Virginia Johnson
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Virginia Johnson

I really love prints on fabric. The type that I like the most are usually of the illustrative kind. I have always been in love with illustrations whether it be children's books illustrations or vintage copies of fashion magazines. There seems to be the trend where there are more people appreciating hand-made products, and this has translated to a resurgence of illustrated graphics in textiles.

One of my absolute favourite designers of this particular genre happens to be Virginia Johnson . Virginia Johnson is a textile/clothing designer and illustrator. Born in Toronto, she studied Art History at Queen's University before moving to New York in 1995. There she studied fashion design at Parsons and interned at Marie Claire Magazine and Marc Jacobs. I recently got to ask her a few questions.

How did you get into design?

I wanted to be a fashion designer since I was 10. I studied at Parsons in New York, then worked as a design assistant at Helmut Lang.

You're so multi-talented. You do clothing design, illustrations and textiles. If you only could do one of them, which would it be and why?

They all feed into one another; I couldn't take away one of them because they are all part of the same organism.

You've now done three collaborations with Kate Spade. First of all, how do you like it? And secondly, do you find that the process is easier since you have a couple under your belt?

Kate Spade was always a great company to work for. Their aesthetic is similar to mine in that it is happy and a bit whimsical. They are very professional and have a very imaginative approach.

Are there any other designers that you would love to collaborate with?

I would love to collaborate with different artists, whether they be costumes for dance or working with potters for a line of dishes.

Almost every design person I know, fashion editors, other designers, buyers etc. really admire your work. Whose works are you inspired by and why?

I'm inspired by textile designers from the turn of the last century like Sonia Delaunay and Raoul Dufy . As well, I am inspired by costume designers like Leon Bakst and artists like Matisse and Picasso.

Is it true, as a Canadian designer, it is easier to gain success overseas than at home? If so, why do think that is?

The US Market is just that much bigger than the Canadian market, so it's a natural place to sell to. As well, since I have lived and worked in New York, all my references and contacts were there. I knew the market better, the neighbourhoods and shops more, so it was a natural place to start. I have also found that people in New York are open to up and comers and are less afraid to take a chance. Canada is always a little more cautious.

What advise can you give to any designers out there wanting to start their own thing?

To hold true to your own style and do really what you love to do. I didn't know illustration as a career existed, and my illustration teacher told me my drawings were not acceptable because they were far too loose and unfinished. In the end, I didn't (and couldn't) change the style but it is now my greatest asset.

Also, in school you are taught to focus on one thing, and there are plenty of careers and opportunities that you don't learn about until you're out there in the real world. If you stick with what you love, doors will open for you in directions you never dreamed of. And you realize as a creative person that your life becomes integrated and whole when your creativity is allowed to express itself in many ways. I never knew you could do so many things simultaneously: illustrate, design clothes, design textiles. This way your happiness and success are guaranteed.

If you would like to view a video interview on Virginia's creative process on how she translates inspiration into actual pieces of work, click here for an interview conducted by Toronto Life.

To find Virginia's designs, you can go to Augustina (138 Cumberland St), Holt Renfrew (Bloor Street), Bella (498 Eglinton Ave W) and Kick Maternity (454 Eglinton Ave W) and her studio at 164 Ossington Ave.


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