Class With a Modern Touch
Fashion designer Brett Johnson shares his inspiration.
By Michelle Rae Uy
It all began with a pair of Nike Air Force 1 sneakers he owned and personalized when he was a child. Ever since Brett Johnson can remember, fashion has always been a passion of his. Back when he was 7 or 8 years old, he had a footwear obsession that lead to a hefty sneakers collection that would have made grown men cry. By the time he was 11, he was already dreaming of designing his own athletic brand.
Discussing his luxury menswear line, the now New York City-based designer is down-to-earth—a surprising and refreshing attitude from a rising fashion industry star who was brought up in affluence. Perhaps it’s because early on, his parents—Salamander Hotels & Resorts founder Sheila Johnson and BET co-founder Robert Johnson—instilled in him the importance of a strong work ethic no matter your upbringing.
“People prejudge because of my family’s background. They think, ‘oh he probably has people doing these things for him and everything’s given to him,’ ” he says. “I think my work ethic speaks for itself, to be the first person in the building and the last person to leave. I’m in the store every single day.”
Yet no matter where his interests lie, one thing is constant: Johnson’s designs are often a reflection of his personal ardor …
At 28, he not only fulfilled his childhood dream but also successfully opened his flagship store in New York City’s SoHo district. The fall 2017 opening showcased a major shift in direction. When he first started his luxe brand in 2013, sneakers were the key pieces in Johnson’s line. These days, he’s all about the more tailored, coolly debonair and elegantly cosmopolitan look.
Yet no matter where his interests lie, one thing is constant: Johnson’s designs are often a reflection of his personal ardor, whether it be from his love of sports when he was young or from splitting his time between town and country. In fact, that vivid juxtaposition left such a lasting impression on him—and by his extension, his designs—that no matter where he takes inspiration from for each collection, it will always be the underlying theme.
As he wants the many aspects of his life and experiences to manifest in every single piece, he often amalgamates this town-and-country flair with his passion for travel. After falling in love with Italy’s culture, architecture and flair for excellent craftsmanship while on a family trip long ago, he made the decision to realize his designs in Florence.
“Italy has a whole different way of life when it comes to manufacturing and craftsmanship,” Johnson explains. “To be able to produce from that country where so much care, thought and effort are put into every single detail speaks volumes about the quality of my pieces.”
His spring/summer 2018 collection, which debuted in January 2018, is also Italy-inspired, with a touch of rustic born out of a trip that he took with his girlfriend to Lake Como a couple of years ago.
Not to say that he’s forgotten his Nike sneakers. Getting back to his roots, Johnson is currently working on a collaboration with his friend, footwear designer Armando Cabral. The collection, which will be available to the public in August 2018, is expected to be a throwback to his childhood love of sneakers.
The best thing about his designs might just be how chic and refined they are without being unattainable and old-fashioned. “I always want to have classicism rooted in each collection, but just with modern touches, and nobody’s been able to blend the two worlds together,” Johnson says.
He’s obtained a deeper understanding of the buying habits of his loyal followers as well as potential customers from all over the world simply by taking the time to meet new people and interact on a personal basis, despite his demanding schedule. And his clothes boast the same Italian quality and craftsmanship as his competitors, but with half the price point. Everything from the knits and shirts to the blazers and jackets are upscale yet affordable, elegant yet approachable. It’s what makes them distinctively Brett Johnson.
These items from Brett Johnson’s fall/winter 2017 collection are available at brettjohnson.co.