Oklahoma-born Justin Kern began his career as a model, working with photographers such as Steven Meisel, Patrick Demarchelier and Mario Testino – later working as an assistant for Testino – before moving to L.A. to pursue film. He and business partner, film producer Stephanie Danan, have partnered on Co, a line of luxury fashion essentials designed to be timeless and easy to wear.
Oklahoma Magazine: Growing up in Oklahoma, did you envision a career in the creative arts – design, filmmaking – and when did you first develop those passions?
Justin Kern: I was always attracted to movies, books, and storytelling in general. Design wasn’t something I was very conscious of growing up, but with two older sisters I had to spend a lot of time being dragged through department stores and waiting outside of dressing rooms. Ralph Lauren was probably the first brand that really made me take notice. It wasn’t just clothing; it was an entire world. The stores felt like movie sets with all their props and staging. The cinematic quality of his work stayed with me and is still a big influence in how we combine fashion and film with Co.
OM: What do you consider to have been your “big break?”
JK: When my partner Stephanie and I decided to make a short film to promote our first collection, we weren’t in any stores and we weren’t in a showroom yet. We launched the film online, and it started getting picked up by a lot of fashion blogs and websites. Within an hour we were getting calls from department stores like Barneys New York and Browns London. The response was beyond anything we could have imagined and it really proved to us the possibilities of using film and the internet to create a brand. Another big break came recently when supermodel Kate Moss was photographed by the papparazzi wearing one of our fur coats.
OM: What was the genesis of Co?
JK: When we started Co, my partner Stephanie and I were actually both working in film. Stephanie had grown up in fashion – her father owned a showroom and her mother was a designer – and we would often talk about doing something together. We were between projects in 2010, and that’s when we decided to experiment with making a few samples. We called the brand Co because in film we would always joke about being “co-producers,” “co-writers,” etc. For us, the word Co really symbolized our partnership in whatever we were doing.
OM: What was your mission/vision in the development of Co’s collections?
JK: Because Stephanie worked as a film producer for 15 years, we wanted to create a brand aimed at creative professionals like her. These are women who love fashion, want to express themselves in what they wear, but still have to be taken seriously in the workplace. We try and avoid falling too much into trend and instead focus on classic shapes and luxury fabrics. We are currently focused on bringing in more design elements, and upping the sophistication and femininity, while still maintaining the practicality of a great basic.
OM: What are your ambitions for Co?
JK: Right now our goal is to continue to grow the brand by adding great stores, expanding internationally, and eventually adding e-commerce. After four seasons, we’re now carried in more than 20 countries, including 30 stores across Asia, which has become an enormously important market. In the coming seasons we will hopefully be expanding from two collections a year to four. And I would love to start doing menswear.
Co can be found at Abersons in Tulsa.