Dorothy Cosonas wasn’t even finished with her schooling at the Fashion Institute of Technology when she was tapped by surface design icon Sina Pearson to work under her
at upholstery and wallcovering manufacturer Unika Vaev.
“She immediately took me under her wing,” Cosonas says. “If it weren’t for Sina I wouldn’t be sitting at Knoll, I always say. I really learned from her how to be meticulous about design and to always take the time and patience to make sure it’s right.” Pearson also taught her how to judge color and
scale for the contract industry, helping Cosonas to establish her own point-of-view for textiles. “And I never would have learned that if it wasn’t for Sina.”
But Cosonas was always surrounded by creative minds, starting with her family. “It was more their passions versus their careers,” she says of the inspiration they provided. Her grandfather was a painter who sold textiles and cut fabrics in Greece, and her mother was a talented calligrapher. Her father, a retired engineer, taught her about the practical side of design, she explains, but he also loved photography. She remembers helping him in the dark room he’d built in the basement of their home on Long Island.
Today, Cosonas mainly looks to the world of fashion for her inspiration, as she stands at the helm of KnollTextiles as creative director. “You see the trend of larger-scale, more ethnic-driven ideas in fashion these last couple of seasons. That’s certainly come into our world. For example a corporate client might do more highlighting with bold patterns a little more than they would a few years back. That’s a trend you wouldn’t have seen four or five years ago.”
And she doesn’t have to look much farther than her own backyard to see it truly come alive.
“New York provides it all right at your fingertips. The color and the texture that goes on is always pretty amazing,” she says of storefronts like Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman and Louis Vuitton, which she loves to pass by, especially during the holiday season.
“Saks had Chanel in the window for a couple weeks, which is beautiful to see, because who gets to really study Chanel? I don’t go into that store, because I find it a little intimidating. When in the window, though, it’s so beautiful to look at all those weave structures in their jackets. He always reinvents who she was,” she muses about Karl Lagerfeld, Chanel’s current head designer and creative director.
Like Lagerfeld, Cosonas is always chasing reinvention, albeit within the classic modernism Knoll is known for. “I have to make sure it’s not too traditional, but not so forward-thinking that it misses the mark. It’s the idea of what’s correct for now and will still be correct for the future.”
One way she achieves this is by working with a variety of mills. Surprisingly, Knoll never goes to just one mill for any single collection. “I always will do my best to make sure at least one American mill is in every collection,” Cosonas says. “That’s sort of one of my drivers.”
Knoll pushes mills hard to re-think their process and who they go to for suppliers of yarns and dyes. It’s those who are willing to take a step outside of the production box that attract Cosonas and Knoll the most. “We’re very interested in that,” she says. “It’s my job to always have us lead in the marketplace. The core of every collection has to say we are leading as a design organization. So with that comes a lot of research.”
In addition to her commitment to American mills, Cosonas is also committed to discovering up-and-coming American fashion designers. As an avid reader she focuses on printed material, from Vogue to W to the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times, and it’s these publications that alert her to who’s starting to make waves. Her crystal ball certainly earned its keep with the Knoll Luxe introductions from Proenza Schouler and Rodarte. “If I approached Rodarte or Proenza today, I probably would have been politely told ‘no.’ They’re much bigger now than when I approached them years back.”
Perhaps she’s returning the favor that Pearson extended to her all those years ago by giving these young designers a chance. After all, both Proenza Schouler and Rodarte were started by ambitious design students of the Parsons School of Design and UC Berkeley—just as Cosonas was at FIT.
“Trust your gut,” she says to the future design stars of the world. “If you truly believe in something, figure out how to make it work.” And when you do figure that out, be sure to make a statement with it.
Besides Lagerfeld, Cosonas also looks to Raf Simons and his work with Christian Dior as an inspiration. “Not only from a design perspective—the patterns and colors he’s put into that line as far as looking back (which is what we do a lot here)—but also when he presents the collections themselves. It’s a beautiful presentation, which is very important. When presenting an idea, how you present it is almost equally as important as the idea itself.”
Measuring by Cosonas’ success, those are some words to live by.