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At a time when the world feels increasingly divided, designer Ulla Johnson is inspired to try and weave it back together, at least sartorially, through engaging artisans all over the world in a celebration of craftsmanship.
Known for her elevated and ultra-feminine take on boho-chic, the New York designer says she was thinking a lot about breaking down borders and instilling a strong sense of connectivity throughout her spring 2019 collection.
It took shape as striking black and white raffia dresses and cropped halter tops woven so intricately with grosgrain and embroidery, they could easily be mistaken for a printed cotton canvas. Delicate ivory macramé peppered with small wood beads were crafted onto fitted turtlenecks, and patchwork and quilting in indigo and purple hues appeared on dresses incorporating scraps of fabric from Johnson’s past collections.
Patchwork and quilting with recycled textiles were a big source of inspiration for the designer this season, especially as she looked to minimize waste and work with organic materials.
Shocks of over-dyed pink eyelet and cobalt blue cut through the mostly earthy color palette and worked to keep the artisanal techniques and craftwork like crochet, braiding and macramé feeling modern; sculpted ruffles, exaggerated sleeves and wide leg trousers did the same.
Johnson cast a wide net in the artisans and cultural references that contributed to the collection. Beaded pieces were made by Masai women in Nairobi, crochet garments with spliced square motifs were hand knit in Peru and braided multi-color heels and flats were inspired by Samurai armor and made by hand in Kenya.
The towering pillars covered in leaves used as the show’s set were all made by weavers in the Philippines, with whom Johnson also works to make baskets.
“It’s important that everything that touches and is connected to the brand feels handmade, hand-touched and thought through,” Johnson tells The Hollywood Reporter from a side room of the Weylin event space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (formerly the Williamsburg Savings Bank), where she showed her collection on Thursday.
“It’s a difficult time in the world and fashion has the ability to be optimistic and future looking in a way that’s maybe even utopian.”
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