S K I N + B O N E S: IN CONVERSATION WITH SONNY SONNENFELD
Story + Photos / Georden West
Model / Dayana Karis
Hair / Po Ave
It is exactly one day after the unveiling of her debut collection and Sonny Sonnefeld is already thinking of what’s next. “It feels so weird,” she laughs, “I keep feeling like I have to be working on something and then remember that I did it all.” After spending the last year planning and preparing, she has launched her line S K I N + B O N E S designed for all genders, all cultures, and all ages. She is giving herself two weeks off before starting the next project. Sonny puts it simply: “I’m ready for phase two.”
We sit down with Sonny of S K I N + B O N E S to chat about fashion, gender, and sexuality.
How did you find your way to fashion?
I have been an extremely visual person for as long as I can remember, to the point of picking out my own outfits in preschool, and demanding that I only wear certain socks with certain shoes (My mother can vouch for this). I was constantly rummaging through both my parent’s wardrobe’s, playing dress up at any chance I got. This pattern transcended throughout my teenage years as well. I was always very particular about the way clothes fit; I was never fully satisfied with how a garment fit/ looked straight out of the store. I did not come from a wealthy family, so I spent much of my teenage years going from one thrift store to the next, purchasing whatever I could afford, bringing it home, and then altering each piece to create something unique, and customized. I would buy the strangest articles of clothing, and make them my own. I always found beauty in the strange. I was essentially creating these little stories for each look; for example, I would throw a vintage fur coat over silk pajamas, and decide that that was a “going to get a coffee look.” I was just living in my own little fashion fantasy land. In essence, I have always viewed fashion in a more imaginative sense, as if life occurred on the runway; it’s just more fun that way.
Can you tell me a little about your process?
As a designer, my process is organic. I am most often inspired by music. I hear a song that speaks to me, and the emotion that is evoked from it then becomes a visual display in my mind, from which I develop a concept. I typically begin with a set of sketches, letting the pen and paper translate the story. Having an additional background in graphic design, creating mood boards is a method that really helps me hone In on the concept that I have developed and create a world for my Ideas to live in. This ultimately leads me to develop a color/texture story, from which I gather a plan for the textiles, tones, and silhouettes that will be cohesive in my collection of designs. I like to do a combination of draping and flat pattern drafting when forming my garments. I need the technical component of flat pattern drafting, in order to ensure that each garment will line up properly. However, being the visual person that I am, I also need to understand how a garment will move and unfold in a three-dimensional form; for me, it the process of turning math into motion.
That sounds very technical! Is there a part of it that you particularly enjoy?
As a designer, the construction process is what I love most. While each of the prior steps is an integral part of the process, sewing, itself, is what speaks to me most. I see design construction as sculpting. The ability to manipulate fabric and textiles into a fully formed garment, from what was once a two-dimensional image, and before that a thought, is what fills me with joy each time I create a new look.
You say music influences your work: what were you listening to throughout the process of this specific collection? Any specific artists, albums, songs?
I have such an appreciation for all genres of music, but this collection was definitely Hip-Hop / Rap driven. I categorize SKIN + BONES as Athleisure Couture because Streetwear plays a major role in my brand’s aesthetic. In circling back to my appreciation for contrasted elements, each look in my collection brings a Streetwear element into the mix, in combination with heavily tailored/ Couture designs. I am heavily influenced by Hip Hop culture and grew up around it, so it is important for me to maintain that element in my designs. I want my garments to maintain a balance between Runway-Atlantis and ready-to-wear.
The artists’ whose music influenced this collection consist of Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Kanye West, and The Weeknd. I get really connected to beat even more so than lyrics because that’s what really creates the vibe and energy around a song/ rap. I always envision the movement and motion of a garment, which is why music and rhythm impact my designs so much.
Some of the tracks/ albums that greatly inspired me in making this collection have been Drake’s 2015 Mixtape: “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late,” “Fade” by Kanye West, “LOVE,” by Kendrick Lamar, and The Weeknd’s 2011 Mixtape, “House of Balloons.” Additionally, artist, Maverick, who I will be collaborating with this summer, has some really amazing tracks which have also inspired me in the ideas that I have developed for the remaining looks for this collection.
How about the creative process? What role did gender play in the creative decisions surrounding this collection (which features only one dress)?
I have been very inspired by menswear since I was young. I never quite fit into a box. I’ve always been this feminine “tomboy.” I wanted my hair and makeup to be ultra-feminine while creating an androgynous silhouette with my wardrobe. I would borrow an oversized t-shirt or button-down shirt from my dad, but then throw it over tights and heeled boots. I was/ am highly drawn to contrast; mixing feminine and masculine elements to create a look that morphs on each wearer. This was one of the biggest reasons for my becoming a wardrobe stylist as well; I got to test out so many visions and ideas, and really learn how to create head-to-toe looks that many thought would never work until I actually put them on a person.
