Janna Coumoundouros on making art and making it in Detroit

Mar 4, 2015 at 1:00 am

It's hard to believe that Janna Coumoundouros was once so shy that she decided to go to school for graphic design instead of chasing her dream of working in fashion. Three years of classes taught her she wouldn't be happy in the field and that if she was going to get what she wanted out of life, she had to just go for it.

Without waxing too philosophic, Coumoundouros' story is sort of like the new American dream. The fiery-haired creative powerhouse does everything from real estate photography to creating award-winning, fashion-forward dresses. We chatted with her about what she's got on her plate right now as well as the interesting projects she has lined up for the future.

Metro Times: To start, is there anything you don't do?

Janna Coumoundouros: I have a lot of energy [laughs]. I think when people are creative, you tend to work in a lot of different fields and have crazy things. Crazy things fall in my lap and I usually just go, "Sure, why not?"

MT: Is it all about networking for you?

Coumoundouros: That's part of it. But I used to be terribly, terribly shy. I just decided this is ridiculous and there are so many things it's holding me back from and so I just started saying yes to things and just dealing with the nerves later and it got easier and easier, and I just started putting myself out there and going places and meeting people and it turned into a big network of things and people know now that if they need something done they can call me and I can figure out a way to do it or I can put them in touch with someone who can. One of my places I work on, sometimes I do wardrobe styling and assisting, the company shoots all the ads for Ford and they shoot for Lincoln, they call me the Jack of All Trades [laughs].

MT: Do you have any neat projects coming up?

Coumoundouros: Yes, I do. I just did the Auto Show dress for Charity Preview and I got interviewed by the Wall Street Journal, I'm not sure when it's going to come out. The reporter is here for another couple weeks in Detroit, so it's an evolving story. I have no idea how it's going to turn out. It went from an automotive spin in the business section, but now it's going to be in the personal journal, which is more on the entertainment side of things, which is good. I did a full fashion shoot with a model wearing the Auto Show dress and submitted that to her. Also, for Drinks X Design, in I think April, they're going to have me demonstrating my jewelry and how I make it. So, it's going to be me and Shinola and Julie Lindsay bags showing off our stuff. But the big thing is the Detroit Historical Museum is going to have a year-long exhibit on fashion and they want to use my dresses, my jewelry, and my photography. It's still being put together, but I think they're going to put me in as an up-and-coming designer and they said they've got John Varvatos in it and Anna Sui, and maybe even Tracy Reese. They're going to bring out fashion that they have in their archives as well. It's going to be a pretty big exhibit, I'm pretty excited about it. I've never been in a museum before. There's no exact date for that yet, but they know it's going to be fall of 2015.

MT: Do you do a lot of work with the Detroit Garment Group Guild?

Coumoundouros: I did the samurai dress. That was really awesome [laughs]. It was a dream come true really and really cool to have something inside the Detroit Institute of Arts. That was just, like, oh my god and a fashion show on top of it? But, yes, they got me involved with that. They've also been asking me for advice for things like, what would a jewelry designer want in terms of a studio because they're putting together these studios for designers to rent space. I've been consulting with them on equipment and stuff like that. I think it's great what they're doing. They're putting in the garment district in Detroit and that's going to be forever. That's incredible. They're literally changing a city and I just think that's phenomenal.

MT: What's your advice for people looking to break into creative fields in Detroit?

Coumoundouros: Talk to as many people as you can because in Detroit people want to help. When I meet people and they're trying to break in, I always say "Sure, I'll show you. I'll introduce you" and I hit that ceiling here and it's good. But, mostly just pay attention to what's going on. Try to think a step ahead and don't be afraid to ask. Go out and just talk to people.

MT: A lot of people probably would recognize your photography without even realizing it. There's one great image that Hour Detroit magazine used heavily in a campaign recently.

Coumoundouros: The dress made out of newspapers? Yeah, they used that image on billboards and the event itself they used it all over and in all the signage. That was a fun shoot. And that was one that we were not hired to do. I worked with the designer of the dress and he did them for Hour and he wanted to do a nice photo shoot before he handed them over. Hour saw the photo and said, "Hey, we'd like to use this image." So, have the energy. Have the connections and just go out and do it.

MT: As a creative and talented person, is there any reason why you've chosen to stay in Detroit?

Coumoundouros: When I graduated from college, I was so shy that I basically just chickened out. Everyone told me how hard it is and that it would be easier to go to graphic design. I realized that was definitely not for me and I took my first photography class. I switched to U of M and graduated with a degree in photography. I started shooting weddings, got married, had kids and so now my roots are here. But I really love Detroit, and I can't see going anywhere else.