The Fashion Show: T Lo Interviews Johnny
You’ve worked developing private labels for several companies, such as Urban Outfitters and Macy’s, right? What’s that like?
Yes, and also Nordstrom. I actually developed a line for Nordstrom and in the first nine months it was like 1.4 million dollars. It was a huge order for us. I’ve been doing private labels for the last 5 and half years. The money is there, you know, doing high volume. It’s also a lot of work. You have to consider thousands of people wearing your stuff rather than just a few dozen. You have to consider the market, trends, silhouette…it’s definitely a lot of work.
Are you part of the creative process as well?
Completely, and in my position, what I do, I oversee most of the production, my samples, so it’s pattern makers, sewers, vendors, and the design. Design is pretty much 5% of my job, there’s so much more going on.
You also have your own lines.
I started a unisex line called Grandma’s Glock, which was sold at Fred Segal, a few stores in NY, Puerto Rico, and we were also featured on the cover of Women’s Wear Daily for that line. The other line is called House of Bare, which is a men’s line, more flamboyant for sure.
Yeah, we saw some pieces and it’s definitely more flamboyant and edgy.
It was just something for fun. I was making stuff for myself and I just decided to start selling it. It actually sold out; my first collection was completely sold out at the store. With the private labels I wanted to create an outlet to sustain myself, to have some sort of balance in my life. Starting other lines, I was trying to create a name for myself. I enjoy working for other companies, I just did that to create an outlet to do something different than my day job.
You’re also the creative director for Welcome Hunter’s, which sounds like a very interesting idea to support great, little-known designers.
I met them about a year ago, they started this really crazy avant-garde store, we started an amazing relationship, we have a similar aesthetic, they really wanted to bring me on board and create new projects, bring new designers to the store. Now we’re developing our own house label. I wanted to do really fun, avant-garde pieces, but also wearable and inexpensive.
The store features not only American designers, but also European newcomers, right?
Yes, actually, we only carry two US designers, the majority right now is Scandinavian. We really specialize in overseas designers, for sure, who need an exposure.
Moving on to the show, you said that “Fashion should be adventurous. You shouldn’t take it so seriously.” Is that how you approached this competition?
Yeah, definitely, I went there with a completely open mind. I had never tried out for any reality TV show ever. My friends really pushed me to do it, I had no interest. They kind of dragged me to the casting. Fashion for me is so not stuffy, it’s just fun, I just take it for what it is.
So how did you go from “I already have an investor, send me home, if you want,” to “I’m going to do anything to make it to the final four?” What made you change your mind?
I was so close. You’re so close you can feel it. Hey, might as well, you know what I’m saying? I also started to get some confidence. In the beginning of the show I didn’t feel I was on the same skill level just, as in sewing and pattern, because I hadn’t done that for such a long time.
In terms of experience in the industry, I felt I was far beyond a lot of them because they hadn’t worked in the industry, only had their own line. So, I just felt I was completely out of my element, for sure. And that’s why in the beginning I was kind of hesitant, and also, I was really upset how they portrayed me to be like someone who doesn’t know how to sew…they knew this from the casting process.
Towards the end, I was feeling confident in myself and I became so close to it. I felt I had a chance at it, I didn’t want to let my friends down and I was realizing what they saw in me. I definitely didn’t think I had a shot in the beginning.
About the last episode, you didn’t seem too happy to be paired with Angel. Why not?
I never really got close to Angel. She definitely had loyalty to Reco and to James-Paul. I just didn’t think that she was going to be – I didn’t feel her intentions were really to be there to help me, I guess in a sense. I wasn’t truthfully looking forward to working with her.
You said Angel should have told you were knocking somebody off. You sort of blamed her for that. Do you regret that or do you stand by what you said?
I don’t blame Angel for anything. I understood her position and it was really awkward for her because, like I said, she had loyalty to James-Paul and to Reco. I don’t know whether she knew it or not, I really felt uncomfortable working with her because I thought she was extremely envious of the position I was in. I thought in her mind she thought it should’ve been her.
I shouldn’t have tried something new, I shouldn’t have worked with silk chiffon. I never in my life had worked with it, but she tried to put me at ease with it, tried to make me feel better about it. I don’t blame her for anything whatsoever because at the end of the day it was my…it’s my product and she was just assisting me.
Is it fair to say that your dress is pretty much the same as the Lanvin worn by Maggie Gyllenhaal?
Yes, I totally agree. Looking back at the episode now, I’m like…fuck! How did I do that? I’m in complete awe with myself. It was like an out-of-body experience. How could you be so stupid, Johnny? How could you do this? I was definitely down on myself.
