As the fashion world reinvents itself to compete while this pandemic drags on, designers are finding clever new ways to interact with their clientele. For St. John, that means both a newfangled approach to outreach, as well as an eye-opening transformation of its well-heeled, traditional brand aesthetic into a bold new modern look, that still hints at its heritage, but fearlessly takes it fashion-forward.
Since we can’t meet in person, British designer Zoe Turner, now Creative Director for St. John (her resume also includes stints at Christian Dior Couture, Alberta Ferretti and Max Mara), personally takes us through her Spring 2021 collection in an exclusive tour for BlackBook, from the comfort of her temporary Southern California abode. In walking us through the collection virtually, Zoe is quite animated, as she describes her current influences, including jewelry inspired by British modernist Barbara Hepworth.
Turner is a change agent for St. John, charged with the task of updating the upscale women’s brand, while observing just the right amount of reverence to its stylistic DNA. Turner excitedly explains that she is working to, “make it a lot more modern, basically taking the heritage of the brand, polishing it, and sort of reworking the classic shapes and breathing into them a new life. And also making them in more essential forms, that are really relevant for life today.”
Turner tells us that designing during the pandemic led her to explore new ways to mix and match the codes of the house. “Knitwear is all about a relaxed and sophisticated way to dress, so it lends itself well to our times. We played with the idea of virtual calls: beautiful tailoring from the waist-up, and sweatpants from the waist-down—but with the mantra ‘let’s keep it sophisticated.’” The desire for human connection amidst the loneliness of social distancing became even more important, and led Turner to further appreciate expertise in craft, and above all, “the humanity in creation.”
Key details of the collection are inspired by the mark of the maker, and can be seen in hand painted brush strokes for prints, crocheted seamlessly by hand, sculpted buttons, and jewelry hand carved in metal…plus signature knit tailoring draped and fitted in St. John’s workrooms. The pieces, which achieve a timeless elegance, are already adored by the likes of Sarah Jessica Parker and Priyanka Chopra.
We were taken by how Turner explains the warm, bright color notes of the collection, which she says consists of, “soothing neutrals and optic whites that evolve into ice cream pastels and then some brighter, more sunshine, happier tones towards the end.”
Though clearly much thought around the details went into the collection, the woolens look very wearable and approachable. She explains, “For me, it’s just about playing with the ease and the freedom of knitwear and just really working new proportions: the combinations of new yarn, new technologies and techniques, and cuts. Also in introducing the wovens, we need to have that balance with any complexion—a balance of woven mixed with all of these beautiful textiles to complement the collection as well.”
As for accessories, after launching handbags with the Fall 2020 season, a newly added footwear line evinces a balance of edge and sophistication. Snakeskin loafers and striking asymmetrical sandals complete the looks, and will be sold exclusively at St. John boutiques and online.
Not at all surprising, Turner confesses that California has influenced her design thinking just a tad. “It just gives a bit more attitude, a street attitude vibe,” she observes. “I’m kind of inspired by the skaters around here, and I just love pairing cool shorts to go with the jackets. So revisiting archive pieces and sort of taking a boxy jacket and then tweaking certain details with all of the yarn combinations, and I’m thinking, ‘Well, where else can we position these beautiful buttons?’”
Ultimately, what does she hope to achieve most for St. John with this new direction?
“My objective really is to make just beautiful clothes that women have an emotional response to. If I can do that, then I’m doing the right thing.”