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Why a Designer Held a Fashion Show on a Small New York City Island

In March, she and her family were supposed to depart for an 18-day trip across Japan, a plan that was, like so many, scrapped — much to her disappointment. Travel, she explained, “is so much the foundation of not just my brand, but also my whole entire life.” Instead, she satisfied her wanderlust in the studio, making garments from jewel-toned teal and lavender fabrics printed with cherry blossoms, azaleas and poppies, their silhouettes characterized by obi-style belts and origami-inspired pleats and folds. They appear in the collection mixed together with colorful skirts and tops hand-crocheted in Peru, brass and glass jewelry handmade in Kenya, and handbags — new this season and finished with macramé handles — from Italy. The clear imprint of craftspeople, especially those from overseas, is a hallmark of the brand (its previous collections have included references to West African mudcloth and quilting inspired by the intricate, handwoven Panamanian textile mola), but production challenges and workplace closures made working with artisans internationally more challenging than usual. Two-day shipping estimates turned into two weeks; on the morning of the show, a few pieces were still arriving from India.

Still, Johnson didn’t want this collection to feel rooted abroad, but at home in New York. “There’s always this sense of a transportive experience that I’ve wanted to create,” she said. “This time, I really wanted to feel like I was here.” And of course, she was. She witnessed the bruising the city sustained throughout the spring: the sounds of sirens permeating the air, the fear, the grief. But she also observed the resilience of its citizens, the ways people managed to show up for each other. Her three children accompanied her to the protests that followed George Floyd’s death in May, and “it felt like this explosion that came on the heels of this isolation,” she said. The sight of so many New Yorkers coming together “was a beautiful thing.”

Back on Roosevelt Island, the 11-hour day — Johnson arrived at 8 a.m. — culminated with a celebratory dinner, served at the park’s waterfront. The chef Ioana Hercberg of the French-inflected Brooklyn restaurant La Cantine (who was formerly the manager of Johnson’s store on Bleecker Street) had prepared a meal of miniature sandwiches, Spanish tortilla, salads of turmeric rice and shaved fennel, brown-butter chocolate chip cookies and a flourless hazelnut chocolate cake — and, of course, there was champagne. Two hours after the shoot wrapped, models still lingered, spending time with friends they hadn’t seen in months.

Tuesday, Sept. 8, 1:05 P.M.

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