John Elliott on his move to Paris, his digital scavenger hunt adventure, and what is next for the brand.

Depending on whom you ask, fashion week is either perfect the way it is or it needs a drastic overhaul, especially when it comes to New York Fashion Week. When NYFW in September ended with the Marc Jacobs show just one day earlier than past years, all talk of NYFW being in trouble came to a screeching halt. Instead, show-goers recalled Rihanna’s bow on a dirt bike at the conclusion of her Fenty x Puma show, Philip Plein’s impromptu concert with Future and Teyana Taylor, and Alexander Wang’s Saturday evening runway show in Bushwick in Brooklyn.

Fanfare and media attention is expected when it comes to NYFW, which begs the question of why designers would decide to exit the schedule in the first place. We spoke to designer John Elliott about just that and found ourselves joining his global scavenger hunt.

BY OBI ANYANWU

With the departure of heavy-hitters like Rodarte and Proenza Schouler, NYFW shortened by one day and the fashion week moving to its third venue in three years, one could wonder if everything is all well in New York.

Ultimately, designers must make the best decision for their businesses, which may include staging a runway show in a new city, holding an intimate presentation, or turning to social media.

Rodarte and Proenza Schouler moving to Paris and Tom Ford and Raf Simons moving to New York City are examples of designers heading to another city to expand their respective businesses. DKNY skipped the runway for intimate presentations following the departure of Creative Directors Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne. One of the few examples of designers using social media to debut new collections is Misha Nonoo.

Misha Nonoo held collection debuts on her brand’s Instagram page in past seasons and debuted Spring/Summer 2017 on Snapchat. The CFDA designer later shifted her business to a direct-to-consumer model and launched in September a made-to-measure service. Nonoo found a way to combine the original runway show model, which was initially directed to customers, with the digital, social media modern age.

While Nonoo made her collection debuts fun and engaging activities for her vast and expanding client base, designer John Elliott made his Spring/Summer 2018 collection debut a spectacle for all of Instagram to enjoy.

The California-based designer debuted his SS18 collection through an Instagram scavenger hunt that involved NBA athlete Nick Young of the Golden State Warriors, Josephine Skriver, Luka Sabbat, Adonis Basso, A$AP Nast and others. Each model shared their look in the collection and linked to another model ultimately forming an endless loop.

With every model sharing their look from the collection, the John Elliott SS18 collection reached as many as 20 million people. 20 million fully engaged viewers that could have spent a span of 30 seconds to 10 minutes just looking at the collection.

The reveal was surprising given that the brand said in May that it would be in Paris for Paris Fashion Week. The assumption was that the brand would hold a runway show in the City of Light. What seemed sudden to us was a well-thought out, organic yet strategic reveal that could make designers change how they debut their latest work.

Elliott traveled to Paris and launched the scavenger hunt on Instagram during Paris Fashion Week, skipped the traditional runway show and utilized social media to engage his core consumer and invite new fans into his world—it was a perfect storm.

We spoke with John briefly during NYFW about how he came up with the Instagram scavenger hunt idea, the aftermath of the social media event and how it connects to SS18.

Thanks for taking the time to speak with us John. First, what’s the story behind Spring/Summer 2018 and the title, ‘Field Manual?’

I had this idea of taking the brand to the desert and got inspired during a road trip with my girlfriend to visit her family. During the drive, we talked about how she grew up and how she wanted to be closer to the city, and also how she realized how cool it was to grow up in the desert. Her family would hang dry their clothes outside and would get sun damage on Britney Spears and N’SYNC t-shirts. It was a really interesting idea to me, so I came up with this field manual based on the California deserts.

 

 

Did you go to any of the deserts for research?

The team and I went out to Death Valley, and for about a week and a half, we saw all of the different Mars-like landscapes and took photos. We really tried to understand what makes Death Valley so interesting from a geological standpoint and tried to take inspiration from how the sun, Earth and volcanic activity creates such an incredible array of random color palettes that mix together in a beautiful way.

We went out to Joshua Tree and ended up acting like kids, running on the rocks. We tried to race and run up as many rocks as we could and get to the top. We really didn’t think about the danger and what it could mean if we were to fall off of these rock piles. There were free climbers out there too. That added an athletic component to the collection.

 

 

It must’ve been unbelievable to see it in person compared to just seeing photos on the Internet.

Believe it or not, we couldn’t get a full range of what we wanted to see in these California State Parks on the Internet.

The experience was a really cool approach to utilizing actual field manuals and the older forms of information and applying that way of thinking to the digital era.

It was a really cool team building experience, but when we went to put the collection together, we had so much ammunition for the collection and how we wanted to wear the clothes. What functional details we needed to incorporate into the collection to be able to actually run on a rock, what color palette the clothing should be in, what taste reference we should be utilizing and what fabric we wanted to try to develop.

This was honestly my favorite collection that I’ve ever worked on in terms of ease of having ideas flow. It was a really effortless collection and I mean that respectfully. There’s a cohesive theme that travels throughout the entire collection.

Very cool. After that, you left the desert to head to Paris. What spurned the idea to move?

Moving to Paris was a business decision mixed with the fact that I love Paris. I went to Paris Fashion Week for the first time in February, and I was really captivated by the energy that was taking place as a result of the men’s fashion week going on in the city.

