In defence of doing less (and thinking more)

I’m moved – by, believe it or not, the fashion collection from an heir with no formal fashion training: Jamie Johnson.

I know, not another one of those! Trust me, I clicked on the headline, “Heir Line: Jamie Johnson’s Fashion Collection” on WWD this morning, with every intention to scoff. Peers like Kira Plastinina, and the Hiltons, have benchmarked my expecatations for collections coming from people with too much money and boredom on their hands, who probably see a good licensing opportunity for their surnames, too.

Then I shut up when I saw this coat. Never mind that it was menswear. I would have wanted one, season-permitting.

The collection also featured an evening suit in, get this – corduroy, the neglected cousin of…velvet, which is in the limelight this season. Does this mean he’s on the pulse of trends, especially for a fashion outsider? Or does he just have a taste for refined, old-world sensibility? Well, it’s his first collection, and much too early to say all this for sure. We’ll keep it in mind for the future. For now, it’s enough to know that these are beautiful things.

The real clincher, however, was the interview with Jamie Johnson, snippets of which I am going to transplant here, since you’ll need a subscription to read WWD:

Jamie Johnson is getting into the fashion business. The Johnson & Johnson heir, whose official career until now has been documentary filmmaking (see: “Born Rich” and “The One Percent”), is launching a line for fall called Black Sweater. Comprised mostly of outerwear, save for one tuxedo and the namesake sweater, the collection is based on Savile Row-style tailoring and fine English fabrics. WWD caught up with Johnson from his apartment-slash-showroom.

WWD: What made you want to start a fashion collection?
Jamie Johnson: I was trying to have an informal khaki cotton suit made with a tailor. One person would say, “I can’t do that, but you should meet this person.” Through the course of meeting various craftsmen and learning a little bit more about the process, I really got into it. It’s all made in New York and produced by skilled people who understand this old trade. A lot of the characters involved are really fascinating older gentlemen.

WWD: So how involved are you in the design process?
J.J.: Because it’s supersmall [the line includes about six pieces for men and five for women], all the designs come from me…there weren’t any sketches necessary because all the designs come from traditional men’s formalwear. It’s not as if I’m making complicated ballgowns.

WWD: Did you get advice from anybody in the industry?
J.J.: I didn’t seek advice from many people other than the actual tailors who were making the clothing. I’m not really a fashion person. I’m approaching this from the perspective of real personal interest. I don’t think I’m trying to replicate something that other people have done in that sense.

WWD: The collection isn’t inexpensive. It wholesales from $300 to $1,500. Who do you see being your customers?
J.J.: It’s certainly high-end, and other than that, how else can I define it? I mean, it’s expensive clothing. My personal belief is there’s a market out there for it, and there are people out there who are buying clothing like this. [The coats are] very structured and substantial and the fabric is pretty heavy-duty stuff.

WWD: Would you ever consider having a presentation or show during fashion week?
J.J.: At this point, it just doesn’t seem necessary. It’s not what appeals to me about this. Really, the fun part is designing the stuff.


What moved me was his complete irreverence about fashion’s System (at least 30 looks for a collection? Pfft!), and focusing instead on 6 pieces (not even looks!) for men, 5 for women.

And I wonder, did it have to take someone who’s “not really a fashion person” to sift out the excess that fashion has reared itself on? This is the “fashion avalanche” Hedi Slimane was talking about in his interview on The Future Of Fashion. In response to how some designers were designing some eight collections a year (menswear, womenswear, pre-fall, resort, couture, etc), he said:

I also don’t understand what the hell people do with all those clothes. Less would be better, and shorter collections.

It’s fair to say that Jamie Johnson’s business model (or lack of business model, even) isn’t easily replicated – how many are there like him, anyway? -nor completely relevant to fashion students who are working hard to earn their stripes.

The lesson worth taking away, really, is that whether you are technically qualified (an aspiring Hedi Slimane) or not (an aspiring Jamie Johnson), ideas need to be deeply considered and tightly edited – not a scattered burst of creative zeal. Quality beats quantity. Dump it if it’s average – chances are there are others already doing the same, so why bother? Lastly, ridding ourselves of excess is always good cost strategy, and makes for leanness and agility we can certainly use in times like these.

Meantime, I am pinning my hopes on Jamie Johnson’s label, Black Sweater, to be next in line to silence heir-line detractors the same way The Row did (although the Olsens are self-made millionaires…you know what I’m trying to get at!)


P.S: I know I left my last post on the Noughties’ Aesthetic hanging, but by the time I got round to the 2nd installment all these other blogs and websites were doing recaps of the ’00s, which just really killed the mood for me (that is my personality, unfortunately) – so until I gather the energy/momentum/motivation for it, the overview should do for now. This entry was, after all, in defence of doing less… 😉

This entry was published on February 25, 2010 at 12:45 am. It’s filed under Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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