Jean colonna started his label in 1987, having studied at the chambre syndicale de la couture parisienne in the mid-1970s and worked for a time at balmain (1). He came to be associated in the 1990s (alongside contemporaries like martin margiela) with deconstruction (2, 1, 3), putting interior construction details on the outside of garments and making particularly frequent use of overlocking as a visible finish (2, 1, 3, 4). Colonna specifically mined a style that combined elements of glam and grunge, dubbed "the popularist of drugstore cowboy dressing” by the new york times (3) and described in w magazine as championing "a seductive, rough-and-tumble iteration. Slinky jersey tops, low-slung polyester snake-print trousers, leatherette jackets that looked like they had been turned inside out—his clothes assumed a perverse artistry" (2).
Colonna was also notable for his frequent use of synthetic fabrics, often in lurid colours and featuring fussy prints: "pleather, machine-made lace and machine-sewn sequins, animal prints and brash color combinations of black with violet, hot pink or lipstick red" (3). This use of (often cheap) synthetic fabrics allowed for colonna's clothes to be more affordable than many produced by other brands at the time (1).
The image at the top of the page, a scan from the spring 1996 issue of contemporary fashion, shows a set produced for jean colonna's SS1996 show which the (previously-cited) w magazine article describes as "a “splendidly evocative” shabby-hotel set, complete with faded wallpaper, an unkempt bed, and a droning TV, while models in mock turtlenecks and PVC pencil skirts emerged from a doorway veiled by beaded curtains" (2). The scan - and this description - captures some of the feeling of jean colonna's clothes. Filter store's capsule collection of jean colonna clothes is available here.
We have scanned images of jean colonna collections from several collections magazines that covered colonna, with the earliest SS1994 and the latest AW2001. They are on a dedicated page which you can view here. firstVIEW also has images of a number of jean colonna shows, which you can see here. Finally, there are a couple of (very short) videos of winter 1994 and winter 1996 on youtube.
Manufacturing and garment labels
In 1997, jean colonna signed a production agreement with florence-based company gibo, who manufactured clothes for a number of smaller/independent fashion labels including alexander mcqueen, helmut lang, martine sitbon, paul smith, and others (5, 6). Prior to this time, colonna's garments were made in france, and (I suspect) in-house: he remarks in an article from women's wear daily at the time that “up until when we started working for gibo, we functioned in a more artisanal manner” (6). Below you can see examples of the tags from each period, a gibo-produced garment on the left and an earlier made in france garment on the right (note the hand-circled size label):
Artisanal production is often presented as 'better' (perhaps more elevated?) than mass manufacturing, but in explaining the decision to manufacture with gibo colonna identifies it as something closer to a compromise, each method with its own trade-offs: "The association with Gibo will change the way I work. It might cause me to lose some of my ‘freedom,’ but it will enable my clothing to attain a higher quality level" (5). You can see this when you look at the clothes: from time to time for example, there are quality control issues with the finishing of earlier garments largely absent from gibo-produced items.
Work with notable photographers
Jean Colonna worked with a number of notable photographers, including bettina rheims, david sims, glen luchford, jeff burton, juergen teller, nan goldin (whose work inspired his spring 1996 collection (2)), and stéphane sednaoui, and identified the importance of their work in helping him to understand his own: "“I always liked the reinterpretation of my work through the sight and the talent of the photographers that I worked with,” he says. “I learned a lot about the meaning of my creations in their pictures”" (4). A few examples - by nan goldin, jeff burton, and glen luchford in turn - are inserted below:
1. Tredre, R. (1992). 'The man who’s turned fashion inside-out: Jean Colonna’s seams are showing; so is the dismay of other fashion designers at his prices', The Independent. Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/fashion/news/the-man-who-s-turned-fashion-insideout-jean-colonna-s-seams-are-showing-so-is-the-dismay-of-other-fashion-designers-at-his-prices-says-roger-tredre-1533897.html. Accessed 24 november 2021.
2. Nelson, K. (2015). 'Jean Colonna: Raw Talent', W Magazine. Available at: https://www.wmagazine.com/story/jean-colonna-fashion-designer. Accessed 24 november 2021.
3. Fury, A. (2016). 'The ’90s Designer Making a Big Comeback — All Over the Runways', The New York Times Style Magazine. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/03/t-magazine/fashion/jean-colonna-comeback.html. Accessed 24 november 2021.
4. Graham, M. (2014). 'The Five Codes of Jean Colonna', AnOther Mag. Available at: https://www.anothermag.com/fashion-beauty/4124/the-five-codes-of-jean-colonna. Accessed 24 november 2021.
5. WWD staff. (1997). 'Colonna signs pact with gibo to make men's, women's lines', Women's Wear Daily. Available at: https://wwd.com/fashion-news/fashion-features/article-1109514/. Accessed 24 november 2021.
6. Weil, J. (1997). 'In Focus: Jean Colonna', Women's Wear Daily. Available at: https://wwd.com/fashion-news/fashion-features/article-1106211/. Accessed 24 november 2021.