We have aspirations of being a global brand, so I felt that we needed to go to some of our accounts Paris. All of our partners are important to us.

When we had heard that you were heading to Paris, I think the entire fashion community assumed that you were going to do a fashion show. Did the move to Paris have an influence on your decision?

After having runway shows in New York, I didn’t want to go into Paris the same way. I felt that people would have more respect for the brand if we went into Paris humbly, much like how we went into New York, to build relationships with people.

Most of our time in Paris was spent showing the collection on a one-on-one basis, being able to meet with the editorial and wholesale teams and building rapport. Over time, there’s this need for people to see what a runway show would look like, but I thought this was a really clever way to be humble and try something new.

Hence the Instagram scavenger hunt.

The idea of doing an Instagram show came pretty early in the discussion with moving to Paris. We didn’t talk about doing a massive show or even a presentation. I felt like taking our business and conducting our business in Paris would be a more important and dynamic way to allocate a significant amount of money.

Any time that I approach a new collection, I try to do the collection a service. I’m always trying to make sure people are excited about what is coming next.

 

I felt that people would have more respect for the brand if we went into Paris humbly … to build relationships with people.

 

 

Let’s talk about the scavenger hunt idea. How did it come to you?

The scavenger hunt came to me during a phone call and for whatever reason I had the inclination to write it down. I was at dinner with Matthew Henson, who styled the collection for the show, and he was the first one that I told the idea to and he was like we have to do this. The fact that he was so receptive to such a new, out-of-the-box and somewhat disruptive idea gave me the confidence to really push forward and think about how to make this more experiential and also a tool for the brand.

When we started to push the idea forward, it was something that was so much fun. Doing something new that felt like it fit really well with the field manual theme.

I felt that if we can engage our base and get people excited about the collection in a new way then it’s a win-win. That’s what I was looking for—a scenario where people are introduced to the clothes from an industry side and our customer can experience something new that is directed to them.

Would you say the roll out was a success?

It was a huge success because of the engagement that we saw and also because of what happened afterwards, with gaining new followers and starting new conversations.

One person came up to me on the street and said the scavenger hunt was like driving a car. Going through it and doing laps. You’re clicking through photos and you could go through it very quickly. You could make a lap of those 15 models in 30 seconds so it was like driving a car.

I think people love the guy on the dance floor that’s trying a new move first. People will usually take that guy’s move.

Engagement is what I was most curious about for the roll-out. What was the strategy behind the casting? Did you look at follower count or branding?

If I were to tell you that it wasn’t strategic I would be lying so I’m not going to sit here and say that. The first thing that I wanted was an organic connection to the brand. Every single person that took part in the Instagram show for the most part was either connected to the brand through a previous relationship or through Matthew.

We also thought about how to best engage our guy. We showed the collection on people that our customers already know and follow and relate to, but also tried to attract new people as well.

There were models in the show that introduced our brand to their following. We got introduced to a new demographic of people who may not have previously known about what we do but they got to meet us from someone that they already trust. And if they followed along and took the next step to follow the scavenger hunt, they would have been introduced to somebody in a clever way.

In terms of follower count, the models were some heavy hitters like Nick Young and Josephine Skriver. The introduction was with millions of people.

John Averill told me that in the 4-minute span of the rollout, we were able to reach over 20 million people, which is a pretty cool way of introducing a collection. I was probably most encouraged by how receptive and supportive the editorial space was, and that goes back to that dance floor analogy. It’s a strange analogy, but when you’re on that dance floor and you’re trying bold moves there’s a chance that someone will steal your move.

It was an incredible day. It was a different kind of rush like the end of a show, but it was a ton of fun. I ended up laying down on the ground watching the show unfold and having a blast.

 

… in the 4-minute span of the rollout, we were able to reach over 20 million people, which is a pretty cool way of introducing a collection.

 

 

Given the numbers, the response, and the aftermath, do you think that you will keep the scavenger hunt going into Fall/Winter 2018?

That’s a great question, and to be 100% honest with you, whatever strikes me for this collection is what we’ll pursue.

I am in the process of working on the collection right now. I am very hands on with the collection, and that’s something that I’m most proud of. At the end of the day, these things are such a fun by product of the clothing. That’s what matters most and the scavenger hunt was a creative way to try something new and get the product out there.

I wouldn’t say anything is off of the table, but at this moment, I can’t tell you if we are doing a show or the scavenger hunt.

We’ll do whatever we feel fits this collection the best. I enjoy trying something new and the scavenger hunt was thrilling and that’s why I do this. I’m passionate about building products that matter and making people feel like they’re lucky to have it. The way that I roll out the collection is the fun part.

I need to make sure that the collection is strong and is something that’s both for our base and is also going to open up new conversations and capture new eyes.

Honestly, when anyone does something new that works, the landscape changes a bit and everyone starts to have different conversations. This may be the beginning of something new and something different that will change things up for the better.

I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you saying that. In conversations that we’ve had, between Matthew, our internal team, and myself, the most difficult thing that we had with this idea was not telling people. We didn’t want someone else to do it before we did it, because we were all so excited about it and we all shared this sentiment.

It’s a crazy world out there and it’s such a beautiful time in fashion where I feel there’s more freedom to try new things than ever, and what an amazing time to be rolling out collections where there’s constantly new technology at your disposal and people are open minded with the way that you utilize them.