Paula Goldstein

Why designer Mandy Coon abandoned her non-stop Manhattan life to go off the grid in Big Sur

Paula Goldstein
Why designer Mandy Coon abandoned her non-stop Manhattan life to go off the grid in Big Sur

I was recently discussing the idea of "JOMO" with a friend, AKA the "Joy Of Missing Out." 

I confessed that I had spent almost every waking hour of my 20s seeking validation from dinner invites or seats at Fashion Week. How I felt like I was somehow failing if I wasn't at a party attended by my peers. Social growth media leveled up that anxiety:  Why wasn't I at a weekend in the Hamptons, where everyone else was instagramming? 

Recently, however, I noticed that the ball in the pit of my stomach was gone; that I'd stepped so far sideways from that world that of course I wasn't invited (it was now in fact a non-question) and I felt incredibly lucky to have fallen out of cool-kid circulation.

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I was, for the first time ever, experiencing JOMO.

Mandy Coon was one of those girls who was always at the cool Fashion Week parties in NYC that I was doing my best to get into.

I didn't really know her. She seemed a bit too cool for me, with her black clothes and perfect close-cut hairstyles. She DJed the hottest clubs by night, and by day she was one of the downtown scene's favorite fresh designers. There were interview profiles with her everywhere. I think she's even designed the uniforms for the Soho Grand Hotel. Mandy personified my FOMO.

Then she started dating my friend Pete, and shortly after that she disappeared.

No, this isn't a poor man's version of Gone Girl. Mandy had just left the city and moved upstate, which in Manhattan "scene" terms basically meant she had moved to another planet.

Yet, shortly after she left, we somehow connected on Facebook; and around the same time she had her son Grey, talking to her and seeing her updates, I started to feel like her choice to step away was probably a far healthier one.

She recently moved even further off the grid to one of California's remotest beauty spots, the magical Big Sur. So I decided it was time to really catch up with the woman who escaped, in case her next stop was deepest Peru.

Tell me a little about yourself Mandy. 

I grew up in Texas, got out as soon as I could (through a mediocre modelling career) and traveled the world. I always came back to NYC though, and it became my home base. When work started drying up for me -- a combination of not being 14, hating the industry, and being treated like a barely sentient lump of flesh -- I tried to figure out what I wanted to do, and started creating more. That's what I had always loved about being involved in fashion:  watching the process of creating it. I decided to go to FIT to take a few classes, and interned for the designer Camilla Staerk, before deciding to strike out on my own.

My clothing line was focused on being versatile and playing with masculine/feminine duality. I eventually branched out into accessories after the wild success of my leather bunny bag. 

 

Tell me about the reality of your life in NYC. Was it all late nights at the Soho Grand, hipster parties and brunch? What is it really like to be a woman in NYC in your 20s? 

Life in NYC was hard work. Most of the time I worked my bum off, and DJing on the side provided an excuse to get out and enjoy things a little. 

Being a woman in NYC in my 20s was incredible and so much fun, but I definitely didn't have the confidence I had in my 30s. Having that much choice is so amazing. You can try things out, be who you want to be, eat anything you could possibly want to eat, experience anything you can imagine. But you have to work so hard to live there. It's non-stop. It's hard to slow down your brain or your life.

I found that everyone spends so much energy just trying to unwind in their time off, through escapism or self-care or wellness; it became almost another job. 

Don’t get me wrong, I still hold a very tender place in my heart for New York City. It’s a city like no other, and I wouldn’t be who I am without having lived there for so long. I am a New Yorker. 
But i’m happy to love her from afar now. 

You moved upstate first. What was the motive behind this? Did pregnancy or the move come first?

The move came first. I went through what was basically the premise of a country song. I got a divorce (yes, I was married long ago, and had been separated for quite some time, but it can still be a bit of a mindfuck), my beloved dog, Petunia, died, and my father died, all in the span of 6 months. I was disenchanted with the fashion industry, and felt like I needed to breathe a bit. It just so happened that I had been traveling upstate to stay at a friend's magical farm, and I felt like I was actually able to relax a little up there. So I casually went looking at houses, not expecting to find anything, and found a sweet little cabin from the 40s that I ended up buying. 

I didn't plan on moving upstate. I just wanted to go up there for weekenders, but as soon as I got up there, I found myself not wanting to go back to the city. I could breathe again, grieve, heal, lick my wounds. There was a fair bit of escapism in it as well, I'm sure. 

I don't know if I would have ever gotten pregnant in the city. I was so focused on career and so stressed out all the time. It just didn't feel like it was in my timeline. 
 

Did you ever feel isolated?

Not at first. At first, the winters are dreamy and beautiful, and I just put my head down and worked hard on my accessories collection all winter. But like, while staring at deer out the window. It was picturesque. I'm not the most social person anyways (I've gone through my phases, but am mostly an introvert I think), so holing up in a cozy cabin upstate and making hot toddies all winter wasn't too much of a stretch.

 

Did you get FOMO?

Weirdly, no. I felt like I had done it all, really. I was just worried people would forget about me. Out of sight, out of mind, you know?

I think one gets a different perspective looking from the outside as well. Things don't seem so important when you're not immersed in them sometimes. In fact, a lot of things seem foolish once you remove yourself from the "scene." A lot of the fashion industry just seems so silly and unnecessary to me now. 

 

Do you think living upstate prepared you to move to Big Sur, or was that just as extreme a change? 

Definitely! I moved from the middle of the forest to the middle of the forest, with a few differences. The weather being the biggest difference, obviously. 

 

For someone who has never been to Big Sur, how would you describe it?

I would describe it as a supernatural fairy forest on the edge of the world. 

 

Do you have any regrets in moving? 

None at all. I had such a wonderful community upstate, and I miss them, but having a child here is magical. We're outside every day. Grey gets to run around the forest and explore. We live next to a (small) river, and his favorite thing is throwing rocks in the river (he gets that from his father). 
Staying inside all winter is fine when it's just you, but with an active toddler it's really difficult. 

We found a scorpion in our basement last night though, so I may change my mind about having no regrets. :)

 

What is different between the East Coast and West Coast states of mind?

Everyone is in a hurry on the East Coast, and here there seems to be no hurry at all. 

 

What would your advice be for a woman wanting to change her life in such a profound way?

These days, you can do a lot of jobs from just about anywhere. So figure out where your strengths lie, and figure out how to make it happen. If the place you're living is draining you, there are other options if you think creatively. Although I realize that answer is soaked in privilege, so....

 

What do you think people can do to make starting again easier?

Be okay with failing. Be okay with things taking longer than expected or taking different routes than you had planned.

 

Do you think you could have moved if we were less digitally connected?

No way. It would have been completely isolating, and I think I still need to feel connected somehow. 

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And what's next? start a commune? How has being OUT THERE effected your creative work?

I would love to start a commune. It takes a fucking village, right?

Being OUT THERE has affected my creative work in that it usually comes from a place of "I want to make that," or "I want to learn how to make that/teach myself a new skill" as opposed to feeling like I need to make something that will make everyone happy all the time (which we all know is impossible). Also, as a designer in the city, everyone wants to give you advice. EVERYONE. And I found myself not trusting my own instincts any more, because these people who have been in the industry for so long must know better. It's much easier to listen to yourself when you live in the middle of a fairy forest.