Sari Anne Tuschman 2017-06-08 21:16:57
A fashion-world favorite, New York-based Ulla Johnson’s collection is globally inspired and universally coveted. Ulla Johnson is having a moment. The New York-based designer just opened a boutique on Bleecker Street in Manhattan; this past New York Fashion Week, she held her first-ever runway show; and her line made its debut on Net-a-Porter in January. Those three milestones are the fashion equivalent of a grand slam. And yet Johnson’s success is unsurprising given that her line has been praised by the fashion set for years, becoming a must-have for those who appreciate a refined bohochic aesthetic (think globally sourced fabrics, custom prints, detailed embroidery and flowy silhouettes). “It’s feminine without being super girly sweet,” says celebrity stylist Penny Lovell, who has dressed clients including Anne Hathaway in Johnson’s designs. “I love the point of view—you can tell it’s Ulla, but it’s not overwhelming. Each client can make it their own.” AN AUSPICIOUS START Unlike many designers who spend years toiling away working for other brands, Johnson was inspired to start her own line almost immediately, launching Ulla Johnson in 2000 after graduating from university. “I realized very early I wanted to develop my own aesthetic and build something I could believe in,” says the designer of the origin of her collection, which now also includes shoes and bags. “I was young and cared very much about buying and wearing clothes that were beautifully made and thoughtfully produced, that possessed integrity and timelessness, but were also accessibly priced.” After college, friends of Johnson’s opened a boutique in Nolita, and she created a few styles for them to sell. Before she knew it, Barneys picked up the collection, and suddenly Johnson was running a full-fledged business, one that has continued to steadily grow and more recently skyrocket. Johnson mentions open-back pinafores, sexy jumpsuits, elaborately embroidered blouses and plant-dyed hand-knits as some of her signature designs, all of which are inspired by her propensity for world travel. She comes by that passion rightfully given the fact she was raised by archeologist parents. “I still remember things my mother bought on holidays or excavations abroad,” Johnson says. “My way of looking at the world is informed by the traveling I did as a child, and travel is still hugely important in my life both personally and professionally. I have a ravenous appetite for seeing new things, meeting new people, trying new flavors. It’s what pushes me forward as a person and as a designer.” But travel isn’t her only source of inspiration. Married to an art dealer, Johnson also turns to contemporary painting to guide her design process. “From the jumping-off point of color and gesture and shape, I delve into a sense of place, often traveling to far-flung locations for material and cultural touchstones that inform my designs,” says the mother of three. A YEAR OF FIRSTS Given her obsession with details and beautiful things, it comes as no surprise Johnson’s first boutique feels like a respite from the crowded streets of Manhattan thanks to its light color palette, abundance of marble and windows on three sides. “We wanted the store to have a residential vibe and to fill it with objects and materials that both centered and complemented our clothes,” Johnson says. “We worked with local lighting designers, weavers, potters, painters and sculptors to create the objects and fibers in the shop. And we brought in vintage furnishings and floral installations to fill the space with light, color and life. We sought to create not just a backdrop for the clothes, but a transportive experience.” The NoHo location, too, was of the utmost importance to Johnson. “I was born and raised in New York, and having our first retail location be close to home was very important,” says the designer, who resides in Brooklyn. “It is near our design studio and on one of my favorite, tree-lined stretches of Bleecker Street.” The store wasn’t Johnson’s only milestone of 2017: She also held her first runway show at New York Fashion Week in February. “We have been doing presentations for several seasons, but I have been dying to see the clothes in motion, to create the spectacle of a show,” says Johnson of the decision to bring her collection to the catwalk. “I think so much of the fashion business has become pedestrian and pragmatic—capturing the fantasy of it still excites me.” Working with Sarah Ryhanen of the iconic Red Hook flower shop Saipua, Johnson brought the ethereal nature of her designs to life via wild rosebushes; there was also live music care of the band Lower Dens. “Much as with the shop, we wanted to create an experience with the show,” Johnson says. “These things take months of planning but transpire in less than 15 minutes, so every moment is thought through in great detail. It felt singular and dreamy and everything I had hoped it would be.” As for what’s next, Johnson mentions an eyewear collaboration, a children’s line and a scent as potential future projects. She has also launched homewares, currently sold only in her store. “It’s one day at a time,” she says. “We have grown so much, and it’s very important to me that I still check every button, sit in on every fitting and understand each garment intimately. I’m happy with where we are and with the goodwill and momentum we’ve built. But if pressed, I would say an LA store is next.” SUMMER STYLE ULLA JOHNSON PICKS A FEW MUST-HAVES FROM HER LATEST COLLECTION, ALL AVAILABLE AT ULLAJOHNSON.COM. “This piece is entirely handmade—it was a true labor of love,” says Johnson of the CALLIOPE DRESS, $1,195. The LETICIA COAT is “made in Morocco by the same weavers who make traditional wedding blankets. It is a truly special piece,” $1,150. “The SABINA HEEL is crafted in Peru with handloom-beaded straps and ankle ties made for us in the Sacred Valley. The result is something urban, modern and sexy,” $425. “I love the play between womanly and sweet on this LUCINDA BIKINI,” $380. “Over-the-top opulent embroidery paired with hand beading and lace makes my heart sing,” Johnson says of the MILA BLOUSE, $425.
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