Zoe Turner, a British designer who cut her teeth at Christian Dior Couture, Alberta Ferretti and Max Mara, has become the creative director of St. John, the Irvine, Calif.-based ready-to-wear firm.
Turner is responsible for St. John’s collections, retail environments and the 57-year-old firm’s multimedia presence.
Turner had been freelancing for St. John for about eight months. She is in the process of relocating to Los Angeles from her homes in Paris and outside Milan.
Turner’s first collection for St. John will be fall 2020.
“I thought to start off the collection, it would be important for me to identify the brand’s icons and the codes of St. John. I’ve been going through a lot of the archive, the old magazines and old clothing from the brand, to identify the icons of St. John through silhouettes, print, proportion, color and technique,” said Turner.
She said some of the icons had either been forgotten about or watered down through the years.
Founded in 1962 by Robert and Marie Gray, St. John became a powerhouse brand synonymous with power women who lived in the tightly knit suits and gowns known for traveling well and always looking polished. Devotees of the brand were such women as Condoleezza Rice, Hillary Clinton and Gloria Allred.
“I think it’s very important for me to take the legacy of the brand and to clean it up a bit,” said Turner. “It’s just got so much beautiful history. I’ve got a background of knitwear as well, so it’s really an important project for me. I really want to remain deeply rooted to the company, and I hope to bring the company into a new era of modern luxury.”
Most recently, Turner was a freelance consultant at Max Mara Fashion Group in Italy. She headed a team and was responsible for wovens, accessories, leather goods, knitwear and jersey, as well as creative for the brand’s communications and advertising. Prior to that, she worked at Christian Dior Couture for nearly a decade, first as a senior designer under John Galliano, then as head designer, director of knitwear under Raf Simons. During her time there she developed knitwear into a key component for the brand. She started her career at Alberta Ferretti as a designer, working alongside Ferretti for four years, having earned a master’s degree from London’s Royal Collection of Art in 2002.
“Zoe has a fresh outlook,” said Joann Cheng, chairman of Fosun Fashion Group, which acquired a majority interest in St. John in 2017. “She is curious, creative and passionate, and this energy will help drive St. John to the next level. She has a deep understanding of the brand’s DNA and how to communicate that to customers through a 360-degree brand experience. We believe Zoe can introduce St. John to a larger audience through reinterpreting the brand codes and modernizing the collections.”
Eran Cohen, chief executive officer of St. John, added, “Zoe is a quiet and powerful creative soul with an innate sense of how women want to dress. I love her passion, her appreciation for all eras and her eye to the future. She has a vision for the bigger picture, and I look forward to seeing the impact that Zoe will have at St. John.”
Turner reports to Cohen.
When asked who the customer for St. John is these days, Turner replied, “She’s a strong, successful woman. She appreciates beautiful clothes. It’s just not about the clothes, but how she wears the clothes and puts them together.”
“When I see all the archival imagery, it’s quite chic and [there is] this kind of easy-going, relaxed feeling in this imagery. I think that has a lot to do with the language of knitwear, as well. It’s very soft and you can move in knitwear, and it’s very feminine as well.” She said knitwear will still be important, but she’d like to bring more tailored pieces into the mix, as well.
While she said the prices remain high because the yarns are the best ones that exist, she noted, “I would love to dress a younger client than our existing one now. I want to be very inclusive who I’m designing for. We will have a range of prices.” She said because knitwear is so versatile, you can create things that are more structured that are softer. “It’s just not going to be about that knitted jacket that you see in the stores a lot now,” she said.
Turner said she plans to keep as much of the production as possible in Irvine, where it all started.
“They have such beautiful machinery and know-how there. It’s really about directing them and working with the technicians and showing them different techniques and what they can do to use the machinery in the best possible way.”
Turner said they also plan to update the stores, and bring them into a new era. She said it’s a long process and things will start to happen next year.
The company sells its collection in its own company-owned boutiques, on its web site, and stores such as Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and a few smaller specialty boutiques.
Turner said St. John hasn’t recently had a creative director and the collection was designed by an in-house team. Her work on the advertising — which over the years has featured to varying degrees of success Gisele Bündchen, Kate Winslet, Karen Elson and Angelina Jolie as the face of the brand — will be effective with the fall 2020 collection. She said there will be some things coming out between now and Christmas, but she won’t have her hands on it.
Turner said she’s spoken to Marie Gray, the cofounder and creative force behind St. John, a couple of times. “She’s given me some good pieces of advice,” she said.
Having gotten the job through a headhunter, Turner admitted, “Honestly, I didn’t know so much about the brand at the time. I immediately started to do my research and it felt like a really cool thing to do. They have so many facilities here, an enormous factory just waiting for me to play with.”
Turner said she’s also looking forward to getting to know southern California, having lived in London, Paris and Milan. “It’s a real challenge for me in many ways. It’s a very different environment for me. I feel that I’ll probably have quite a bit of work. Maybe I won’t see quite a bit of California,” she said.