Interview: Ilana Kohn

by Amy Azzarito

This week, I got out our marbling supplies and started playing around. Let’s just say that my initial attempts were anything but breathtaking. So when I hit the web for more tips and tricks, I stumbled upon a class that taught at the and just fell in love with her marbled silks. When I discovered the clothing collection that she created around those marbled fabrics, my wallet nearly jumped out of my purse. Even more inspiring, Ilana has only recently made the transition to fabrics. She worked as a commercial illustrator for nearly a decade before realizing that her heart was no longer in it. Her passion was fashion, and she decided to see if she could make it work – that was two years ago. Because her background is in illustration, Ilana starts her collections right at her kitchen table where she looks at fabrics and sketches. Her line has evolved from one with four basic silhouettes into a full-fledged collection. She tends to favor simple lines – clothing that’s easy to wear, in bold colorful patterns. (You can see her right here). Ilana’s right in the middle of packing up her small live/workspace to move into a luxuriantly sized (for New York!) two-bedroom apartment, where she’ll no longer have to draw on the kitchen table. She’ll have her very own space — with a door! — Amy Azzarito

*Ilana is teaching an intensive marbling class next weekend at the . Sign up .

Design*Droits-Humains: What are your craft room essentials? What sorts of creative objects can you not live without?

Ilana Kohn: I have bits and bobs I’ve collected from fellow designers and artists scattered all over my studio — random jewelry, paintings, scraps of fabric, weavings, fake poo, my favorite mugs, a felted pickle man. Not only are these objects beautiful and inspiring (each in their own way), but I just love being surrounded by objects created by people I love and admire. I’m a bit of a magpie like that.

D*S: What do you do to make your workspace an enriching and inspiring place to be?

IK: Right now, the latter objects are pretty much my space’s saving grace. I’m long overdue for a real workspace, so keeping things as organized as possible is about the extent of it. To call my space enriching and inspiring might be a bit of a stretch at the moment, unfortunately . . . [until] I move into my bright, shiny new space in about four weeks! I can’t wait to hoard all the beautiful non-apparel items from fellow designers I’ve been admiring forever but just didn’t have room for (i.e., an Iacoli & McAllister light and some more Object & Totem mugs and bottles, among soooo many other things).

See more of Ilana’s studio after the jump . . .

D*S: What sorts of things are inspiring you right now? Where do you look for inspiration?

IK: It’s pretty hard for me to pinpoint exactly what’s inspiring me at any given moment. I’m a bit of a history nerd, so that always informs my work in a big way, and then the rest is just my day to day and whatever I happen to stumble across in real life or on the world wide web.

D*S: What are some of your favorite shopping sources, either for inspiration or for supplies?

IK: Can I say my friends’ studios?! Those are definitely the places where I draw a ton of inspiration and much wallet damage is done. The and  are very very dangerous places for my bank account :)

D*S: What do you do to keep yourself, your space and your time organized?

IK: My space may not look at all organized, and those that know me would not likely think me a particularly organized person (a certain friend who recently traveled with me would attest to that), but I swear that I know where everything is, and I keep things together in my own bizarro way. And lists lists lists! I’d lose my mind without them. The icing on the messy cake is living and working out of such a tight space with the world’s messiest dude and cat, but I do my best. I really really can’t wait to have a studio all to myself with a door that I can shut and keep the smelly boys out of.

D*S: How do you combat creative blocks?

IK: I generally find that I hit creative blocks when I’m not taking care of myself and I’m in a nasty place mentally. So the trick is just to make sure I’m getting enough sleep and exercise and that usually does it.

D*S: How did you begin creating clothing?

IK: This is kind of a long story! I worked as a commercial illustrator for close to a decade, and when the recession hit, my work pretty much dried up overnight. I’d been feeling like I’d hit a wall creatively anyway, so I decided the heck with it and went back to school for historic preservation. While in grad school I got restless with no creative pursuits and began sewing. Before I knew it, I was selling pieces, and it pretty much snowballed from there. When I finally graduated, that’s when I decided to start designing my own textiles and take the business to the next level.

D*S: When did you start marbling? And how did you decide to incorporate it into your clothing design?

IK: I began marbling on a total whim with a friend. We’d always been curious about the process, and when we saw that a class was being offered, we went for it and fell in love. I’d already had the clothing line for a couple of seasons at that point, so we just decided to add it in. After about one season of it, however, my friend got pretty burnt out, and I took over the marbling by myself. Even at this point, though, the marbling is super time and labor intensive, so I incorporate it into the line on a pretty limited and exclusive scale.

D*S: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

IK: Follow my gut.

D*S: If you could peek inside the studio of any designer/artist/craftsperson, whose would it be and why?

IK: That’s a hard one! Oddly, I always have difficulty with this kind of question for some reason. Nothing comes to mind immediately, but I’m a huge fan of visiting the studios of amazing fine artists and people who do things that are very different than what I do. And nothing beats the smell of oil paint.

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  • Interesting design work. I like the fabric and I like the black and white dress. The rest of the clothes I don’t really get. Why would a beatuiful woman with a great body want to cover it in schlubby looking clothing?

  • Schlubby clothing?

    I adore this designer’s work. I used to make marbled paper and often buy old books just to get the binding’s innards.

  • I love her clothing. I looked at the sites for all stockists listed on her site and none of them had more than a few pieces, and none had any pieces of the current collection. Any suggestions?

  • hi tulumchica, I’m between seasons right now but SS13 will be shipping out to all the stores I have listed in about 2 weeks so keep your eyes peeled! You can also subscribe to my mailing list to be kept in the loop. :) xx-i

  • HA! I would say a ‘certain friend’ – while not necessarily saying you’re super organized in the traditional sense – would definitely say you’ve got the “organized chaos” down pat! And the best part is you make it work for you so more power to you. ;) Love you lots lady, and awesome to see you featured!

  • i love her work! when i saw the other marbling posts, i was like, “they need to check out ilana kohn,” but of course y’all were way ahead of me. thanks for the workspace peek!

  • Grace – feel free to remove my previous comment. I may have used the wrong word to get out what I meant. I appreciate the design of the fabric and the ideas behind the clothing. I guess I just don’t get the appeal of wearing clothing that doesn’t have much shape. I know I’m not very trendy so design like this probably goes over my head and is apprecaited by a large group of people.

    I will agree my wording probably wasn’t constructive but a differing oppinion can be constructive. Design isn’t going to be to everyone’s tastes and allowing people to make those comments helps discussion. I do apologize for my inability to describe what I meant in my first post.

    • Brooke

      My bottom line is this- I don’t think commenting on someone’s body type is constructive or relevant to a design post about her craft and practice.


  • I agree and I apologize again for the way I worded my comments. I will stop while my foot is down my throat and re-iterate that the fabric is really lovely. I apprecaite the articles I see on design sponge regardless if they are my thing or not. You guys do a great job providing a wide range of design ideas.

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