Home and Away
Never quite fitting in, Mina Stone makes her home in Brooklyn
Story by Angela Cravens / Photography by Marc McAndrews
You won’t find Mina Stone’s studio in the Garment District, or any of the other usual spots populated by New York City’s young designers. Should you wish to seek her out, you’ll have to travel to The Fulton Mall, a noisy and well-populated stretch of downtown Brooklyn. There, among the crammed jewelry shops, 99 cent stores and Foot Lockers, you’ll find the creator of airy, hand-dyed silk frocks and jumpsuits. The clothes are sophisticated, almost serene, in marked contrast to the hectic surroundings. It’s a contradiction that’s perfectly at home for Stone, who has made her way by trusting her instincts, and often being in two places at once.
Stone grew up between Boston and Athens, the daughter of a Greek mother and Classics professor. “I have a really intelligent foundation of my culture,” explains Stone, who counts Greece as one of her influences. “My parents both love Greece, and for these really heady reasons. My dad studied the culture and knows so many beautiful things about the language, and my mother was very involved in all these political movements in the 70s.”
She found her way to Brooklyn as an art student at the Pratt Institute, dividing her time between school, working as a personal chef, and designing her first line. “I approached the buyer at Steven Alan, just as a mentor,” she explains, and was surprised when the shop snapped up the entire line. One item in particular, a light-as-air dress that hung loose on the body, became ubiquitous that summer, selling out across the city. “I don’t know what happened, thank God for that dress!” laughs Stone. “I was just designing one day and thinking ‘oh, a dress that doesn’t touch my body in the summer.’” Suddenly, the young designer had a hit.
Stone independently maintained her line for six seasons, dividing her time between food and fashion, when she suddenly felt the need for a change. In a move that seems radical by New York standards, she took a break to move to Athens. “There wasn’t any big reason why I left New York,” she explains. “I kept rooting myself deeper to my career, and I felt like if I didn’t take off then, I wasn’t ever going to do it.”
In Greece, she found herself inspired by a more relaxed pace of life. “I hate to admit this but I didn’t do much,” says Stone with a laugh. “I took intensive language courses and hung out with my grandma.” Finding herself distracted by ideas for new designs, Stone knew that fashion, and New York, were where she needed to be. “I was tapping on all these doors trying to figure out if I could produce or design from Greece, and there just isn’t the climate to support young designers there. Sometimes I’m amazed by the way New York supports young designers. If you are willing to work hard and put your work out there, the city really provides a support system.
“The irony is that when I came back from Greece, the panic of the economy had just happened, and I thought I’d only be able to cook,” says Stone, who cooked for the studios of artists Elizabeth Peyton and Urs Fischer at the time. Cooking in such a creative environment led to another well of inspiration. “Food is so much easier to me than fashion. There’s something about working with my hands, I just go into this space of meditation.” She began working more directly with the fabric, hand-dying silks and draping frocks on the form. The result is a collection at once elegant and easy, with light little dresses that would translate just as easily to island-hopping in the Mediterranean, as they do on a Manhattan avenue.
For now, Brooklyn is home and Stone is committed to fashion. She says the Fulton Mall inspires her because it reminds her of Piraeus, a working-class neighborhood in Athens that she describes as “kind of skuzzy but full of life. In Piraeus, I don’t totally fit in, and I certainly don’t fit in on the Fulton Mall. Even though I’m kind of an outsider, it’s where I feel at home.”