Split between Long Island’s North Fork and Manhattan, Carol Cohen and her son Michael Cohen started NORTH FORK APPAREL in 2013 after nearly a decade of long mother-son talks about building a brand worth sharing with consumers. “LIVE.SIMPLE.” is their motto, and something that Carol has spent more than 40 years practicing, preaching, perfecting and portraying in her designs.
I spoke with the entrepreneurial duo about their unique brand, their inspiration and what in their lives led them to our home, Long Island. The two shared their favorite moments before and during their NORTH FORK APPAREL journey, and what everyone needs to know about the product, the designer and why NFA is so special.
Long Island Pulse: How did you get into the garment industry?
Michael Cohen: I grew up with both my parents, both my mother and my father and my grandfather, all in the garment industry. And all through high school, through college and right after, I worked in the apparel industry. But I left in my early 20s and I went and worked for a commercial real estate company. In my mid 30s I went out to LA and after having built houses down there for a few years in Venice Beach one of my dear friends asked me to make a feature film with him and we did that. My mom and I had been talking for almost a decade about the type of clothing line we would do if we were to do it. When I came back to New York we started talking again.
Pulse: Why Long Island, specifically the North Fork?
MC: The North Fork has been part of our lives for so long. My mom and my stepfather bought a house there 33 years ago when I was a teenager. We would go out there and spend time there for the better part of my adult life. And our lives out there are very different from our lives in our apartments in the city. And that’s the lifestyle and inspiration of what we wanted to create for ourselves as a family business. And the type of clothing and accessories we wanted to make.
Pulse: As a designer, what do you always hope to achieve in your designs?
Carol Cohen: We like casual clothes, but we like nice things. Well-tailored, beautiful materials. Beautiful fit. My philosophy of clothing has always been simplicity. Great fabric that feels wonderful on your body and wonderful to your hands and dances on your body. I’m very conscious about how a garment fits and how it feels on the body. It’s very important to me.
Pulse: There are hoodies, t-shirts and other key wardrobe essentials in your line. Why these specific products?
CC: I think that our world has been become very aware of clothing that you never have to take out of your closet, so Michael and I decided to make a line of t-shirts.
MC: It’s more than shirts…each piece that we layer in are core wardrobe essential pieces. We tried to tailor them in a classic way and make them out of exceptional material so that they would be pieces that people will have in their wardrobe for a long time. The pieces are versatile, whether it’s the t-shirt or the hoodies. You can wear them in different ways, you can wear them as an outer layer or an under layer.
CC: It gives the customer freedom of doing what they want with it.
Pulse: There are a lot of companies and brands catering to the athleisure trend, giving people comfort clothing to wear in everyday life. What makes NFA different from the others?
CC: I started out [working] where everything was designed in the workroom next to the show room. The production was all here, and than it all went off shore and everywhere in the world. There is an advantage to having it here besides the integrity we’d like this business to follow, it’s that you have control of the process.
MC: We produce locally. We chose local sourcing for all of our materials. Everything was either purchased domestically and all of it was cut and sewn domestically. Most of it in Brooklyn and the baseball caps were actually done in Newark, New Jersey by the company who does the Yankees’ caps.
Pulse: Tell me about the baseball caps you made, why are they unique compared to others?
MC: We did it in high-end Italian cashmere.
CC: People are really responding to it. Everyone does baseball caps, but nobody has one that feels like that.
Pulse: What is a moment you’ll never forget related to clothing?
CC: I remember the first time I went to Italy and tried on Armani’s clothing. I said, “Well I’m nice looking but I look much better in these clothes!” And that’s what clothes should do. They should give you a boost, in your posture, in your movement. You can tell I love fabric and I love clothes. Simplicity is the way to go.
Pulse: Carol, I heard you taught at Parsons School of Design. What is something you taught your students that you carry on in your designs?
CC: When I was teaching at Parsons, I used to say you have to touch the fabric and if it makes you say, “Ah, oh my God!” then you know it’s the right fabric.
Carol’s Go-To Outfit: “All my life I’ve worn either a white silk shirt and trousers or a turtle neck and trousers.” What else is new for a designer?