Parental approval is important to John Elliott.
Have a conversation with the emerging designer, who has quickly made a name for himself fusing athleticism and luxury in his men’s wear collection, and it’s not long before the conversation turns to mom and dad and the lessons he’s learned.
This story first appeared in the January 20, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
His father told him that the most interesting people live outside their comfort zones, while his mother drummed into his head that he must always maintain a sense of humility. “My parents are cool people,” says the 33-year-old San Francisco native. “I’m really close to them. They taught me to just stay humble, keep your head down and keep working.”
It’s that work ethic that has helped Elliott rise to the top among new men’s wear designers. That, and his uncanny ability to transform basics into relaxed-fit essentials that have drawn the attention of influencers such as Kanye West, Victor Cruz and J.R. Smith.
Growing up in Northern California in the early Nineties, Elliott said only two things mattered: basket- ball and skateboarding, the latter of which ultimately became the passion that would impact his future. “That felt very homegrown and unique, and it was thriving in my backyard,” he says. “Young guys would start skate companies with an apparel component, and sometimes those companies would take off. As a child, I saw that as an opportunity. I’m super dyslexic and school is not my forte, but I wanted to own an apparel company and create products that matter to my life.”
Right after he finished college, he raced to Villains, his favorite store on Haight Street, to ask for a job.
He kept getting turned down — “I probably went back four or five times” — until finally, they hired him. Although the store has closed, its influence on Elliott remained. “I named a sweatshirt after it, so it lives on,” he says.
He also worked in wholesale in Los Angeles, where he’s now based, and even had his own store for a while, which let him hone his craft and understand firsthand the consumer psyche. All along, Elliott collected items like vintage jeans and T-shirts and Champion hoodies in anticipation of eventually starting his own label.
That’s exactly what happened in spring 2012. By then, he had accumulated $15,000 and decided it was time to find partners and take the plunge. “My dad said, ‘You’re going to have one shot at this, so when you do it, don’t mess it up,’” he recalls.
Knowing business wasn’t his strong suit, he teamed with his best friend and former tutor, Aaron Lavee, to create John Elliott + Co. (He has since dropped the + Co.) His first collection came out the following spring, and the resulting line centered around basic denim and T-shirts, French terry and the Villain hoodie with a side-zip and an interior kangaroo pocket.
The brand quickly caught the attention of retailers including Bergdorf Goodman, Barneys New York and Saks Fifth Avenue, and the label now counts around 50 retail accounts worldwide as well as a strong e-commerce business. “I pinch myself when I get to rattle off those names,” he says. Prices run from $60 for basic tanks to $1,600 for leather jackets.
“I hope I bring a balanced approach to fashion,” he notes. “It’s my own unique take on what I want in my closet. It really starts with texture and textiles.”
And telling stories.
For fall, the story takes Elliott back to his roots. “Growing up in San Francisco, I went out a lot and I understand how important looking good at night is. So I wanted to tell a darker story,” he reveals. It’ll be outerwear-based, centered around wool and leather, and there’s “a little bit of friction.”