Juliet Johnstone, the purveyor of painterly pants, has brought joy to the lockdown wardrobes of Bella Hadid and Dua Lipa through her creative customisation of old Dickies and Carhartt trousers. But outfitting the world’s biggest influencers in her wearable artwork was never actually the Parsons graduate’s game plan.
“I have trouble even referring to what I do as a brand, because it didn’t start with the intention of it turning into one,” Johnstone tells British Vogue. “I started painting clothes as something creative and carefree to do for myself – I had no idea it would resonate with so many people. Somehow it became my job really quickly.”
The LA-based artist, who is also signed to model agency One Management, begins by sketching straight onto her canvas: the trousers she sources from vintage outlets and upcycles. “Unless it’s a custom order, I usually just wing it and paint whatever I want,” she says of her process. “I like to experiment with colour and different gradients. I find inspiration everywhere.” Gardening books and botanical drawings from the ’50s and concert posters dating back to the ’60s inspire her free-spirited, nature-infused motifs.
Johnstone also regularly draws from her childhood, during which she toured with her father, who has been Elton John’s guitarist since the ’70s. “I grew up around fun stage clothes and experimental fashion,” she recalls. “I didn’t know it at the time, but I think that exposure really informed this period of my life.” The “love” heart motifs on Hadid and Lipa’s pants have more than a dash of the bohemian decade’s psychedelia about them.
“Seeing high-profile celebrities wearing my designs is surreal, but it’s just as cool to see random kids on Instagram wearing them,” says Johnstone of her clientele. “I’m just so excited and grateful that people find happiness in what I do, whether [they are famous] or not.” Hadid came across her flower-power designs via Instagram, while Lipa’s stylist, Lorenzo Posocco, reached out to the artist to snap up a pair with swallows flying down the legs for the popstar. “You realise quickly that the world is pretty small,” Johnstone muses of the speedy sales trajectory. Lipa has since purchased two tank tops emblazoned with the creative’s striking drawings.
Central to Johnstone’s whimsical fashion proposition is responsible sourcing. “Everything that I make is anti-fast fashion,” she affirms. “I started this journey with no intention of just pushing products into the world and making money off waste.” She treats her clothes like art and numbers the pieces in the same way as paintings are signed. “I never really had an interest in working in fashion and have no real experience with working with clothing,” she admits.
Her latest line of printed pieces is, however, close to her heart. “I am a huge track pant fan,” she says, smiling. She will sell one style of tracksuit bottoms, printed with images of her paintings, at a time to avoid accumulating stock. “I don’t like sitting on any inventory or creating waste,” asserts Johnstone.
The rising star – who has been painting willow trees, rivers and orchids her whole life – does not separate her art from her budding career as a designer. But she muses, “I don’t plan on stopping any time soon, so I guess I better get used to calling it a brand”. Keep on painting JJ.