Having launched her New York-based label in 2002, Ulla Johnson has become well-loved for her global-inspired designs, which balance a signature use of print and embroidery with considered wearability and a timeless aesthetic.
During our trip to the Big Apple, we were thrilled to have the opportunity to meet Ulla in her Brooklyn home. Stepping inside the recently refurbished brownstone that she shares with her husband and three children, we were awed by the light and airy atmosphere (despite the grey weather) which mirrored that of her designs. On pink-washed walls hung one-off pieces of art, while vintage furniture and knick-knacks from her travels filled each room, nodding to the artisanal sensibility that runs throughout her collection.
Ulla’s own closet is a lesson in hardworking femininity. Her impeccably tidy dressing room houses a selection of statement dresses and shoes of her own design, with luxe basics and a jewellery box teeming with treasured keepsakes sitting alongside. Perhaps it was the beautifully organised shelves, or the scent of palo santo which permeated the air – either way, this must be the most tranquil wardrobe in existence.
“From the very start of my business, I had a clear vision as far as what was important to me in the collection: integrity of materials and process, timelessness, craft, ease. The creation of future heirlooms, whose beauty and value transcends trends. As we’ve grown, these have remained our core values.”
“A lot of our pieces speak to the natural world. My husband works in contemporary art and we have an affinity with pieces where you can really read the hand of the artist. The importance of textiles and craft seen within our seasonal collections extends to my home, but also to our stores, our office – all our environments.”
“This dress, a fan-printed poplin with exuberant ruffles and tiers, was the closing look in our SS20 show, which was inspired by the cultural weaving of New York. It was a celebration of colour and pattern – a tableau of pastel and jewel-toned splendour, redolent of the rising and setting sun. What drove the collection for me was the idea of connectedness. The past few years have created such a divide, and I think fashion is a place where we can strive for something better.”
“Our accessories continue to explore the diverse and vibrant language of traditional local handcraft and technique woven through a refined cosmopolitan aesthetic. These are values that sit at the heart of our brand.”
“My earrings were created for our SS20 show. They are handblown glass flowers and created from recycled glass by our artisan partners in Kenya. Everything we do is done with great thought and care and with the aim of lifting the communities with which we work. Jewellery is something I’m obsessed with and has become increasingly visible in our shows. My necklace is by Foundrae. It is very special to me as it includes the first initial of each of my children. I wear it almost every day.”
“This is our Lila Blouse and Eiko skirt in the same graphic diamond print, worn together. I gravitate more towards a maximalist aesthetic with layered print, texture and pattern, but a sense of ease is important to me; I love having a wardrobe that’s not defined by a space and time.”
“Our shoes range is sporty and feminine. Hand-crocheted, colour-blocked raffia and contrasting macraméd rope in styles that wrap the foot and leg to maximalist effect. And comfortable!”
“I have three children and this locket has a picture of each of them at the same age, when they were tiny babies. It’s incredibly precious to me.”
“I would say our brand is very feminine, but within that there are a lot of different ways to wear the clothes. The woman who wears our collections is self-possessed and optimistic, she embraces colour and pattern, and cares deeply about the integrity of what she loves. Through clothes, it’s our job to empower her in all these roles.”
“This porcelain tray, by Swiss potter Christiane Perrochon, holds the antique jewellery that I wear nearly every day. I adore old things, especially Georgian and Edwardian pieces. The chunky necklace is English, from the 1830s. The large sculptural earrings in the centre are mid-century Indian and virtually weightless. Beneath these is a vintage ring from Cartier and the Foundrae necklace with my children’s initials.”
“I have to be in love with something to want to wear it but I do fall in love easily and often. We talk a lot about creating ‘future heirlooms’, pieces that transcend time and trend and have a value and relevance that spans seasons and even decades. Every single item we create is thoughtfully crafted and something I feel passionately about.”
“We create pieces we hope people will have for years, if not forever. My brand is not just about the clothes themselves but about the story, the process, the travel, the lifestyle, the heart.”
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