportunity for work dried up almost overnight.
Upon leaving illustration she went back to school to study historic preservation. While studying, she channeled her creative energy into a new hobby: sewing. Ironically, once she completed her program, her desire for a career in historic preservation was a thing of the past, and she began fashion designing full-time.
While jumping into a career designing fashion in New York without any formal training sounds intimidating, Ilana is quick to praise the indie fashion community for much of her early success.
Maybe the corporate fashion world is terrifying but the world that I’m a part of is incredibly supportive and wonderful… more often than not the women want to help each other. Maybe that’s the difference with indie fashion and corporate fashion; I found it to be extremely supportive and lovely for the most part.
Ilana’s designs challenge feminine fashion norms and her line is one the first we’ve come across that we can honestly say looks amazing on everyone. And when asked about who her clothing line is for, she doesn’t mince her words.
I would never use my model as a fit model, the model who does the look books. You never see the flaws on her. She would look good in a garbage bag. My clothes are not for models; they’re for normal women. I’m a relatively curvy girl myself so it helps if I’m the fit model. I’ve got fat thighs and I’ve got boobs and I’m not skinny, so I want to be conscious of those things.
The best part for us about sitting down with Ilana Kohn was just how unbelievably comfortable we felt with one of our personal fashion icons. Whether she’s describing her years playing in high school “Dorchestra” or her unapologetic obsession with her cats, she brings a barrel of fresh air with her everywhere she goes. Oh and of course, let’s not forget hearing about her long-term vision for the Ilana Kohn brand.
I was talking to this guy in the garment district and he was like, ‘these are all the things you need to be a $10 million dollar business.’ I was like, that’s not really the point. I want to make a good living at this and be able to offer all the bells and whistles to my employees. I want to offer health insurance. But at the end of the day it’s about getting to be creative and doing what we want to do.
YAS KWEEN, thank goodness you do, Ilana.
Check out the full interview at the link above, and please support independent fashion! All of the clothes and textiles in the Ilana Kohn line are produced in NYC. Go get yourself that power jumpsuit that you deserve!