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Stylenotes Q&A with Ulla Johnson

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Ulla Johnson made the transition from a college graduate with a BA in psychology and women's studies to a luxurious designer in 1998 when friends asked her to create a few pieces for their newly-opened New York boutique. Since then, Johnson has refined her aesthetic to what she describes as "classic tailoring balanced with cool femininity", which has become a hit worldwide. Her clothing has been featured in some major magazines, including Vogue, Elle, Harper's Bazaar, WWD, and InStyle. Stylenotes talked to the designer about her background, her shopping habits, and why she loves designing for women who express themselves through clothing.

Stylenotes: Considering what you studied in college, how did you move into the realm of fashion? How does your education affect your designs?

Ulla Johnson: Clothing functions as a fundamental means through which to communicate our inner selves publicly. I was drawn to fashion after college as a way to more directly interact with women's daily lives. My background in women's studies has perhaps made me especially interested in the way women can continually re-invent themselves through fashion and the power of clothing in shaping and expressing ones sense of self. Rather than pushing a singular look, I create pieces which allow the woman to be the focal point.

SN: Do you think a woman can feel different about herself in one of your designs? And is there a particular item that transforms the way you feel about yourself?

UJ: I design clothes that are feminine and yet not overtly or traditionally sexy. I hope that my clothing allows women to feel both beautiful and empowered. Rather than any one piece in particular, I think it is the range of my clothing generally that is transformative, in that -- from day to day -- I can express different selves depending on my mood or whim.

SN: What type of girl wears Ulla Johnson?

UJ: I think she is a self-styled girl -- not slavishly trendy. She is also interested in the quality and integrity of her clothes. Most of my production is still done locally in New York City, and I use all natural fibers and imported fabrics.

SN: Are there any standout pieces that you would recommend to a first time Ulla shopper?

UJ: I love the tree-printed chiffon Charlotte Dress. I designed the print myself so its particularly dear to me -- very chic belted or layered with opaque tights and high boots. Also the Olivia Blouse and Eloise Dress in wool plaid. The fabric feels quite Japanese and sort of rough hewn, yet I find the silhouettes unconventionally sexy. I did an extra long scarf in a quilted floral wool gauze that I expect to be wearing with everything.

SN: Would you ever consider doing a diffusion line, like for Target's Go International Collection?

UJ: Of course. Given the right partnership, it would be a fantastic opportunity to dress women. Plus it would be a challenge to design at such a different price point.

SN: Do you shop online? What do you buy the most online?

I am not generally an online shopper as I am still something of a slave to the tactile. I love browsing in the corner bookstore, small boutique, and farmers market. I do shop online for my son who is two ... for him I love the childrens line Flora & Henri -- very romantic and old school. Plus, Christmas shopping for ... family members who are far away is key. Although I relish personally wrapping elaborate gifts. There is much to be said for buying, wrapping, and sending presents for the whole family in an evening or two spent at home. Aedes De Venustas has beautiful gifts and all can be wrapped with fresh flowers.

SN: What is the best fashion deal you've purchased?

UJ: Recently the gladiator sandals Pierre Hardy designed for The Gap -- a great deal at the fraction of the price of his regular collection. I think all of my girlfriends have purchased them as well.

SN: What sites are you addicted to, for fashion coverage or inspiration?

UJ: Although it sounds vaguely cliché, I do really still get the bulk of my inspiration from the street. In this vein I love The Sartorialist as he manages to capture that awesomely chic person on the corner.

SN: What are three items every girl should have? What are three items you can't live without?

UJ: I would say a pair of wonderfully cut men's style trousers, a timeless black pump, and the perfect jean. I have been spending time in Montauk this summer so I would say currently the three items I can't live without are my Eres bikini, K Jacques sandals, and my son's sun hat.

Ulla Johnson clothing is sold at Active Endeavors, Basic Boutique, and RevolveClothing.com.

-- Lindsay Sakraida

DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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