Isaac said they saw the similarity right away. Did he say anything to you in the workroom?
Not at all, the dress was actually really different in the beginning. That’s why Daniella, I think, stood up for me because she saw the progression of the dress. The final product wasn’t what it looked like in the beginning, and that’s why she was on my side saying that it wasn’t a knockoff. Isaac wasn’t too fond of it, so I did a lot of alterations to kind of change it a bit and that was the final product. He never said anything about the dress looking like Lanvin.
Now, when you were making the dress, did you have the Lanvin dress in mind or it never occurred to you that what you were making was the exact same dress?
Actually, when we were at the fabric store I kept referencing Maggie Gyllenhaal, Chloe Sevigny, Jennifer Connelly, and even Gwen Stefani as inspiration for the red carpet. We looked at several fabrications, we saw the leopard [laughs]…I don’t remember referencing Maggie and the actual Lanvin dress altogether in one sentence.
It’s funny to me that I never caught it, I never caught myself saying it and actually realizing what I was doing it at the same time. Subconsciously I created this dress…I guess I thought it was a beautiful dress, not realizing what I was doing. I really don’t know what happened.
Reco mentioned that you used to brag in the workroom about knocking off several designers.
The funny thing is that Anna works for a company called Dolce Vita and I’ve seen a ton of her work and it was a running joke that we had because both Anna and I working in a contemporary market, we are constantly finding inspiration in other designers and having similar styles for the market.
It was a running joke throughout the competition; I kept telling Anna “Oh, my god, I’m going to totally knock off your dress, I’m just going to change it here and change it there…” It was definitely a joke, we got it, that’s what we do in the industry, we look at all these designers. You know, realistically, we have H & M, Forever 21, we have all these stores that do stuff like that. It was obviously an inside joke that Anna and I had. Knocking off other designers’ work in the competition? No, not at all.
Throughout the competition you said “I don’t sew,” “I don’t drape,” “I don’t do pretty;” for us as viewers of the show, it was very frustrating to hear that and try to figure you out. So what do you do?
That was definitely the hardest thing in the competition for me, you know, trying to find who I was as a designer because when I was cast, they liked all the mainstream private labels stuff I was doing for Nordstrom and Macy’s and they also loved the Grandma’s Glock and House of Bare stuff.
So, on the show I didn’t know if I was supposed to go crazy and avant-garde or pretty and contemporary. I was so caught up and didn’t know what they wanted of me and I didn’t know what I wanted, what I was going to present in the show. That was definitely the hardest thing, but in my day job I do pretty, I do feminine. Realistically, I don’t have time to be draping, doing patterns and all that stuff. I have other things I’m focusing on. I know how to do all that, but it’s been a very long time.
Tell us a little bit about your decoy collection. What was your inspiration?
I really wanted to have fun with it. Unfortunately, my skill level isn’t as high as the other designers, so I did have limitations. There was a lot of stuff that I would have loved to have done, but everything had to be done by us, all the patterns, all the sewing, everything. I had a lot of limitations. It was 90s inspired, I was thinking of all the fun stuff, all the things I liked, like Jody Watley, Paula Abdul, Janet Jackson. I didn’t take it too seriously, I really wanted to do something fun. I had this opportunity to be playful. I wasn’t going to be judged, so I was like, you know what? Let’s just go all balls out.
How much time did you guys have to fit the models and all that? We noticed some fitting issues, not just in your collection, but in some other collections too.
We had about anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes with each model and maybe about 4 days to do all the alterations. I think the most difficult thing for us was that each model had their own schedule and we couldn’t go “Oh, this look should go with the first girl.” We couldn’t go back and switch, no time for final calls.
Who are you rooting for to win this competition? Our money is on Anna.
It’s so tough; definitely Anna and Daniella. Anna is amazing and her stuff is extremely commercial and can be sold starting tomorrow, everything in her collection was completely amazing and it just worked. It works for what’s happening right now in the industry.
Daniella is amazing, I just think it’s a little too forward, I don’t think America can relate to it too much right now. They’re both great, but I think Anna will be more America friendly, more fashion friendly I guess right now.
So, what’s next for Johnny?
Right now I’m developing a new label called Digital Heart. It’s a really edgy, contemporary line, downtown “it” girl. It’s going to be a lower-price line and we hope to have that in stores for spring/summer 2010. I also have a lot of other little projects.
Thank you so much, Johnny, and good luck to you.
Johnny Rodriguez’s decoy collection:
[Photos: BravoTV.com/Getty Images/WireImage]