Interview by Ryan Fish — Photographs by Nicholas Peter Wilson
After taking a several year hiatus to work on The Portland Collection, John Blasioli restarting his own menswear brand. Dropping in on his studio on a rainy March day, Nick and I chat with him about how his process has evolved and what to expect from his new designs.
Ryan Fish: After several years of working on the Pendleton collection, how does it feel to return to your eponymous brand? Do you feel as if you are picking up where you left off, or do you feel that you finally have time to flesh out some new ideas?
John Blasioli: I learned so much throughout my time working on The Portland Collection for Pendleton that I am returning at a completely different level. When we wrapped up the project with Pendleton, I wanted to rush back to my own work and immediately start working on a new collection. I have since slowed down and decided to basically start over. I have purged a lot of my old patterns and am in the process of building a new foundation. I have a lot of ideas that I am very excited about creating, but taking this time to rebuild has been both cathartic and meditative. I feel very inspired.
RF: Your color palette is one of the most consistent aspects of your work. How would you describe it, and what are your influences?
JB: I am perpetually drawn to softer, more muted shades of colors. There is a quietness to them that I appreciate. When I originally started working, I liked putting traditionally masculine silhouettes through this softer lens. I also think the muted and faded aspect is a nod to the passage of time and has an inherent nostalgia.
RF: During your time designing for Pendleton with Nathaniel Crissman and Rachel Turk, you would agree, disagree, then work it out and then get back to designing. Do you anticipate that you’ll have a similar dynamic with anyone as you design your own line? How do you intend to work with stores? You’re moving away from bespoke, but will you still create custom items for specific stores?
JB: Working with and getting closer to Nathaniel and Rachel was definitely one of the best parts of working on The Portland Collection. We worked very closely, under pretty intense circumstances, for a long period of time. I imagine that with different personalities it could have been a completely different experience. Part of me definitely wants an outlet that is purely my own, but I also really enjoy collaborating, both with other designers and with a company. Ideally, I will create work under my own name while also working on a series of collaborations. I am currently reaching out to stores, companies, designers and artists that I admire to begin conversations about what these collaborations could look like.
RF: What are the design limitations and boundaries that you work under as you make clothes for your own line?
JB: One of the goals of the new work that I create under my name is to remove as many limitations as possible. I don’t expect for my work to go off the deep end, but I am trying to approach it from a completely open mind. There are already so many limitations in terms of sourcing. I do like designing within frameworks, which is one of the reasons why I’m looking forward to new collaborations. I also think a framework already exists for designing menswear, even if only loosely.
RF: When you imagine the people who will wear your designs, what kind of person do you picture and where do you see them? Are they walking around the city or, like your first lookbook, are they tramping through the countryside? Is “high fashion on the countryside,” similar to the book resting on your coffee table, a central point in your brand?
JB: I really like the book “Sonomama Sonomama” by Taishi Hirokawa. In the late 1980s, the author travelled the Japanese countryside and asked people if he could take their photo in their natural environment while wearing designer clothes that he provided to them. There is something about removing the staging of many fashion shoots and working with non-models that I absolutely relate to. Seeing clothing in natural environments shows both its practicality and, at times, its ridiculousness. I like that. I hope for my clothes to be translatable from one setting to another. I personally dress in uniforms, wearing a few things often, and design with that in the back of my mind.
RF: I also wouldn’t mind knowing about your earliest experience with a sewing machine. Did your mother teach you? Did you design as a kid, or discover your craft as a young adult?
JB: My mother sewed a lot when I was growing up. She’d often make us clothing and Halloween costumes, as well as clothing for herself. Growing up around this definitely demystified the process and I saw how it all worked. I remember spending a lot of time in fabric stores as a child. My first experience behind a sewing machine happened in a middle school class where we had to make a pair of sweatshorts. I took another sewing class in high school and continued to keep sewing sporadically during college. It wasn’t until moving out to Portland in 2002 that I really began to delve into patternmaking and design.
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