BY MARC KARIMZADEH | Editorial Director, CFDA
On his namesake label’s website, designer John Elliott posted a letter that sums up his professional and personal ethos. “My dad always used to say, ‘Interesting people live outside their comfort zones,’” he states in the letter. “The most interesting people I know aren’t afraid to try something new.”
Neither is Elliott himself. An adventurous mindset runs like a thread through his sartorial journey, which began in San Francisco and brought him to Los Angeles, where the John Elliott label is based now.
“I grew up skateboarding and playing basketball, and in the 1990s in San Francisco, there was this nucleus of that culture,” Elliott recalls. “It was a time when Michael Jordan was ‘owning’ the NBA, when Kurt Cobain was making noise with the new grunge sound that was coming down from Seattle. It was a real time of learning about yourself.”
The energy of San Francisco, the vibe on the street, and the way in which both transformed the creatives of the time provided ample material for Elliott to absorb as he set out on his own journey. He first started in retail, working for now-defunct Villains on Haight Street—starting in sales and then as a buyer. “Working on the floor, I subconsciously began to truly understand what was making guys pick clothes up from the rack,” he says. “All the while I had this dream of having my own line.”
Such dream can be traced to his childhood. “At eight, I used to sit in class, and because I am extremely dyslexic and school was a struggle, I would sketch sneakers,” Elliott recalls. “My mom encouraged me to send the sketches to Nike and Nike responded. I still have the letter. I was encouraged, and I knew that one day I’d like to solve my own problems with my closet.”
With the help of his father, he created a plan, relocated to Los Angeles, and soaked in as much experience as he could. He also started collecting garments, including items from APC’s Butler program, tubular knit sweatshirts he found in Japan, and basic white T-Shirts from the California State Penal System. “Once I found these, I had the bare bones of what could resonate in my line, which is based off of products that had survived,” Elliott explains. “The common thread was they had made it. My idea was to wear it all together. It created this slim, layered silhouette.”
It became the foundation for the John Elliott line, launched in 2013 with his best friend Aaron Lavee. The aim was to create tomorrow’s classics with an eye to luxury, an athletic vibe and streetwear influences. The three key fabrics are denim, French terry and jersey, and collection themes can range from “Running through Vietnam” to “Watching Water,” the latter a riff on luxury and the idea of life on a yacht or private island for Spring/Summer 2017.
The accolades have kept coming since the launch. Elliott was a nominee for the Swarovski Award for Menswear at the 2016 CFDA Fashion Awards in June. Earlier in the year, WWD selected him as one of its Ten of Tomorrow talents, an endorsement that speaks to his talent and potential. And in 2014, Elliott was one of GQ’s best new menswear designers. Kanye West is a fan.
Not that Elliott is one to sit on his laurels. In the lead-up to his New York Fashion Week: Men’s show this July, he spends every day in the factory, and is often cutting patterns into the wee hours.
Like many of his generation, the 33-year old approaches fashion with a wide-lens perspective and he is full of appreciation for his designer peers. “The internet has reshaped the landscape,” he says. “We now strive to be in stores that I haven’t even visited yet, but I can understand the aesthetic of the store through my phone. There are American brands I really look up to and have a tremendous amount of respect for, brands like Thom Browne, Public School, Tim Coppens, and Robert Geller.”
And just like them, Elliott looks at design as more than just a one-note discipline.
“Any person who obsesses over product and is pushing themselves to create, is a very curious person with ambitions and aspirations to explore other forms besides just clothing. I am intrigued by design in general, by architecture, by products like a chair or a bench,” Elliott notes. “The one thing about me that has been consistent since I was a kid, I have always been trying to solve my own problems. The older I get, the more I value experiences.”