Ulla Johnson is truly a woman of the world. The native New Yorker grew up accompanying her archaeologist parents on their world travels, which—when combined with the designer’s own education in women’s studies and anthropology—has served to create the uniquely global perspective of her easy-yet-elegant namesake collection.
“Traveling and learning about different material cultures was very much a part of my upbringing,” she shared with The Window, noting that many of her pieces are handcrafted by artisans in Peru and India. “A hand-dyed or –embroidered garment has a different emotional aspect. It adds a story to the garment that feels very true.”
This sense of storytelling applies just as much to other areas of Johnson’s life as it does to the clothes she creates, and it’s apparent upon walking into her New York office. We had the pleasure visiting the eclectic space, which is teeming with mementos and inspirations from her travels, as she put the finishing touches on her current collection. A sense of urban sophistication and global attitude permeates both the space and the pieces being created there. Scroll on for a closer look at her light and airy office and to find out why her internationally bohemian style has garnered her a dedicated following both at home and abroad.
The Window: How would you describe the DNA of the Ulla Johnson brand?
Ulla Johnson: Free spirited and thoughtful. A weaving of texture and color, creating a singular and self-possessed beauty.
Would you say that aesthetic is reflected in your space?
Absolutely. It’s in our space and everything we do. It is so important to be surrounded by what inspires us. We have created a studio that is light-filled and full of unexpected and juxtaposed elements, each with its own authentic story.
Can you walk us through your design process, from an initial idea to a completed piece we might see at Barneys?
Travel is always central to my process and inspiration and memories culled from trips often form the initial touchstones of our collections. In addition, there’s always a mood swirling about my head—a color palette, a landscape, a painting. From there, we build the collection, often piecing together myriad influences through a unified color story, but always layering in the richness of touch and a depth of detail. Each piece that passes through our hands has been delicately and consciously crafted with a singular goal in mind—creating heirlooms that marry history with place, spanning culture and time to create something modern and new.
What objects in your space do you have a strong, personal connection with?
All the little bits and bobs that I have gathered over the years really speak to me and are like tactile representations of moments and memories. They all have a story that becomes part of our collective aesthetic, of the work that we make. Lately I can’t stop looking at a shepherd vest that I bought in Morocco that is covered in the most beautiful handwork, silk tassels and sequins, all the colors you can dream of. And a series of vegetable-dyed handloomed straps we developed for our F/W 2016 collection, which make me very happy. Oh, and a fluffy footstool covered in Icelandic sheepskin. So fun and luxurious!
Any tips when it comes to decorating a space that also needs to be functional?
I like the overall tone to be very neutral—shades of white and cream layered with different rich textures, but kept soft and soothing. This is so important as a backdrop to our ever-evolving range. And linen-covered pinboards everywhere, for working through our ideas. Wood and brass elements create warmth and richness and are used as highlights throughout. Together with plants and rugs, these things serve to make our workspace much more intimate, an extension of the environment I create at home, a space that is vibrant and alive and comfortable.