Johnny Coca on the new Mulberry woman and pushing the boundaries with stylist Lotta Volkova
Man of the hour
The creative director behind Mulberry's facelift unravels his work in progress
When news broke last year that Johnny Coca was to ascend to ex-creative director Emma Hill's post at the English heritage label, anticipation was buzzing at an all-time high. On one hand, there were whispers questioning who Coca was and where he had come from, but on the other, unbridled excitement from those in-the-know eager to witness what the then head accessories designer of Céline would bring to ready-to-wear.
You see, despite a lack of headlines to his name pre-Mulberry, Coca has had his fair share of successes — one that saw women from all walks and ages falling head over heels in love with his refined bags and accessories.
I apply the same process to everything I make: I consider the shape and structure, the object's practicality, and then its colour. Once the wheels were in motion with Coca's creative vision at Mulberry, his first order of the day was to lend the English rose lashings of brazen, badass 'tude; by way of silver press studs that peppered the leather goods from his FW16 debut. And then there there were the clothes, of which Coca has liberally borrowed from British schoolboys this SS17 for a contemporary hybrid of the cool prepster meets stuffy librarian — a collection of mostly muted pieces turned avant garde with a little assistance from stylist Lotta Volkova; the visual eye behind Vetements.
To quote Rihanna, Coca at Mulberry is a classic case of the 'Good Girl Gone Bad'. And in this instance, bad has certainly proven to be better. In an interview with Buro 24/7 Singapore, the creative director discusses the dualities of the Mulberry woman and how it only makes her stronger.
When was your first brush with fashion, and also the moment you decided you wanted to pursue design? I grew up in Sevilla, Spain, where family, friends, sun and tradition were important. We were quite creative as a family and my mother cooked and made clothes. I learnt to knit and loved maths. To design planes was my dream, and I sketched a lot. When I was 15, I moved to Paris to study art at l'Ecole des Beaux-Arts and after, I went to l'Ecole Bulle for interior design and l'Ecole Internationale d'Architecture for architecture — I am very fond of Paris. During these years, I worked as a window dresser. After one project for Louis Vuitton, I decided to sketch the windows and the bags in them. It was then that I realised accessory design was something that I could do long term. I decided to call Yves Carcelle, CEO of Louis Vuitton, to ask to show him my drawings. He looked at my portfolio and it went from there. What was your vision entering the brand as creative director? How did you see the Mulberry woman growing and evolving under your care? For me, Mulberry is all about the tensions between heritage and modernity. My collections are rooted in the brand's history and British culture, but the final product is always modern and relevant. It's about taking something old and twisting it to make something fresh. The Mulberry woman is stronger than before. She has that 'I-don't-care-what-you-think' London attitude and loves practical clothes and bags, but is also feminine with a tender side.
Do you find yourself bringing a little bit of Spanish nuances to the brand? No, Mulberry came to greatness with its style anglais collections and I wish to respect its DNA. However, there is some overlap between the cultures. For example, red is a very Spanish colour but it's very British too. Coming off your debut in FW16, what did you learn that you've applied to SS17? That the venue matters! The gothic decoration of the Guildhall was a near perfect backdrop for the punk vibes of our fall/winter 2016 show. For SS17, we showed a British uniform-inspired collection in a modern print. Again, clashing the old with the new — it worked!
Why school uniforms — what drew you to it? Uniforms are something very British. When I first started working in London, I was struck by the beautifully dressed children and (not so well dressed) students on their way to class. It's just not something you see anywhere else. I was completely charmed, and loved the way the older kids kind of messed with the rules and played with the outfits to make them edgier. They were twisting something very traditional to make it look modern. That feels very right to me.
What do you think Lotta Volkova, who styled the spring/summer 2017 collection, brought to the season? We were very happy that Lotta could style the show. She adds more than just a fresh eye; she automatically thinks of the unexpected — like carrying a weekend bag as a clutch. She pushes further when you think there's nowhere else to go.
Who are your heroes, and how have they shaped your attitude and perception of design? Miles Chapman and Shiro Kuramata are both experts in their fields and two designers whose design ethic and technique inspire me everyday. Having predominately worked with accessories before this, what were the challenges you faced with ready-to-wear, if any, and what was your approach to overcoming it? I have a broad background in design, having studied art, interior design and architecture before moving into fashion accessories — bags, shoes, jewellery and sunglasses. I apply the same process to everything I make: I consider the shape and structure, the object's practicality, and then its colour. Form, function and colour.
What was your first Mulberry bag? I've always carried the bags of the company I've been working with at the time; it's the best way to really test your work. The first Mulberry bag I carried was the Piccadilly, an oversized cousin of the classic Bayswater. It's strikingly large, which worked for me as I prefer slightly unusual accessories. Having designed many coveted bags in the past and also now at Mulberry, what do you personally look for in a bag? For me, shape and structure are most important. I like distinctive silhouettes that feel modern, with strong walls and handles because I carry so much around with me. Deep tones and striking colour combinations also inspire me.