Cristina Ehrlich is a prominent American fashion stylist. Her bi-costal lifestyle allows her to find grace and beauty both in her own creative adventures as well as with her clients.
HOW DID YOU FIRST BECOME ACQUAINTED WITH JONATHAN COHEN?
I first met Jonathan during the early years of his company through word of mouth in a shared professional relation. Jonathan was keen to develop his collection at a high standard, which included that the construction met the design. It was a natural fit, and our collaboration expanded as the collections grew.
WHEN DID YOU KNOW YOU WANTED TO BE IN THE INDUSTRY? HOW DID YOU GET INTO THE WORLD OF FASHION?
I knew I wanted to be in the fashion industry at an early age. The feelings permeated throughout my teenage years; although I wasn’t sure what exactly would come from that interest, I knew Fashion had my attention.
To be honest, almost all aspects of the industry intrigued me, and I did dabble in multiple sectors before settling into Women’s design development. Starting in public relations and branching to accessories design before settling into Women’s design gave me a particular perspective on what moves people around aesthetics, be it on paper (pre-digital internet) and the real world. That early mix of experience, to this day, plays an integral part in the planning and development of the collections I have collaborated on.
WHAT’S YOUR PROCESS, AND WHAT IS THE MOST ENGAGING OR REWARDING PART OF IT?
In terms of collaborating with Jonathan, my process is first to listen and watch intently– a simple gesture can mean a lot– and then to talk out the look of the designs from my perspective. The communication part of the process becomes a unique vernacular that evolves from season to season, much like a maturing language with lexical adaptations. In fact, the interrelation of our seasonal language becomes a working communication to find that meaning in each collection and bring it to life. At some point, you get to know one another well enough it becomes a sort of left brain, right brain condition. I enjoy that growth, and I am always refreshed with each new season as another challenge to meet. The reward is to arrive at the place of universal comprehension through a physical object – the garment. We each bring our perspectives, and the garments' lines become ever more apparent and present at each stage of development.
WHEN YOU FIRST STARTED WORKING IN THE WORLD OF COUTURE, WHAT WAS YOUR GOAL/VISION? HOW HAS IT EVOLVED?
At the outset, my objective was to develop collections at the highest standard possible on this side of the Atlantic. My goal remains to deliver something that is considered, clearly defined, and aesthetically recognizable as sharp. To this end, superior construction is my focus, in which rests the logic that the pattern’s line quality, precision, and overall execution are equally as sharp. With a strong foundation, shaping follows in subtle, incremental shifts in draping – that can only come from the fabric’s compliance – to create an object that has an aura ultimately. My vision remains that the garment becomes an entity under its own power, and just as the wearer brings her significance, a sort of alchemy happens between those forces.
WHERE DID YOU DEVELOP YOUR SKILLS? DID YOU HAVE A SPECIFIC MENTOR ALONG THE WAY?
I developed many of my skills studying from the French and Italian apparel industry and those that taught the craft. Similarly, I was an insatiable surveyor of old and new techniques. Whenever a new publication was in print teaching those methods, be it an American, French, or Italian schools, I made sure to gather all its offerings into memory. I am also blessed to have met some incredible teachers/cohorts over the arc of my career that have allowed me to exercise those techniques with on-site exposure in manufacturing. One such person is my dear friend and mentor, Sebastien. A master tailor spending much of his career at Hermès, Lanvin, and Ferragamo, I never was short of counsel or ear. I strive to meet that qualified standard to this day.
WHAT MAKES A GARMENT TRULY SPECIAL TO YOU?
Depending on the garment, and the shape, those special things can vary. If I were to distill this to a common attribute, a garment to be special rests on the material's quality and how it is handled to form around the body. This can be far or near the skin; how that work is executed, the treatments made comprise all the difference. Ultimately, the meaning and standing sharpness the garment conveys to the wearer and the onlooker reside in the treatments and execution of the construction.
YOU HAVE WORKED ON MANY COLLECTIONS WITH JONATHAN, HOWEVER THIS UPCOMING ONE IS ALREADY SO SPECIAL AS IT HAS ALREADY BEEN WORN BY FLOTUS DR. BIDEN. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE EVOLUTION OF THE WRAP COAT/BLAZER THAT WE HAVE SEEN OVER THE LAST FEW SEASONS AND NOW ON THE FIRST LADY?
Yes, Dr. Biden’s ensemble was remarkable, not only for its look but for its conveyance at such a significant period in our politics. To present a form that could relay meaning on such a person at such an occasion was a real honor and immense responsibility.
