Coming off of her spring runway show, Ulla Johnson wanted “something graphic” for the pre-fall season. As always, a mélange of rich, artisanal and worldly inspirations formed this season’s backbone. The vibrant paintings of T.C. Cannon, which Johnson had seen at The National Museum of the American Indian, inspired her palette, which juxtaposed the bold (sun yellow, royal purple, sunset pink) with earthy (clay, siena and grounded greens), as well as an unexpected jumping off for the collection: the artist’s use of polka dots, which Johnson rendered onto organza frocks for evening.

A recent trip to Nairobi, Africa, where Johnson’s team is continually working on various artisan projects, influenced a continuation of batik (introduced in her resort collection) with strong wax resist that was patchworked onto a hand-smocked dress. Said dress will be available in only limited quantities in her store, due to the lead time of the fabric; commercial takes were, however, printed onto new denim silhouettes. There were also shibori printed offerings, inspired by giraffes spotted on a safari trip, and divine, colorful handblown recycled glass and beaded baubles and ivory and black hand-carved batik sculptural rings made of recycled bone. While the designer works on a small scale with local artisans to create these special pieces, she hopes to scale in the future. 

The inspirations didn’t stop there, as Johnson offered floral dresses that referenced the American Southwest. “I have this sort of obsession with Victoriana and the prairie,” Johnson said. “A time where actually, clothes were also made by hand, which is now a tradition that was lost in this country.” The designer mixed calico prints and silhouettes in soft, cotton silk, adding that traditional Lenape dresses inspired movement within the fluid garments that were layered with hand-knitted sweaters, acid washed denim and poplin shirting. The pre-fall season, once again, proved Johnson’s way of weaving multiple references into aspirational clothing with exquisite details.

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