John Elliott has had a monster of a year. To recap: His Spring/Summer 2016 show was the most anticipated during New York Fashion Week: Men’s last season. He debuted his own sneakers, and, this past June, was also nominated for the prestigious CFDA Swarovski Award for Menswear. “Huge honor,” Elliott says about the nomination. “To be in the same room as people I idolize—the Olsen twins, Tommy Hilfiger, Beyoncé, Jay Z, Tim Coppens, the Public School guys, Donna Karan, and Calvin Klein—it was a tremendous honor. I was a little bit shook, but very humbled.”
But a season later, where does he go next?
Yesterday morning, Elliott presented his Spring/Summer 2017 collection. Editors, buyers, bloggers, celebrities, and his peers—Kith’s Ronnie Fieg, En Noir designer Rob Noir, Virgil Abloh, Andre Iguodala, Pusha T, and Colombian reggaeton singer J Balvin—packed one of the runway spaces at the Skylight Clarkson Square in Manhattan. Both the show and the collection were about growing the brand, leaving room for a bit of experimentation. In collaboration with Nate Brown’s creative studio Institute, Elliott worked with the Boiler Room, a global online music broadcasting platform, and producer/recording artist Lee Bannon to produce a soundtrack live. “We wanted to try and make the show more inclusive for people,” explains Elliott. “As much as I would love to try to do what Kanye did, most people aren’t immortal. Institute came up with the idea of working with the Boiler Room, which I’m a huge fan of. Once they came on board, it raised the energy.”
Show production aside, though, the biggest change in Elliott’s brand is the collection itself. The Spring/Summer 2017 line is Elliott’s biggest to date, with 40 looks, and introduces vibrant colors as well as eyewear, bags, belts, and new footwear. It’s also the designer’s first take on luxury, though Elliott admits that his interpretation doesn’t necessarily equate to high-fashion. “Of course I aspire to [high-fashion], but I don’t think about doing something that’s considered typical luxury,” he says. “I think about, ‘What will I need when I’m at X? How would I want this to feel? How would I personally want to feel? How would I want [the clothes] to react? How durable is it?’ It’s about small, functional details.”
The answers to these questions are reflected in the Spring/Summer 2017 collection, which was inspired by the idea of “watching water.” “You can kind of understand what those two words mean immediately, but it has depth to it as well,” explains Elliott. “To me, the ultimate sign of luxury is quite literally watching water.” He throws out different status symbols that come to mind: big fountains, pools, vacationing on an island, lying on a beach, cruising on a yacht—and Jay Z’s “Big Pimpin.’” “That video to me was the ultimate sign of luxury,” he says. “I’ve never been on a yacht or been to a yacht club, but this [collection] was my interpretation of those.”
With that in mind, he presented a collection that directly relates back to the theme, be it the design of the piece itself or fabrics used. There are bomber jackets and parachute jackets made in a mesh-linen like material. There’s also a Moroccan-inspired towel, which was hand drawn using protractors, a color blocked sail pullover, leather slides (luxe), and board shorts. Roughly 20 percent of the line is waterproof to some extent. “I thought about what you would need if you were literally watching water,” says Elliott. “You might need heat-sealed seams, a linen that’s actually water repellent. You’ll definitely need a towel. You might need a pair of slides. You might also want fucking Nike aqua socks. So, we found vintage Nike aqua socks and put them on the runway.”
That isn’t to say that the basics (hoodies, sweats, T-shirts) that have helped Elliott build a cult-like following are absent. But this season was about continuing to develop as a brand. “I grow with the products—I wear them every day,” says Elliott. “My life has changed a little bit, too. It’s only been four seasons, and a lot has happened, but I’m excited to keep at it.”