I was absolutely shocked when Brett Johnson told me he grew up on a ranch in the homey state of Virginia. It’s hardly the scenario anyone would have expected of the charismatic designer, who has respectfully positioned himself as a menswear power player. It’s hard to envision Johnson as a country boy when his namesake label embodies the design and allure of European craftsmanship. However, looking closer at his Fall/Winter 2016 western-inspired collection did offer a few slight clues. So how did the 26 year-old — once only affiliated with his mogul father, founder of BET — turn celebrated menswear designer?
Despite an influential background rooted in media, entertainment, and glamour, Brett Johnson is nothing but grounded. During his youth, Johnson was exposed to a strong work ethic and an appreciation for the arts. He credits his parents for instilling these values in him at a young age and admits he inherited his artistic background from his mother. “She’s a strong advocate of the arts and was [once] a photographer and professional designer”, he says. In addition to his artistic inheritance, you get the sense that his father, Robert L. Johnson, is the anchor to his unflinching determination.
“One thing about my dad, that a lot of people don’t know, is that he was one of nine brothers and sisters. They grew up in a two bedroom house — that keeps me humbled and grounded. He was the only one to go to college. In terms of [my] work ethic, it’s just knowing what he started with and that he did so much with so little. I should put in as much work, if not more.”
A key pillar to Johnson’s success is his ability to absorb the world around him and bring his creative visions from an abstract concept to reality. Johnson traveled often during his youth and the exposure to varying global cultures was able to give him a new appreciation for design. Wonderfully expressive in his words, he admitted, “I think there’s different aesthetic across the globe and I really gravitated towards Italy. Not only [in] the way Italians dress, but the culture, family, architecture, the rich history of design — and for me, they are the leaders in craftsmanship, fabric, and leather. Even the top brands in the world still get the majority of their products handcrafted in Italy.”
It’s this infatuation with quality craftsmanship that led the designer to develop his own brand in this first place. Johnson’s aim was to create products that rival the quality and craftsmanship of some of the world’s biggest brands, but without the giant price-tag associated with luxury goods.
Above all, Brett Johnson remains authentic and is a true taste-maker. He frequently visits the ranch he grew up on, and nods to his country roots through his latest Fall/Winter 2016 collection. Inspired by the rustic American west and his own personal style icon, Gianni Agnelli, Johnson readily shared, “He’s my style icon and it goes back to my love and passion for cars. The way [Agnelli] dressed and his effortless style is something I wanted to carry into this collection. To me, it really ultimately speaks to who I am as a person and is where my inspiration originally started. I started noticing all the parallels between our lives and I wanted to bring that to the forefront with this collection. Him and Ted Turner simultaneously in the US is the reason why I took a rustic approach.”
Johnson’s design ethos always conveys the honesty of who he is as a person. That’s why he’s no stranger to pulling inspiration from places he’s travelled, textures he’s noticed, and architecture he’s seen. But international sourcing can have its challenges he admits, “It all comes down to time. It’s a race against time and developing everything, timing with mills and factories.” Laughing, he confesses that it can be a lot to deal with.
He’s excited to grow, though. Johnson’s future is defined by, “…being able to grow [both] as a designer and a man and continuing to be a better teammate and colleague.” After a short pause, he finally adds, “And hopefully, people will see that growth.”