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Sophia Kokosalaki’s Denim Gold Rush

Kokosalaki’s Black Gold debut on Feb. 16 marks not only her first stab at denim, but also a New York show.

Straight off a flight from London at 7 p.m. last Thursday, Sophia Kokosalaki presides over the 7th floor of Diesel’s New York headquarters on West 19th Street. Even after a six-hour flight and a full day’s work, Kokosalaki is dressed in a long black dress and gold jewelry, a look she admits deviates from her typical work attire. “Just wait until tomorrow, when I’m back on the floor in my jeans,” she says. Denim is a genre she’s all the more familiar with since taking the reins at Diesel Black Gold, the high-end contemporary arm of Diesel, in July. Kokosalaki’s Black Gold debut on Feb. 16 marks not only her first stab at denim, but also a New York show, a prospect the designer finds exciting. “I’ve shown in Milan, Paris, London,” she says. “Now I can say we’ve done it all.”

This story first appeared in the February 16, 2010 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Those familiar with Kokosalaki’s own collection, launched in 1999 and known for its elaborate swirled and pleated constructions, might think casual denim an odd fit for the Greek-born, London-based designer, who shows in Paris. But the Black Gold gig came in tandem with Kokosalaki’s reacquiring of her collection from Diesel chairman Renzo Rosso, who purchased her line three years ago for his Only the Brave holdings portfolio. “We’ve found a solution that made us both happy,” says Kokosalaki of the deal. “And Renzo knows everything about denim. I’d be a fool not to try this.”

Kokosalaki calls her approach to Black Gold, which has been shown in New York under Wilbert Das since February 2008, “honest.” By that she means staying true to the line’s urban, rock ’n’ roll credo. “It’s what girls want to wear on the street,” says Kokosalaki, adding a prime influence was the streetwear in her East London neighborhood “where the cool people go out, overstyled in a full outfit to get a sandwich.” Leather and distressed looks are key to the collection, but done with her signature embroideries and fabric manipulations that require labor-intensive techniques. “The easy way is to just break some thread,” she says, holding a distressed style that fuses three layers of yarn to achieve an authentic, worn-in look, a technique she perfected with a denim expert from Japan. “It’s like you got it from a festival 50 years ago.”

As for Kokosalaki’s personal taste, right now she’s into “neat denim, old school,” she says. “But that’s really recently, like in the past two weeks. It might change in another two weeks.”