We chatted backstage with menswear designer John Elliott during the inaugural Men's New York Fashion Week. Here's what we learned...
John Elliott: I tried to think about it a little bit more like a concept, rather than just individual pieces. In past collections I had an idea or a theme, but this really was a way more conceptual kind of approach. So right around this time last year, I started to have this thought that I really would like to try to tell a story of a collection through a color pallet referencing Vietnam, not the Vietnam War, but the country. And it just started to creep in; I spoke to people who are in my internal group that I trust and shelved the idea. Then I was out to dinner with the producer and he was potentially going to do our fall/winter show and he said, you know, ‘What are you planning on doing for spring/summer,’ and I hadn’t thought about it at all so just off the cuff said, ‘Well I think I’m going to go off of Vietnam and run through Vietnam and I think that’s going to be my spring/summer collection. And he goes ‘Oh shit ok, why do you plan to do that?’ And I said, ‘well because I want to try to achieve a layered look, because that’s what we do.’ We're, you know, very much a brand that’s about layering. But I also want to try a new story, through a new color palette. We’ve always sat in like this gray scale range, and this is an opportunity for me to still tell that pale story. I’m really attracted to pale, faded, cold colors, but wanted to put it through a whole new approach. I called this season running through Vietnam, Structure from Chaos, while the whole thought process was trying to achieve balance between technical pieces and also deconstructed, kind of faded, washed-down, processed, you know kind of like a little bit military inspired.
How his collections are inspired by his personal style.
JE: It's definitely still a representation of stuff that I want. I try to build silhouettes that I’m looking for and silhouettes that I want and really try to push myself to also think about the time of year when the customer’s going to be actually receiving this good. So yea, it’s still like the mother of all innovation is solving your own problems, right?
On becoming a designer.
JE: I mean you know, I’m super, dyslexic so school was always a real challenge for me and when I graduated high school, I knew that I was going to want to try and do this. I was writing letters to Nike when I was eight years old; I’ve always kind of taken a different approach to, you know, really anything. So, I was sending sneaker designs when I was eight, you know? I really just wanted to try to get myself the best opportunity to not fail. You know, my dad would tell me ‘Look, put your name on this and don’t fuck it up,’ and that’s really the MO. I know it seems so simple. I tried to work myself through the industry to the point where I knew enough angles to know what would work. From both a business stand point and also like a real standpoint, which is making products that are worthy of picking up off the rack. You know, and understanding the psychology of what makes a guy walk by something and stop and be like ‘This is dope, I want to try this on.’
On the evolution of street style and the future of his brand.
JE: I hope that we get a glimpse of that today but you know, honestly I think that I’m trying to push my brand forward. I think conversations that I’ve had recently and previews where I show people a little bit of what we’re doing. I’m hoping that we're definitely pushing the customer who loves our stuff, hoping that he gets pushed forward and you know I think today hopefully, fingers crossed, is a nice preview of that. So you know, we’ll see.
The brand loyalty is serious.
JE: Two things: fingers crossed, hopefully we can keep that rolling and then the thought process is that its all about the product at the end of the day. If you can make products that are high quality products that people invest in and they give you their hard earned money and they get a great use out of them, great results out of them, then they’ll trust you. And all I’m trying to do is earn people’s trust.
[interview + photography by nydoorman]