My goal is to create a new market in the fashion industry. Unisex fashion already exists and has made such a tremendous impact. I, however, want to still emphasize the human form in my garments, while simultaneously making them wearable for any gender. I think it is really important right now to play any role we can in uniting people, and making each and every individual feel that they have a community which stands behind them. If I can play even a small role in that, through fashion, I am most definitely going to give it my all. Fashion is, in itself, one of the largest forms of self-expression; so many of us do not fit into these boxes that have been predetermined in society. Therefore, when creating a look, the main thing that I keep in mind is, can this be worn differently by different genders; can someone truly make this their own; hence why I refer to my brand as “Genderfull,” rather than “genderless.”
What does queerness mean to you and how does it influence your work?
To me, queerness means not fitting into a singular box. I view queerness as more than just gender identity, but rather as a community of individuals who do not confine themselves to societal terms and standards. Queerness is about authenticity, originality, and creative/ non-binding expression of self. Queerness plays a major role in its influence in my designs; I design pieces to be limitless; to be worn in any way one sees fit. All of the garments that I design are interchangeable, and can be mixed and matched, which is why I primarily design separates. Additionally, each piece has some way of being either detachable/ having removable components, or has a silhouette which can be manipulated through hardware or constructed elements incorporated in the design. I base my designs off of the same notion that people too should have the ability to move freely and be given the tools to allow them to alter things to work in their benefit, rather than against them.
What was the initial inspiration for this collection?
My initial inspiration for this collection really stemmed from my own personal metamorphosis over the past few years. I went through some intensely life-changing events, from which I evolved more than I could have imagined. I felt somewhat stuck for so long, in many ways, and had to knock down a lot of walls to get to where I am at now. I struggled with depression a lot in my early to mid-twenties; I think we can all agree that being a creative and artistic person can be very challenging, and often, very lonely. I had all these visions but felt stifled. There was a domino effect of events that continuously made me feel further and further away from reaching the high goals that I had set for myself.
I spent so many years not really living life for myself at all, and when I realized that, I was like, “Okay this stops now.” I met my fiancé around this time, and her encouragement and support led me to go back to school for Fashion Design, and grab hold of my dreams permanently, and unapologetically. My life has felt so complete since I started designing; I have something that makes me feel full and can never be taken from me, and that has been my true inspiration for this collection, which I entitled “Rebel With A Cause.” My debut collection is about breaking free from restrictions; staying true to who you are, and having a voice in a society where we are so often silenced. This collection is an artistic representation of modern culture and self-expression, and is dedicated to anyone who doesn’t “fit the mold.”
What did you learn from your experience crafting this collection and how will it inform your approach of the next?
I learned SO much from creating this collection, and I am still learning every day. That’s the beauty of this craft-there is always more to learn. I will be creating a few more looks throughout the summer to add to this collection as well because I want to have a true 10-12-piece launch collection. Since I design separates, the process to forming one solid look is more time consuming (right now I have seven head to toe looks, but my collection consists of about 20 pieces to make up those looks). I see things in looks versus individual garments, and really want the story behind each to carry through visually/ be felt emotionally, so the quality of each individual piece is very important to me (my OCD doesn’t help). On that note, one of the biggest things that I have developed from crafting this collection has been patience. I have really learned the value and the benefit of being present with each design. I used to have an idea, and try to rush through things to get to the end result, all of which would normally end up with me upset because things wouldn’t come out the way that I envisioned, or the fit of a garment would be off, because I hadn’t truly taken the time to make sure everything worked each step of the way.
In any craft, I think it’s really important to learn the rules before you break them. That has been the biggest take away for me in this process. It’s always said that in Fashion there are no rules, but in Fashion Design, in order to create something that is deconstructed, manipulated, or “off,” in any way, the execution and construction has to be spot on. If I intentionally have “flaws” in my garment as part of the design, I have to really take the time to make sure that they translate in that way, rather than reading as a mistake. I’ve really challenged myself this year to hone in on that. It is very difficult to make things appear deconstructed because it is actually a form of tailoring, so there is a ton of handwork that goes into each of my designs. I am so detail oriented, down to every last thread, so I have had to find the balance between over analyzing my work and taking a step back from it.
While I will still be adding a few more designs to my current collection, which I have mapped out already, I definitely have a strong sense of the direction that I wish to take my next collection. Moving forward, I will continue to challenge myself, push myself to conquer designs/ methods which I am still learning, and be patient with myself, while working constructively and fearlessly. I am excited for what’s next!