How Mul­berry’s Johnny Coca is bring­ing an out­sider’s per­spec­tive to the prim-and-proper Bri­tish house.

Pahull Bains meets the man who’s in­ject­ing a bold new flavour into the clas­sic house of Mul­berry.

Fashion (Canada) - - Contents -

It’s a 10°C Fe­bru­ary day in Lon­don, and Johnny Coca is freez­ing. So much so that the bearded, sil­ver­hoop-wear­ing Spa­niard is kit­ted out in a Mack­age puffer jacket when I meet him at Spencer House, the site for his Spring 2018 seenow-buy-now show the fol­low­ing day.

A quick tour of the 18th-cen­tury townhouse built for the first Earl Spencer (an an­ces­tor of Diana, Princess of Wales) puts one in mind of Bri­tish aris­toc­racy, for­mal tea par­ties and elab­o­rate china and crystal place set­tings at din­ner, which seems apt for a brand steeped in ye olde Bri­tish charm. But when I re­turn the next day for the show, I’m guided right through the man­sion and out the back doors, past a pink wall dressed in roses, hy­drangeas and tulips and into a stark cir­cu­lar space awash in mil­len­nial pink and cov­ered in mir­rors, reflections of the show­go­ers bounc­ing off them ev­ery which way.

This para­dox be­tween old-world so­phis­ti­ca­tion and youth­ful ec­cen­tric­ity is an ac­cu­rate de­scrip­tion of Mul­berry’s new out­look with Coca at the helm. With st­ints at Cé­line, Bally and Louis Vuit­ton be­hind him, the de­signer—who took over at Mul­berry in 2015—brings an in­tu­itive un­der­stand­ing of form, struc­ture and con­struc­tion to the house, as well as a play­ful and icon­o­clas­tic per­spec­tive.

“When I ar­rived at the com­pany, I be­gan think­ing about the best way to drive and change the di­rec­tion of Mul­berry,” says Coca. “Cul­tur­ally speak­ing, [the Brits] are re­ally proper. There’s a clas­si­cism to the cul­ture, with the Queen, the tai­lor­ing, the tea time.… But at the same time, it’s very funny be­cause you also have the op­po­site. They’re break­ing all the rules. They can be more ec­cen­tric, they can be more rock, they can be punk­ish, they can play with colours...with tat­toos. So my idea was to take these two dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions and try to merge ev­ery­thing.”

It’s eas­ier to sub­vert tropes when you’re look­ing at them from the out­side, claims Coca, and con­sid­er­ing his back­ground (born in Seville, ed­u­cated in Paris), he is primed to bring an out­sider’s de­cid­edly non-Bri­tish sensibility to the brand. “I think it’s in­ter­est­ing—be­cause I’m not from here and I look at things in a dif­fer­ent way,” he muses. “What’s ev­i­dent for a Bri­tish per­son is not the same as for some­one out­side. I love all the tar­tan, the check, the Victorian, the his­tory. So per­haps I’m more ex­treme in the ref­er­ences than some­one for whom they’re nor­mal. It gives me more room to twist and to play and have fun.”

A strong el­e­ment of fun cer­tainly res­onates through­out this col­lec­tion. Imag­ine a kooky, off-kil­ter gar­den party with at­ten­dees in or­ganza Ed­war­dian dresses, over­sized suits, flouncy blouses and ruf­fled skirts—all in hues rang­ing from muted pas­tels to earthy neu­trals to blind­ing brights.

“Johnny has pushed us to­ward fab­u­lous colours and more struc­tured de­signs,” Nick Towe, Mul­berry’s head of group qual­ity, told his au­di­ence later at one of the work­shops or­ga­nized by the brand over the course of the week­end at Lon­don Fash­ion Week. The house has be­gun us­ing more chrome-tanned leather, rather than veg­etable-tanned leather, says Towe, “be­cause it’s fan­tas­tic for colour; it holds its colour. And what does Johnny love? Colours.”

He “re­ally threw some curve­balls,” joked Towe, but curve­balls are what you need when you’re try­ing to rein­vent a clas­sic house like Mul­berry. And Coca threw an­other when he en­listed Lotta Volkova, the avant-garde 34-year-old Rus­sian known for her work with Vete­ments and Ba­len­ci­aga, to style Mul­berry’s shows.

“I think you have to be re­ally ex­treme in your choices if you want to rad­i­cally change the di­rec­tion of a brand,” says Coca. “But at the same time, I think it’s re­ally im­por­tant to keep the her­itage as a ref­er­ence in terms of craft, in terms of spirit. You can’t be ex­tremely dif­fer­ent if you don’t have a strong DNA—your base, where you come from, where you are.”

It’s a tightrope, but Johnny Coca’s walk­ing it just fine.


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