Basic has become a derogatory put-down of late. But in the case of menswear designer John Elliott, basic is anything but. Elliott has established a cult following making basics—T-shirts, sweatpants, sweatshirts, and denim—but making them REALLY well. Even Kanye West went so far as to sit in the second row (gasp!) to get a glimpse at Elliott’s first runway show last February.
With his eponymous label [John Elliott + Co](http://www.johnelliott.co/, he creates modern silhouettes that push the envelope just the right amount. The side zippers on his famous Villain sweatshirt, for example, are a cool-looking, innovative detail that any guy would feel comfortable wearing.
The Northern California-bred Elliott has been honing his aesthetic since he was a little skate rat sending sneaker designs to Nike. Now, in just a few years, he has grown into a true player in menswear. Based in Los Angeles, the brand sources premium textiles from around the world but is committed to making all of their garments in the United States.
Elliott presented his first runway collection last February (when he also served as a judge in the NBA’s strange fashion show) and was back in New York to show his spring-summer 2016 line as part of the inaugural New York Fashion Week Men’s. Some of the sports world’s most stylish stars, such as Nick Young, Amar’e Stoudemire, Victor Cruz, and Lewis Hamilton, turned out to check out the line of bomber jackets, sweatshirts, and tees in a muted palette of olive, navy, and grey.
Before the show, we caught up with Elliott backstage to talk about his style icons, L.A., and how LeBron James helped inspire the latest collection.
How are you feeling?
For the first show I was far more frantic. This show I feel a little more comfortable because I really love this collection. I’m just excited for everyone to see it. Hopefully it tells a good story and I think it is pushing our brand in a little bit of a new direction but it’s still honoring where we’ve always been.
What’s the story behind this collection?
Right around this time last year I had this thought creep into my head of going to Vietnam and telling a story about it. I saw a couple pictures of LeBron James, believe it or not, and he was wearing two gold chains and he was in all green camo fatigues. Somehow I just thought of how cool it would be to do a collection based off of Vietnam. Right around December we were preparing for our first show and I was out to dinner with a pretty well-known set designer. He was like, what are you going to do for spring-summer ‘16? I was with my business partner and he had no idea that I was going to say this but I was like I’m going to run through Vietnam and try and do a collection based on that. The whole collection is derived from a color palette and a functionality of what the trip was like literally running through Vietnam. We landed in Ho Chi Minh and spent six days there and went through the countryside and then spent three days in Hanoi. We got out and pounded the pavement, or in some cases, if we were in the countryside, dirt roads.
Why do you think your brand is resonating so much with people right now?
I would hope that it’s because of the quality of the goods. I think that at the end of the day, if you can tell a compelling story through what you do and people can trust you with their hard-earned money to give them products that you develop and make in the United States with a lot of care and a lot of thought around details like stitch, construction, fit, and hardware, then I think you check two boxes. You become someone who’s making noise because they’re doing interesting things from a cool standpoint but your product is really good too.
What is it like for you to be part of the first New York Fashion Week Men’s?
For me, I’m 32 years old, the litmus test is my mom. So when my mom texts me and says, “Oh my god, Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein and Michael Kors!” and she freaks out about that because she really recognizes those names and knows what they mean to this week, then you realize, “Oh, wow, I’m part of something big.” We’re a young brand. All I hope is that we add a little bit of spark to the week. More than anything, I’m just super honored that the CFDA and the powers in New York accepted us.
How does being an LA brand affect the point of view?
At our core we’re a basics brand. Our bread and butter is in jersey, sweatshirts in French terry and denim. All I really want to do is own those categories. If you think about LA, you realize, it’s like 70 degrees 280 days a year so it lends itself to really thinking about how to develop those products really well.
How would you describe your personal style?
I would say my personal style is a mixture of who I am. I’m active. I used to skate. I grew up listening to Nirvana and Bay Area hip-hop, so it’s this juxtaposition. It’s a little bit grunge. It’s a little bit street and it’s a little bit skate. So it’s kind of combining all that and trying to take that style and distill it down into basics.
Who are some style icons for you?
Definitely Kurt Cobain is one. Michael Jordan is one.
Old Michael Jordan, right?
I’m not going to go there. I’m not going to fire shots at the greatest player ever. LeBron James is definitely one. He’s a friend of mine. Kanye West is one. But then I always go back to growing up in San Francisco during the mid-90s and the boom of skateboarding in that city and what the Embarcadero was like back then. There were guys from my hometown who were like Michael Jordan to me. Pat Duffy was one of them. The style with which they skated and the style with which they carried themselves, I always kind of reference that.
Where do you see things headed for you and the brand?
Today is pretty huge. This was really the first time where we’ve taken a concept and applied that concept through a lens and made the whole collection more cohesive. I hope it’s well-received. I hope that people like it. And then hopefully run it back and continue to take part in New York Fashion Week Men’s and continue to grow.