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Culture and Entertainment Editor Lina Lecaro interviews Jonny Cota for this week’s L.A. Weekly cover story, but there was one question she forgot and was dying to ask during their first interview: What are Tim Gunn and Naomi Campbell really like? She got a second chance to ask it when Jonny sat down with her and L.A. Weekly podcast host and publisher Brian Calle for this week’s episode of the L.A. Weekly Podcast, quarantine edition.

“That’s a loaded question,” Jonny laughs, as he goes on to to explain the experience with Campbell and the panel of celebrity judges including Nicole Richie, Chiara Ferragni, Carine Roitfeld and Joseph Altuzarra on Amazon Prime’s Making The Cut. The reality show hosted by Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn follows 12 designers as they compete for a $1 million dollar prize — and L.A.’s own Cota was the last designer standing.

Let’s be honest, as amazing as it sounds to star in a reality show, it also sounds like an absolute nightmare. Everyone’s biggest fear while in front of the camera is how they’ll be portrayed. Given the high viscosity of public opinion, once an audience turns on you it can be hard to be seen as anything other than a villain, no matter how charming your attempts at a comeback may be. A “bad” edit can follow you long past the show’s end, making a competition like Making The Cut higher stakes than just a million bucks. 

Heidi Klum and Naomi Campbell on MAKING THE CUT. (Photo by David Scott Holloway for Amazon)

“But remember, they can only edit things that actually happened,” advises Jonny. 

It was this fact that gave Cota the final push he needed to board the plane to NYC and make his dreams come true. “You have to steer your own ship to success,” he says. 

Already a veteran of the fashion world, Cota saw the opportunity to be mentored by industry gods like Gunn and Campbell and took it. To answer Lina’s question, Jonny describes the two just as you likely imagine: forces of nature.

“Tim Gunn is actually one of the most incredible humans I’ve ever met,” Jonny confides. “I think a lot of people that experience Tim Gunn experience him while contestants on a reality show — under the most pressure they have ever felt in their life — and he’s this calming force.”

“There’s something about his tone and his eye contact with you that makes you feel that he really cares,” he furthers. “He was everyone’s favorite person on the show.”

And Naomi? 

“And Naomi … oooooh,” he laughs. “Such a force. There’s a reason she’s an icon. When she walks in a room you feel her presence … it dominates the entire room.” 

There was a particularly brutal moment in the show where Naomi rips Jonny to shreds over his design. What appears to be a minute of soul-crushing dressing down by the fashion icon was actually a full 25, reveals Cota. While rough in the moment, it was an experience Jonny came to appreciate. Why? Because she cared enough about him to give him 25 minutes of feedback. She was invested in his potential.

Cota on MAKING THE CUT (Photo by David Scott Holloway)

“The moments where I’ve learned the most and grown the most are the moments where I’ve failed,” Brian says. “People forget the importance of that.”

Quarantine is a time of failure for many retail stores, as restrictions and economic collapse have caused countless shops to close their doors for good. Jonny has a store in DTLA, and while it’s temporarily closed for business, he has big plans for the future. 

“I’m actually really excited to think about, ‘What does it look like when we reopen?’ I think it’s going to be really important to launch a different kind of retail experience,” Jonny shares. “I think if you arrive at a store and it feels the same as it did before this whole global crisis it would just feel ridiculous. It would feel tone deaf. So how do we create a shop where customers feel safe and inspired and where our team feels safe and supported? I don’t think it’s going to look like a normal store.”

As the creative director of SKINGRAFT, a progressive streetwear label founded in Los Angeles, Jonny is taking his winnings to launch a new eponymous line, a more accessible version of the edgy, modern, streetwear he’s known for.

Read the L.A. Weekly cover story about Cota and his vision for both labels HERE and tune in to this week’s podcast episode to learn more behind the scenes scoop, plus his plans for the retail space at The Row DTLA and what it really takes to get started in the industry. 

Listen to the podcast here or find it on iTunes here.