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Designer Jonathan Simkhai on How to Wear Lace and the Celeb He Wants to Dress

In just a few short years, New York designer Jonathan Simkhai has charmed a cross section of the celebosphere. Taylor Swift, Kerry Washington, Kendall Jenner, Anne Hathaway and Gigi Hadid are just some of the famous ladies who’ve stepped out in his sweetly revealing styles. Though his peekaboo lace and cutout constructions are undeniably sexy (Kim Kardashian and Emily Ratajkowski are fans), Simkhai carefully offsets these body-baring looks with structured silhouettes and delicate embellishments that make his creations elegantly wearable (Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett prove this to be true).

Jonathan Simkhai

By balancing structure and sheerness, Simkhai has struck on a particular kind of sexiness that appeals to the modern woman. To make his strongly feminine designs, he relies on modern influences wrought in nostalgic fabrications. This is especially visible in his lacy spring 2016 collection.

We spoke with Simkhai about his success, modern romance and how to wear lace with swagger.

Your collections are very romantic. What is modern romance to you?

Yes, my collections tend to be very romantic. I think that’s because this way of dressing, for me, represents an ideal. These days, romance seems to often get lost amongst all of the dating apps [Simkhai’s brother is Grindr founder Joel Simkhai] and social sites, as well as our need for instant gratification. For me, modern romance is about reflecting on what is considered traditionally romantic and updating it to feel appropriate for our modern day.

simkhai_runwaySS2016_tankpant

Runway images by Jessa Carter

Where is the most romantic place you’ve been recently?

After the fall/winter 2016 show, I took a mini vacation to the Caribbean island of Anguilla—a literal paradise with turquoise waters and white sand beaches—it’s hard not to feel romantic there.

Tell us about the unique lace on your clothing. What is interesting about lace to you? Do you have a favorite type of lace? A lot of your lace resembles a Battenburg but with a contemporary twist.

Battenburg is a great reference! All of our laces are custom-made. Growing up, my family was in the manufacturing business. My grandfather owned a lace factory in Iran in the 1970s, and my father found a box of his old machinery formulas in the attic, which were given to me after my grandfather’s passing. The spring/summer 2016 and most recent fall/winter 2016 collections were heavily focused on the development and customization of these one-of-a-kind lace fabrics.

What makes lace fabric so interesting to me is the wide range of creative possibilities it offers—from creating various levels of texture to cutting incredibly intricate designs. My collections are most often inspired by elements of architecture, especially that found in urban environments, whether its the grid work on an iron door, the grates on the subway or the scaffolding that supports the construction of new buildings. The “Tower Lace” that we developed for spring/summer 2016 was created from original artwork of New York City skyscrapers.

A look from Jonathan Simkhai's Spring 2016 runway

Why is lace having a moment in fashion now?

I think lace is always having a fashion moment in one way or another, but I believe its most recent moment is because we now have modernized development techniques. There are now so many variations of lace that feel incredibly fresh and modern.

Is there a Jonathan Simkhai–endorsed way to wear lace? You seem to use it on very strong silhouettes. 

For me, everything needs to have a balance. I really think it depends on the lace. For lighter lace fabrics, I think it should either be used to make a statement—such as a full gown or matching top and pant look—or the softness should be juxtaposed with sharp tailoring to achieve that perfect symbiotic relationship.

A Jonathan Simkhai jacket from Spring 2016How has becoming a CFDA winner changed your career and fashion mission? What’s next for your label?

Winning the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund was an amazing experience. It was a dream come true for me and has resulted in fantastic exposure for the brand and strong support from the industry as a whole.

There are so many exciting projects currently in the works, from the footwear collaboration with Paul Andrew to an activewear collaboration that is launching this fall.

Did you always want to be a fashion designer? If you weren’t, what would you be doing?

Fashion has always provided a creative outlet for me. If I wasn’t a fashion designer, I would be a cheerleading coach.

Your dresses have been embraced by the celebrity community. Is there someone whom you’d love to dress?

The support has been incredible. I am always excited to see amazing women wearing my designs—it is an honor and a thrill every time. I would love to dress Rooney Mara.

—Britt Olson