susannah tantemsapya  ⟶  los angeles + bangkok   


by Susannah Tantemsapya
Portrait by Erica Simon

Whitewall Magazine - The Fashion Issue
(Fall 2012) 

WHITEWALL: The new Mott Street store has been open for a year. How has its reality matched your vision for it?

JAY KOS: It’s been everything I wanted it to be. The move down here is something I needed to do. I was very bored and uninspired uptown.

WW: You did the redesign yourself. Did that process shape your current season?

JK: It’s all related. Everything from food to travel to looking at spices or going through the different seasons in nature — all inspire me in every part of my life. It’s just another form of creativity. It makes me want to get up in the morning.

WW: What is the story behind the monkey? Has that been your logo since you started your first store in 1995?

JK: Yes. To me, the monkey represents an animal that has fun. You can’t really take any of this too seriously. We’re not curing cancer; we’re making clothes.

WW: This location has an intimate, family-style atmosphere. There are private fittings downstairs with a bar, a full kitchen to cook for friends/clients, and a series of armoires upstairs to go through. And it’s by appointment only . . .

JK: No — I don’t know where that came from. There’s a doorbell with a sign on the door that says, “Ring doorbell,” but it’s never been by appointment only. The store has an intimidating frontage and entrance that someone may think it’s by appointment only. That’s fine — I’m comfortable with that. I don’t mind if someone comes in and buys or doesn’t buy. I’m not the traditional retailer that caters to every attitude.

The store has a lot of things that I love. There’s a lot of Italian and French furniture. We had the kitchen made in Venice, Italy.

WW: How often do you cook for people?

JK: It really just depends on my mood that day. At least three to four days a week I’m cooking.
WW: What’s your favorite dish this season?

JK: I usually like to make an omelet with artichoke hearts that I learned in Italy.

WW: You are 90 percent vegan and eat a raw diet. When did that start, and how has that changed your life?

JK: I’m 80 percent raw. I was missing some nutrients and don’t believe in supplements, so added some things to my diet that I wasn’t eating. Again, I don’t live by any laws. When I need to change, I do.

WW: The F[ood]ash•ion blog magazine started in 2009. Your interviews highlight your strong relationships with Union Square’s green market farmers, and also where your food comes from. The last issue (number 15) launched with your store’s relocation to Mott Street. How did that start? Why did you decide to stop?
JK: It will start again. I want to redesign the format and platform, so I decided to put that on hold. Just like the monkey, it started because people take fashion way too seriously. You can’t define someone’s style by what they wear. What forms and shapes it comes from everything in their daily lives. As a designer, my brand should be based on me — part of me is cooking and food. It all has to do with style.

WW: When did you first realize that you could actually do this for a living?

JK: There really wasn’t a moment. I had no choice. This is who I am — it’s sort of like walking and breathing. There was no defining moment. I knew that I had to.
At 16, I had my own flea-market business selling high-end labels that were overruns. In high school I was selling sunglasses. In college I was selling cowboy boots and belts. I’ve always been in this business somehow.

What’s next for Jay Kos?

JK: I want to continue to create the brand. I want to open up stores in Europe and Los Angeles. I really want to concentrate more on the monkey logo and put it on items. We’re working on these incredible alligator, stingray, and python cowboy boots and there’s a lot of jewelry with the monkey head. That’s my focus right now.

WW: Any advice or nuggets of wisdom?

JK: As I’ve grown as an artist, I’ve gotten really comfortable with creating for me rather than what the market asks for. You have to be you. If you try to build a brand based on other brands that you like, then you’re going to fail.

Yves Saint Laurent only wanted to be Yves Saint Laurent. My advice is to want to be you, whether people accept it or not. But usually, if you really are you and you’re a creative person, then you will be accepted in some way or some form.

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