Obviously, fashion week [in New York in February] happened, and we did our show [for the fall 2020 Jonathan Cohen collection]. We had started to hear about the virus, but it seemed so far away; maybe we started to wash our hands more often. On our way to market in Paris [Cohen does his collection sales there] it started to feel inescapable; appointments were cancelled, teams were not flying in, or they were leaving. The apartment that Sarah [Leff, Cohen’s business partner] and I were stationed in, we didn’t move all day, and then we’d go to dinner, but the air was different. Places you couldn’t usually get reservations for—they were welcoming you with open arms.
I was pretty scared to get on the plane back home. You knew the business was going to change, but not what that might mean, how long it was going to take. There weren’t any cases [in the US] but you knew it was coming. It started to take its emotional toll. I would go to dinner, but I’d be so anxious I’d leave. If I went to the office, then I would go back home. I started to self quarantine at home for 10 days, hearing the news and it got to the point I was nervous about leaving the apartment, to put out the garbage.
[At work] we’d just started shipping our remaining spring 2020 orders, but international stores started to write to say it was unknown as to when they could accept the orders. Our fall orders were coming in very slowly, on a case by case, store by store basis. Everything was up in the air. My first concern was for my business; I wasn’t thinking about my health, or how bad that could be. I’d been devoting all my life to being a fashion designer since I was little; doing the [CFDA/Vogue] fashion fund, that was so important to me. I’d been working with Sarah for nine years to get to this point.
When I ended my 14th day of quarantine, I decided to go home to San Diego to be with my family. I grew up there and I haven’t lived there since I was in high school. But I am so grateful to be with my family—my sister just had a baby, at the end of last week—and I know for a lot of people that’s not an option. I’m lucky. Yet it’s also scary [being here] since I still have my life in New York; Sarah is my family too. I have seen her almost every day for as long as we’ve worked together. Now we are on FaceTime, trying to define what the new normal is. We’re both learning to take things day by day and just be fine with that.
I’m not really worried about creating a new collection; we’ve put seasonal collections on pause. We all go through challenges in our lives, and it’s usually fashion that has gotten me through mine. When I started the label, my mom was being treated for cancer, and those first collections were an escape for me. This time, I can’t escape the reality of what we’re in; drawing a dress isn’t helping right now. All of my friends…we’re all thinking about accepting this moment before we can go any further. Having conversations like this have helped, trying to grasp the reality of it all. That’s more the question than how does this translate into the collection? I will get there; I just need to focus on other things before I can.