I met Kevin Johnn in 1987 when I moved from NYC to Chicago to be the buyer for Russo, one of the cities most progressive designer boutiques. The store carried both European and American designers (including several local Chicago brands) and Kevin was one of the designers we bought. I remember his first collection, it was a navy and black medley of suit jackets, skirts, and shorts, as well as the perfect little black dress. The jackets were sleeveless, some with cutouts and some backless, and if I am correct Kevin was one of the first to pair shorts with fitted sexy seamed jackets. Nobody was doing that back then.
His vision today is just as on point as it was back then. He has a superior eye for detail and seam work, and his draping skills are second to none. Last week we had a chance to talk about life post Project Runway, what he’s up to now, and his plans for the future.
Let’s get the obvious question out of the way. Can you tell me about your experience on Project Runway?
I learned a lot about who I am, and how I would be perceived during the taping of the show. I remember the first week I was scared to death, and wasn’t sure what I had gotten myself into. At the time the reality show market wasn’t over saturated like it is today, so it was hard to predict what it was going to be like. I knew I was going to watch the show, so I was very aware of myself. Overall, it was a great experience.
How did the experience on Project Runway effect your career?
The experience has been good for my career and I have gained more respect as a person. It has linked my name to just that, ‘Project Runway’. It made my name very mainstream, and that lead to more press, which has been great. However, I find it hard at times to get away from that title and would like people to focus on my clothes and designs rather than just the title. That was the whole point of doing Project Runway, and then it almost became more about the experience than the outcome. Let’s move on. Right after the show the economy was suffering and it made it difficult to sell to the mainstream markets. Instead, it lead me back to my roots of luxury dress designs and better high-end press.
Over the course of your career, what have been some of the things that have inspired you?
To my distress and to perhaps to my delight, I order inspiration in accordance with my passions. I’m filled with love and visuals from an artistic life shared with a stylistic chameleon of a partner. I draw on that energy and visuals at just the right moments in my work. It’s a sad thing for a designer who loves a rainbow of colors, but denies himself the pleasure of putting them in his work because they don’t go well with the season. What a misery for a designer who detests a trend but has to do it to harmonize with other designers all the time.
I know you have created some designs for Heidi Klum. What have you worked on for her?
Yes, I design for Heidi often. I have done costumes, tuxedos and gowns. I made 13 outfits for her for the second season of PR. As a designer, I have made more clothing for her then any other designer. Maybe second to VS, but some of the most memorable highlights have been her Oscar look, a tuxedo that was made of Swarovski crystal covered duchess satin.
If you could design an outfit for one woman for any occasion who would she be, and where would she be going?
I would like to design something for Alice Glass. She has great energy and a unique, modern look that I would like to polish up a bit and collaborate with her style. She would be going to the Grammy’s to receive her award.
You’ve worked with Aimee Mullins, the Special Olympics Gold Medalist sprinter and double amputee on a few projects. Can you tell me about that?
I loved working with Aimee. She is one of humanities greatest figures, not to mention an artists dream come true. I was lucky enough to be introduced to her by jewelry designer Betony Vernon. I fell in love with her look as she explained to me that she was an artist. It wasn’t until later that I realized that she was a double amputee and by that time I was mesmerized by so much more than her looks. She was in the making of the Matthew Barney Cremaster exposition at the time. I made dresses for her with some of Betony’s beautiful pieces built within them.
What is next for Kevin Johnn?
We just moved into a beautiful new showroom, so we are working with a few special stores on an exciting gown & cocktail collection. We are also expanding into accessories, handbags and shoes – while continuing to build my personal clients. This is going to be a year full of growth and business development.
A special thank to Kevin for taking the time to talk with me. If you’re interested in learning more about what he’s up to, you can find him at his studio / atelier in the garment center, where he now sells his ready-to-wear collection by private appointment.
257 West 38th Street New York, New York 10018 646-256-1914
Written by Anthony Costa