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Skingraft Brings the Circus to Nolita

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Jonny Cota, the designer behind L.A.-based men’s and women’s label Skingraft, learned how to sew during a stint in the circus—as a stilt walker. “You can’t just buy four-foot-long pants, so I would make these tiered leather stilts pants covered in studs and alligator and stuff like that,” says Cota. He launched his brand in 2006 as a costume company, but by the time he opened his L.A. flagship in 2009, Cota had transitioned from making feathered headdresses and jackets with taxidermied fox-face shoulders (“I’m obsessed with taxidermy and dead things,” he says) to crafting space-age sportswear and hyper-constructed leather jackets. “Our clients are creative and express themselves through fashion,” says the 29-year-old Cota. His brother, Chris, runs the business side of the label.

Next week, Cota will bring his vampy jersey dresses, sculpted vests, and gently draped menswear to New York with the opening of Skingraft’s Prince Street flagship. “Nolita is my favorite part of New York City,” says Cota, who revealed that he plans to show at New York fashion week for the first time in September. Like his wares—whose dark, gritty aesthetic will undoubtedly appeal to the Bowery set—the boutique will be completely uncircus-like. “The clothes are intricate and ornate, so I really wanted to showcase them in a simple store,” offered the designer. There will be dark oak floors, stark white walls, and a giant screen that will play a new 3-D, motorcycle-themed Skingraft film (a still from which debuts above) on loop all summer. However, there is one element of the shop that’s reminiscent of Cota’s Big Top days. “We have a polar bear skull,” he says. “It’s kind of my hobby, seeking out these little treasures at estate sales, and they always end up in the store. It’s become part of our retail experience.” And why not? More boutiques should offer a shopping sideshow.

Located at 7 Prince Street, Skingraft’s New York boutique will have a soft opening on May 2, and open permanently on May 7. The brand is also available at OAK, and online at www.skingraftdesigns.com.