New York Fashion Week comes but twice a year, as hundreds of presentations and runway shows are littered throughout the city. There's no true rhyme or reason to doing a presentation versus a runway show, but the protocol for younger brands and designers tends to favor lower impact presentations before going all out with a spectacular runway show. With that in mind, we spoke to two designers and Four Pins favorites, John Elliott and Pyer Moss' Kerby Jean-Raymond, who both put on the first runway show of their young careers for Fall/Winter 2015 and took different paths to get there.
Part II: John Elliott of John Elliott + Co.
When did you actually decide that you were going to do a runway show? What was the motivation?
I was able to convince everyone in the room that the runway show was a good idea about four months ago. We felt like we were finally in the position where we could tell a story through the collection that would be on a level that, if we were to put it on the runway, would push us forward. People knew who we were for our basics—our jersey, denim and french terry. They know that story and I think they love that story. We wanted to show people how to build on that and give them a firsthand glimpse of where we’re going.
Why not follow the sort of established protocol and do a presentation first? Did you feel the collection would simply work better in a show?
I did personally. Not in an egotistical way. We come from pretty humble beginnings and feel lucky to be in this situation, which came through a lot of hard work and knowing how we are as a brand and what we stand for. I like energy and I thought the energy in a show might show things a little better than a presentation. We got Eugene Tong to style the show and Nate Brown [who we shot the S/S 15 campaign with] did the set design. It was like we were going into things with an all-star team. So it was like, “Let’s go. Fuck a presentation. Let’s show what a John Elliott + Co. runway show would look like.”
I like to hear the reasoning because a lot comes down to personal preference. Some designers prefer the intimate nature of a presentation, others enjoy the energy of the runway.
I love to sit and discuss product. You guys know that. Our buyers know that. Any kid that runs up on me on the street knows that. But I also am really intrigued by how to tell a story with more elements involved like lighting, music, color palette, sounds, space and materials. Through a show, when you can include those other elements, those other senses, it can enhance the product in a way that invokes some emotion.
It sounds like you got everyone on board and went from there. How about some of the logistical decisions, like scouting for a location?
I’ve been in New York basically since Christmas. I’ve been able to experience a New York winter, I can say that and have the pneumonia to prove it. We got the location pretty early on after we scoured the city for a place that fit the budget and the look. If that meant we had to be more creative in other elements of the show, it was worth it because the space was a huge win. It was so on-brand—the high gloss floors, white walls and pillars. I really wanted to incorporate white porcelain tiles and do it in a way that was clean, but provided texture down the runway. It matched the inspiration of the line too. I wanted it to feel cold and wet, which is why we had the heavy gloss under the eye and on the brow and the wet hair. I wanted it to feel like you have been skating out in the fog of San Francisco, where I'm from.
On the topic of the set design, you put the entire audience on one side of the runway. Why was that?
When I go through and look at someone’s show, I can’t help but notice who is sitting front row. You take a glance at the look, but in your peripheral go “there’s X.” I just didn’t want to have that. There’s been stories written about our seating and it became part of the show, that’s great. But the reason we do this is because we love product and want to make great product.
Of course, that meant just one front row and Kanye West sat in the second row.
He knew about the show and I got a call that he was on his way, like, 15 minutes before he showed up. There’s no doubt it was one of the best phone calls I’ve received. I definitely can tell you that we would obviously had him be front row. Without a doubt. I heard he just kind of chose to sit second row. I don’t know what really happened. I was backstage prepping the models.
You even got a clip on Entertainment Tonight!
[Laughs] I truly believe he is a generational, transcendent creative. He is so important and what he’s trying to do is look at the status quo and say, “We can do better.” The fact is that he believes in young creatives and put his arm around them in a sense, and is willing to help them. He genuinely believes that his mission in life is making things better from a creative standpoint.
How did styling play a role? It felt like there weren't any Villains in the show, which is your signature item.
There is only one look where you see a Villain. It’s short-sleeve Villain underneath the side-zip pullover. That was a conscious decision. It was a risk, but a calculated one. We made the decision that our aesthetic can carry us and is strong enough that we don’t have to remind you that we’re the brand that made that sweatshirt. We truly believe the Villain can be a classic. We respect that piece, understand that it helped us get here and we’re still going to highlight it, but we wanted to say "this is where we’re going."
Did the experience of planning the show live up to expectations? Are you already planning the next collection and show?
It was the most challenging thing we’ve pulled off. The most mentally draining, physically draining. I have a fever right now. I’m sick. I’m sleep deprived. I’m crushed. But can’t wait to do it again. It’s pretty much onto the next one. I’ve already started designing the spring line.
Photo courtesy of Liam Goslett.