Describe yourself to us in five words?
Passionate. Loyal. Determined. Respectful. Intense.
Where are you from and what led you to where you are today?
I grew up in Long Island just a few miles from New York City in a creative, supportive family. I spent my teens and early twenties playing drums in various hardcore and metal bands, and that’s actually where I got my start doing professional design work. I was constantly working on band merchandise, flyers, record layouts and stuff like that. It wasn’t long before I started working with local businesses as well. In 2005 I opened a design studio called Onetwentysix and eventually that led to starting my first menswear brand, CXXVI, with my longtime friend Matt Gorton. Once CXXVI was rolling, I went back to freelancing and eventually transformed that business into what Jon Contino Studio is today.
You designed our packaging for our new Men’s and Women’s Live Your Life fragrances. What inspired your designs?
The inspiration came from the American culture that most people don’t think about. Stuff that we might take for granted. I felt that American Eagle Outfitters needed some nods to its heritage, but in a unique way. I wanted to focus on the time we spend as kids getting into trouble: running around the neighborhood with friends, getting lost in the woods, making fires on the beach. Whatever we used to occupy our time with in between the world of carelessness and responsibility. I wanted to capture the raw energy of growing up in a culture that’s relatively new in the history of the world. It’s unique to America, and it represents a lot of what American Eagle Outfitters is about.
Can you share some sketches with us?
Where is your studio and what are three things we will always find in your workspace?
My studio was in Brooklyn for years until very recently. My wife and I moved about an hour north of Manhattan to the Hudson Valley, where I now run my studio full time. It’s great because in between projects, phone calls, emails and all that stuff, I can take some time and go outside with my daughter and play with her without having to worry about busy streets or whatever else comes with living in a busy city. Actually, my daughter is a good example of something you’ll always find in my studio. Anyone that’s ever gotten on a phone call with me can tell you they hear her in the background most of the time. In terms of working material, you’ll always find pencils, pens and paper. I always design everything by hand, on paper. It’s how I feel most comfortable working. If you want to get into atmospheric stuff, there’s always some kind of Apple technology around me, antique signs and books and lots of family heirlooms.
What is your favorite project you have worked on to date?
That’s such a tough question. Working with different industries means that I have a favorite in each field and can’t truly compare one as better than the other. If I had to call out a project that turned my life upside down though, I think I could pick one. Growing up in the world of New York Hardcore, my favorite band was always a band from Brooklyn called Indecision. To this day, those albums are still my favorite of all time. A couple years ago they were doing a reunion show and asked me to design a shirt for them. It was amazing to have my favorite band reach out to me and tell me they were fans of my work. Still sits with me as one of the coolest moments of my career.
If you could have dinner with anyone dead or alive, who would it be and what would you cook for them?
Well, I’m not much of a cook… anyone in my family could tell you that. If I had to pick someone though, I think it might be Benjamin Franklin for a lot of reasons. Instead of cooking, though, I’d take him to one of my favorite bagel shops in the Bronx and tell him to get a toasted egg bagel with vegetable cream cheese with a slice of tomato and an Arizona iced tea. It’s a tradition my wife and I have been doing for years and it’s probably the meal I look most forward to eating.
Number one on your bucket list?
The fact that I can design for a living, and do cool stuff on top of that, is pretty much my one and only selfish goal for my life. I’m a family guy at heart, so everything else would be things like having more kids, seeing them grow up… stuff like that.
It’s Friday night in NYC, where can we find you?
Having a 19-month-old daughter usually means I’m in bed by 10pm on Friday nights, but if I actually had the chance to be out and not be exhausted, then I’d probably want to spend it sitting on a stoop somewhere with friends laughing and joking about random nonsense. Life gets so busy, it’s nice just to goof around once in a while.
Go to ae.com and style a head to toe outfit for yourself.