The wrap coat has had an interesting evolution. At once, it was meant for levity and bright Summer days. Originally designed as a suit, it was unconstructed, intended to look nonchalant, with the side bow nipping the waist, the soft shoulder worked toward that feeling as well. By the time FLOTUS was to wear the revision as a coat and its similarly fabricated dress, it was fitting to have formed it into a fuller shape, broadening the shoulders and sharpening the tailoring brought a protective aura in the look. What especially worked for Dr. Biden was the generous collar, and her love of a good shoulder helped that confidence. Girding the overall silhouette was the color in the vibrant purple, with the multiple tailoring “tricks” inside, the garment stood as stately – a fitting silhouette to a historic affair.
HOW DOES IT FEEL KNOWING THAT YOU CONTRIBUTED TO A PIECE OF FASHION HISTORY?
I feel profoundly honored and humbled. I also think it served as a vector for my friends, cohorts, and designers that needed to see a symbol that resembled something they may have yearned. I feel blessed that Jonathan and Sarah saw this as a fitting piece to match my skills as we all walked toward meeting this moment. All the while, I made sure that the garments stood the test of time, for the day, to be looked on again as an object of history.
THE FASHION INDUSTRY IS CHANGING AT BREAKNECK SPEED, AND THE PANDEMIC HAS LED TO A TOTAL RESTRUCTURING OF THE WAY WE CONSUME AND PRODUCE IN THE INDUSTRY. WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES FOR THE FUTURE OF FASHION? WHAT ARE THE MOST EXCITING OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE FUTURE OF FASHION?
Where to begin? There is a lot to undo and redo, but the fashion industry's biggest challenge is waste. Whether it is material waste, carbon waste, or logistical waste, the industry has yet to fully transition away from old manufacturing paradigms, distribution, and material creation. There is some work being developed in sustainable materials and manufacturing processes that address problems created by fashion's cyclical mechanism, but the effect is not yet significant. What remains challenging is that the rate of change in the design field outpaces the rate of change in the development process from the smallest of components to the largest commercial sphere. Development cannot pivot to green as quickly as design can shift to new concepts and the hope for being green. All have an indelible imprint on the environment and scales in efficiency for profit rule as long as the design cycle marches in advance of the development pace. I have learned where the industry cannot pivot quickly, a complimentary industry must come online to draw out that carbon, degrade those materials without hazard, and virtual technology supplant commercial hard shops. We see some of these parallel endeavors forming to take up the results of wasteful processes, which is exciting. It signifies we are at a point in history that carbon sequestration, e-commerce, electric vehicles, and biodegradable materials with biologically engineered lifeforms can break down what we have left behind. Some of those things outlive us if left without completing the necessary transformation to become inert.
HOW DO YOU THINK COUTURE AND EXPERT TAILORING FIT INTO AN INDUSTRY THAT IS TIPPING MORE TOWARDS “SLOW FASHION”?
At one point in the aughts, there was this concern that Haute Couture was dead. That didn’t quite happen; instead, the sector grew. My sense is there is a good chance that couture, “slow fashion,” will play a more significant part but with a caveat: meet the expectations of the 21st century. I believe it can be done, that certain traditional labors can be modified to machining through altering traditional construction instruction to new pattern types. As well, specific to creating individual garments, the aid of new processing technology and tools would sharpen the rendering. For example, my studio has optimized some of these methods by changing the platform of pattern making entirely. Using a proprietary mechanism that increases visual precision, we have removed many of the tools once deemed essential to creating traditional patterns, drape transfers, and the artwork for those designs. As a result, it has been said a few times that the results look like artwork itself. Imperceptible to the change in process, clients see a higher quality that has kept a human touch.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PIECE/PROJECT THAT YOU’VE WORKED ON? JONATHAN ALWAYS REFERENCES THE TIERED “TIE COAT” YOU WORKED ON TOGETHER.
I love the “Tie Coat” too. That coat was a lot of fun and was a beautiful pattern. The result could easily have sat in a museum as an object for consideration. When a garment reaches that level of significance, it is a site to take in creative prowess, silhouette, construction, and overall execution. I am also partial to look #16 of the Fall-Winter 2016 collection. Somehow this entire collection landed very close to my aesthetic. It was a little darker, striking, some of the vernacular with which I have a kinship.
WHAT’S THE BEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU’VE RECEIVED ABOUT WORKING IN THE INDUSTRY? WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE?
The best piece of advice I received in this industry: “Keep doing you.” It was challenging to remain faithful to an older method and then reimagining that method. My advice is to know your craft so well it is impeachable, then break it to move one step further forward, if you are so lucky.