Art

Meet Your Maker: Ulla Johnson

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Ulla Johnson has built her eponymous label on empowering women — both through colorful, bohemian clothes and relationships with the global artisans who make them. Take her alpaca knits, which start on looms in Peru (“you take a flight and drive for seven hours then go on a long dirt road and then down a big grassy field to a tiny hut!”). Or her silk dresses in delicate floral prints, made in India. After passing through Johnson’s NYC studio, they end up in the closets of modern, city-dwell- ing women who, not unlike the designer herself, seek out the comfortable and handcrafted. “My customers have children, families, commitments beyond the confines of their workplace,” she says. “Having pieces that feel at home any- where is important.”

‘Clothes should be fun. Especially in this time and in this city, enjoyment and optimism in dressing are important.’

For Johnson, 42, anywhere really does mean anywhere. Raised by archaeologists, Johnson traveled to myriad international cities growing up, but she now prefers exploring the natural world. On a given day, the native New Yorker could be on a work trip to Uruguay, off surfing in Montauk with her husband, at home in Fort Greene with her three kids, or at Saipua, her favorite florist, in Red Hook. “I always joke I’ll have a flower career in my retirement,” she says. For now, she’s content with picking the flowers that speckle her collections. Even with fifteen employees and her clothes at Barneys New York and Selfridges in London, “I still participate in every single button, every seam construction,” Johnson says. “We’re not a large corporate entity designing in asterile environment. It’s very hands-on.”

‘It’s been really interesting to join forces with artisans in Peru. We’re using traditional crafts, but bringing forth a product that’s quite urban and modern.’

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