Young am­bi­tion is all grown up

John El­liott’s menswear in­ter­est be­gan early. Noted as one to watch, he has a new col­lec­tion to show.

Los Angeles Times - - IMAGE - By Vin­cent Boucher im­age@latimes.com

Los An­ge­les menswear de­signer John El­liott’s com­pany is only 3 years old, but you could say he’s been at it a lot longer than that. At age 8, he sent off a let­ter to Nike with a few of his de­signs in­tended for a leg­endary ath­lete who he thought wasn’t get­ting enough at­ten­tion.

“My fa­vorite ath­lete at the time was Bo Jack­son, and I felt like his shoes weren’t the same level as Michael Jor­dan’s, so Iwas mak­ing sug­ges­tions,” says El­liott, now 32, sit­ting at a work­table in his Cul­ver City head­quar­ters. “What’s funny is they wrote me a let­ter back.”

Nike is ap­par­ently still in­ter­ested in what El­liott has to say. When he staged his first show at New York Fash­ion Week in Fe­bru­ary, show­cas­ing his col­lec­tion for fall 2015, out came his trade­mark elon­gated sil­hou­ette, with iri­des­cent bomber jack­ets inspired by oil slicks that El­liott re­mem­bered see­ing in his days as a skate­boarder and wavy-pat­tern knits like TV static from the ’50s. And on the gleam­ing run­way lighted by a grid of flu­o­res­cent tubes, the shoes were all de­signed with Nike. El­liott’s ver­sion of the LeBron 12 in pearl­ized white with a glow-inthe-dark sole was a par­tic­u­lar stand­out — Nike then fea­tured the shoe, $245, on the front page of itsweb­site, to or­der from Nike ID.

The show was also no­table for the pres­ence of Kanye West, who slipped into the sec­ond row as the lights dimmed and made it a scene cov­ered by the likes of “En­ter­tain­ment Tonight” and the Daily Mail. El­liott had de­cided he was ready to show in New York to “make a lit­tle noise and push the con­ver­sa­tion for­ward” af­ter GQ mag­a­zine named hi­mone of the best new de­sign­ers in Amer­ica last year with its Gap col­lab­o­ra­tion prize.

“It’s been a quick ride, but I guess you could say it’s been a life­long pro­ject,” El­liott says. His busi­ness part­ner in John El­liott + Co is his best friend “since fifth grade” in San Fran­cisco, Aaron Lavee. “He knew this was some­thing that I wanted to do since I was yea high. And hewas, like, ‘to­geth­erwe can get there.’ ”

El­liott says they’d been dis­cussing start­ing a busi­ness to­gether “ev­ery lunch since I was a fresh man in highschool.” But they started in earnest in 2011 af­ter he had moved to L.A. to take a job as a whole­sale fash­ion rep af­ter a re­tail ca­reer ear­lier in San Fran­cisco. Lavee was liv­ing here too by then, work­ing for his fam­ily’s com­mer­cial real es­tate firm.

“I asked Aaron, ‘Could I stayon your couch for a week or two?’ ” El­liott says. “A week or two turned into a year and a half.” They planned and started sav­ing money. And one day in Au­gust 2011, when El­liott was in New York on busi­ness and couldn’t get a cab, he walked block af­ter block in a sum­mer rain­storm and re­al­ized it was time. “So, I called Aaron up and I said, ‘Let’s go for it.’ ”

Back in L.A. he turned to a close friend from the denim busi­ness, de­signer Si­mon Miller (then at his self-named line, now men’s de­signer at Cit­i­zens of Hu­man­ity and founder of cult denim la­bel Fab­ric Brand). El­liott asked if he “could be a sponge” and start from the bot­tom as an in­tern there.

He worked with Miller for about a year, learn­ing ev­ery­thing from how to build a jeans pat­tern for denim to how to source hard­ware to the lay of the land­scape of lo­cal fash­ion man­u­fac­tur­ing in down­town L.A. and be­yond.

By the fol­low­ing March, El­liott and Lavee were ready to put to­gether an ini­tial col­lec­tion, for spring 2013, and as El­liott says, “The first sea­son was a mix­ture of what I wanted to do and what we could af­ford.”

What the part­ners could af­ford was lim­ited to three tex­tiles — denim, T-shirt jersey and French terry. With denim, El­liott felt he needed to stick to au­then­tic jeans styling. But he thought he could make a splash by of­fer­ing some­thing unique in French terry, sohe de­vised a sweat­shirt shape with two side-seam zip­pers that con­cealed a hid­den kan­ga­roo pocket. The style, Vil­lain, be­came his first hit and vari­a­tions (from$185-$198) are still in the line.

“No­body knew who we were. There was no so­cial media, no press, no noth­ing,” he says. “Just off of, ‘It’s in­ter­est­ing, it fits well, it’s new,’ it started to sell out im­me­di­ately and we knew we had some­thing.”

More im­por­tant, in com­bi­na­tion with the su­per-slim jeans cut ex­tra long so they stacked at the an­kles and the slouchy T-shirts, an iden­ti­fi­able John El­liott style started to emerge that was “un­der­stated yet ex­tremely high qual­ity,” as the mag­a­zine Com­plex put it.

Along the way, the “+ Co” has grown as well, as a Ja­panese fab­ric dis­trib­u­tor named Nobu Ya­mamoto part­nered with them to help with sourc­ing and de­vel­op­ing tex­tiles. (The line is com­pletely made in L.A. and 60-70% of the fab­ric is knit here.) And Mike In­grasci, the younger brother of another San Fran­cisco school­mate, saw what they were do­ing and came on board to di­rect sales, fol­low­ing two stints with Pres­i­dent Obama’s elec­tion cam­paigns.

“The big­gest thing I want peo­ple to know is it’s a to­tal team ef­fort and we have a very strong team,” says El­liott, who is pre­par­ing his col­lec­tion for spring 2016 to show at the ini­tial New York Fash­ion Week Men’s next month in New York. “And I’m grate­ful for that.”

Pho­to­graphs by Dan Lecca

BOMBER JACK­ETS

dis­play trade­mark elon­gated sil­hou­ette.

WAVY-PAT­TERN knits are meant to re­call static on TV screens from the 1950s.

Eti­enne Tor­doir WireImage

JOHN EL­LIOTT started think­ing fash­ion as a kid.

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