Johannes wears a strict uniform: a long, black Yamamoto blazer, black jeans, and black Acne boots. “My mom gets a heart attack when I get off the plane wearing my Yohji robes,” he jokes. “Even in summer, I wear a long lab coat made of sheer fabric and I go grocery shopping.” Compared with many of his peers at Central Saint Martins, his attire is subdued, but in rural Germany, where he grew up, a little less so.
His countryside upbringing pushed him to dream, create, and ultimately design fashion. He recalls building huts in nearby forests and fields, and playing dress up with his sisters: “We never really had costumes, but we would find blankets and cloth. I always found it quite romantic that a piece of cloth or a blanket, for a child, can become a cape, a king’s robe, a wrap, so many things… I love this immediate association and play.”
“I want to create pieces that are almost archival; pieces which you take out of a garment bag, or a box, and when you unwrap them they almost look undateable.”
Johannes was able to develop and execute his creative vision after moving to Paris to study fashion at Parsons Paris. There, he fell under the spell of a notion so precious to the French ego: le patrimoine, the formidable (accent on the a) “French cultural heritage.” He paid homage by making weekly pilgrimages to the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, the Musée Rodin… During this time, Johannes found his “artistic mother,” Madame Vionnet, the Queen of the bias cut. Seven years on, her patterns and construction methods have inspired his graduation collection at Central Saint Martins. He recalls his parisian fashion training as being highly traditional, with an emphasis on couture and elegance. Perusing the fashion houses on the Avenue Montaigne instilled in him the notion of an ideal family business, and this has informed the vision he has of his own future: “Fashion is a family business,” he said, “I come from a small town, and my family runs a house building business. You know everyone, from the new builder’s apprentice to the old builder who has been there for almost 50 years. This is where I come from, and the atmosphere I would ideally want to recreate in my own business.”
Photography by Ryan Skelton
After moving to London to study his MA, Johannes found stark contrasts between the two fashion capitals and their trend setters: the chic bourgeois femmes of Paris and the loud, expressive characters stomping cigarette butts on the floors of London. “It was great for me to experience both,” said Johannes, who is using the dynamic tension between the two cities to his advantage. His graduation collection consists of soft, translucent dresses, capes, and trousers which float down the runway. The silk fabrics in his collection, which he sourced during a research trip to Japan, were dipped in latex and glimmered. His pale, red-haired models sprang from Dante Gabriel Rossetti canvas…or even one of his poems. Yet for the collection’s lookbook, he collaborated with Ryan Skelton, a young photographer with a raw approach, to shoot his garments in an urban context. This contrast excited Johannes: “The model was wearing her Canada Goose jacket over the dress in between the locations! I loved that Canada Goose jacket because I thought: There is a reality to it now.”
Although he was anxious for the results of this collaboration, for him, confronting fear is key to success. “I’m always trying to become scared again,” he said. “I caught myself thinking ‘Oh my god, I should have just continued with this sort of airy narrative,’ but I would get bored with that. I remember reading an interview with Raf Simons where he said that, when he looks at styled shoots, he finds them so interesting because there is a fantastic collaboration aspect. And I agree with that, fashion should be more open.”
Johannes dreams of creating a collaborative, creative utopia: one where designers could help each other, find solutions, dwell on ideas; instead of “having Johannes Boehl embossed in gold letters,” there could be space for fashion to flow from energetic collaboration and a “raw, intuitive and open approach.”
His design process would make such a studio flourish. His approach is spontaneous and sensuous: through sketching, Johannes finds news ways in which to give life and movement to a rectangular piece of fabric, which he then drapes on the body. The absence of color and pattern further emphasizes the emotion of the shapes and folds. “For me it’s more of a collaging, sculptural process,” he said. “I want to create pieces that are almost archival; pieces which you take out of a garment bag, or a box, and when you unwrap them they almost look undateable. Objects that rely on their own beauty.”
In a time when even luxury fashion is leaning towards mass appeal, young designers like Johannes who are suggesting a more artisanal, communal approach, are the beating heart of fashion.
Words Azra Sudetic Images Johannes Boehl