Behind the Seams: L.A Designer Coco Johnsen

Coco Johnsen was born and raised in North Carolina and spent most of her childhood in foster homes eventually moving into an orphanage with her two older brothers. She was an early graduate from High School and received her diploma at the age of 17 after-which she won a scholarship to study in Brazil as a foreign exchange student ( fluent in Portuguese). Upon returning to the United States, she moved to New York City and her life quickly transitioned in the Fashion and Entertainment industry and was discovered on a New York City subway by an Elite Model Agency. Coco was then whisked away to South Africa, Sweden, Germany and Norway where she became a seasoned model. Flash forward to a few years later where she became a center fold for male magazine "Playboy". 

After Playboy (and a public break-up ) Coco decided it was time to take life in her own hands and enrolled at in Fashion School and became a Designer. The Haute Lifestyle had the pleasure of meeting the enthusiastic designer at Style Week 2017 and caught up with her to talk about her latest collection. Today, The Haute Lifestyle goes Behind the Seams with Coco Johnsen.

H.P: Tell us about the Collection your presented at Style Week 2017
C.J: The collection at Style Week Ja 2017 was inspired by women's rights and for women to stand up for what they believe in..because of Donald Trump , women's rights and all rights were challenged. Women should be warriors and fight for a cause, hence the name "Warrior Collection". In the collection I use red alot to signify blood, sequence material, power shoulders and over-sized shoulders for men and women. This is the first year that my collection included men. I made a limited collection of pieces for men. I have 10 looks for men ... I used spikes. I'm somewhat of a feminist and growing up underprivileged I always said that when I grow up I want to do what I want to do and be able to run a business and not be limited because I'm a woman. As an artist on any platform it's important to stand up and use your voice. I decided  to use my voice and the men wore smaller jackets ... the men were wearing womens-wear. I wanted them to know what it feels like to be a woman. I look to people like Amber Rose who will have a "slutwalk" which I will be a part of for inspiration; It's not ok for women to be called names based on what they choose to do for a living. There is always a double standard... I put make-up on the men towards the end and drew lines on their faces as if they have been in a fight ... a hard type of reflective gel which will reflect under the light to not forget that women brought them into the world.

H.P: Tell us about your Creative Process?
C.J:  I'am a very big reader , I pay attention to what is going on in the world .. I watch CNN and read the Huffington Post , I read the Wall Street Journal and try to keep my self up to date with Civil Rights and Human Rights and continue to educate myself. I do get Inspired by Artists like Matisse and Bascove .. I look to artists for creative inspiration every-time I'm about to start a new collection. I also get inspiration from people just walking by. The short jacket idea came about because I saw a man in New York walk by who was a Fashionista wearing a jacket that was a tad bit too small and thought what if I did a collection where all the men were wearing inter-exchangeable clothing where if I were your girlfriend I could actually wear your jacket. 

Saint International Model Jermaine "JD" Downer

H.P: What is a valuable life lesson you've learnt thus far since being a Designer?
C.J: Gosh, there are so many we'll have to go back to why I became a Designer.  I started out at 15 as a model in North Carolina where I grew up. I was under the Elite Model Management Petite Model Division. From there I went on to South Africa, Sweden and Norway and did campaigns for Revlon and so on. One of my first jobs was with Essence Magazine which was a surreal moment. Towards the end of my modelling career I became a Playboy model and as I got into my 30's I went back to school and thought it was time to have my own Business. After my relationship ended with Bill Maher (very public) I decided I wanted to be independent. To answer the question, the greatest life lesson I've learnt is being independent as a woman... to be able to stand up for myself as a woman and not depend on a man. That is the Coco Johnsen label!

H.P: Has it been a seamless transition going from Model to Designer?
C.J: I think anytime you are trying to start a business especially as a woman you won't be taken seriously .. especially coming from "that world"; The whole Hugh Hefner .. going to the Playboy Mansion and interacting with celebrities and now suddenly "You want to be a Business Woman". It's hard for people to take you seriously ... not many playboy models have made that transition to a main stream business world. For me it was challenging just coming out of school and having to figure out how to get people to respect and understand the movement I'm trying to make in my career. My first Fashion show was actually for New York Fashion week .. this was my chance as a new designer to get my brand out there. When I submitted photos of the collection, they requested (which was unusual) that I submit the entire collection to them in New York and I had 24 hours to do so and I knew this was because they really wanted to take a chance and include me in the very prestigious Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. I make sure that all my designs are of the best quality... I work with made in L.A factories to create all of the pieces you see going down the runway. I oversee all of the stitching,  making color choices, picking the fabric and conceptualize my collection. I am the Creative Director of my company.

H.P: On a Saturday night you can find me at ...
C.J: The movies! I love movies! I'm a very big fan of movies from the 40s and 50s , Betty Davis , Joan  Crawford .. just a big fan of the Film Industry in general.

H.P: What are 3 things you can't live without?
C.J: I can't live without Family: the support your family gives you as an Artist is invaluable. I can't live without Friends : I need friends to surround me and keep me balanced and on target with what I'm trying to do with my career. And finally , I can't live without loyalty and positivity. You always have to stay positive.

Saint International Model Tami Williams
H.P: What would you say sets you apart as a Designer?
C.J: It's an aesthetic that is on a very artistic level on the creative side. I don't just make clothing for people to wear. I make clothing for people to admire. If someone is wearing my clothing .. when they walk by I want people to say "Wow .. what is that"? I want people to pay attention, it's not for people who are NOT looking to get attention ... it's for people who want to be noticed. 

H.P: Where can we find your pieces?
C.J: We are actually just getting started Online so I have focused on my own website store where we're selling directly to customers. We're also working with Ebay to sell directly with their concierge service and we just launched the Coco Johnsen T-shirts that you saw at Style Week Jamaica 2017 which will be on Etsy and we are available in Australia and L.A at Decades Boutique. I plan to launch in stores in Jamaica this year, I hope to be back in Jamaica in October/November to discuss having our clothing being represented by the finest Boutiques.

The website is

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Photo Credits:

Dale Stephenson | Dale Stephenson Photography | Dale's Instagram


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