A self-made millionaire at 16 years old, conceptual artist and fashion designer Jonathan Koon started his career tuning auto sports cars in his native New York borough of Queens. By the late 90s he began mixing with the hip hop, rapper scene, whilst “pimping rides” for a hit MTV series. Somewhat by chance, his auto tuning career translated into a fashion one, as he started collaborating with rappers like Jay Z to design their own street wear lines and later partnered with Domenico Vacca to design his ready to wear diffusion collection. At 35, the owner of Tykoon Brand Holdings, says he’s moved away from the celebrity crowd and is focusing on Haculla, a streetwear fashion label he launched with Venezuela-born contemporary street artist Harif Guzman in 2014. Koon opened up to Sofia Celeste about his upcoming participation to Pitti Uomo 95 with the special event "ART-MEETS-FASHION" at the Dogana, and with a special participation at the luxury street style showcase Unconventional at the Fortezza da Basso.

Sofia Celeste: This FW 2019 collection is all about toys and NY street art. What is happening on the NY street art scene that is so relevant today, and why does it have a place in fashion?
Jonathan Koon: Koon: What is relevant about New York’s art scene is that New York has always been considered a global capital for culture. Street art and pop art are among its main exports.  It all started with Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring...  Harif’s art has been resonating in New York City and beyond, for over two decades time and through Haculla, we’ve experienced such great energy and feedback from our clients. It’s not about toys, it's all about giving people a piece of downtown New York City. I believe that scene has become magnified and is ever-so relevant in today’s modern society, social media and culture of that sort.

Sofia Celeste: How has growing up in Queens shaped you as an artist?
Jonathan Koon: Queens and New York as a whole, is a melting pot of people with many different backgrounds.  My parents moved to the US from Hong Kong, and I was the first of my family to be born on US soil.  Growing up, I had a very eclectic multi-ethnic group of friends.  It’s all given me a rich understanding of cultures and people, and it has played a large part in how I design clothes and how I look at markets. I am more well- rounded as an artist because of it and I feel that now I am able to speak a global language.

Sofia Celeste: You became a millionaire at 16. Please share the secret of your success.
Jonathan Koon: I started my first company when I was 16 years old - specializing in autosports and tuning imported cars. I am considered to be the first to import the auto tuning scene from Asia to the US. Thereafter, I began to get involved in manufacturing and fashion, and now almost 20 years later - my company now owns and operates 7 different global brands, we created a global fashion showroom and consultant agency representing 18 collections worldwide, and I have personally worked as an architect, creative director, and commercial consultant for numerous top tier retailers and prestigious brands. I think my secret to success is to always stay hungry and to never feel satisfied.  Every day and every moment in life I feel is an opportunity to learn something new.

Sofia Celeste: You are also a conceptual artist and have shown all over the world and sold your work at Sotheby's.  How has your artwork evolved since becoming a fashion designer?
Jonathan Koon:I am a conceptual artist and my medium is always changing… whether photography, or sculptures, I exercise a new medium for every "concept" that I want to propose. The interesting thing is that by doing fashion, I have drawn a clear line between the worlds of art and fashion. They are both creative fields, but the level of your success in fashion is often measured by how well your designs sell.  If your designs don’t sell, people don’t consider you a successful fashion designer.  In art, it’s about the eyes of the beholder and the communication surrounding the work. Under my company, we represent 18 collections around the world and we have quite a high-hit factor.  Out of our 12 mens collections, about 90 percent of those are carried by the top luxury stores in the world.  Working in fashion and on the commercial side has also made me appreciate that when I create art, I don’t ever have to be concerned about whether or not it sells. The art and the work that goes into it is about passion and there is no bias or commercial aim.

Sofia Celeste: What have you learned about “youth culture” in your experience with other brands and by launching Haculla?
Jonathan Koon: I believe the youth is the future and the influence from the youth will continue to grow in its impact to commercial fashion.  With technology and the impact of social media, I believe the voice of the millennials will continue to become louder and echo further. The market is becoming more and more user driven and our ability to communicate cross cultures and cross continents can now happen at the tips of our fingers. Through my experience, I believe its essential to stay close to the youth and as we move forward we need to continue to learn from the youth if we are to continue to evolve and succeed.


TUESDAY 08/01 | 9.00 am- 6.00pm
Dogana, Via Valfonda 25 - Florence
Arts-Meets-Fashion. Installation. Free admission.

WEDNESDAY 09/01 | 9.00 am- 6.00pm
Dogana, Via Valfonda 25 - Florence
Arts-Meets-Fashion. Installation. Free admission.

THURSDAY 10/01 | 12.00 pm
Dogana, Via Valfonda 25 - Florence
Art-Meets-Fashion. Fashion show. By invitation only.