A rare in-person appointment offered the chance to see Ulla Johnson’s new aerie of a showroom. It’s a sun-drenched space near the top of a SoHo building with unobstructed views in every direction. Johnson collaborated on the project with Rafael de Cardenas, and there are elevating touches in every corner, from hand-loomed Roman shades to wild marble shelving. That Johnson was able to open it mid-pandemic is a testament to the health of her business. Many of her New York contemporaries are having a hard go of it this year. Johnson has had to alter plans like everyone. The showroom’s original opening date was moved back by months. But she’s still driving forward; the hunt is on for an L.A. boutique location.
This pre-fall collection shows signs of subtle change. No one would mistake Johnson for a minimalist, but she leavened her signature exuberance with earthiness this time around, a quality accentuated by Emma Summerton’s sepia-tone images. Where recent collections have been statement-making at the level of silhouette—see spring’s exuberance of ruffles, or last fall’s ’80s waists—she seemed more interested in the surface of clothes this season, using traditional Japanese quilting techniques to create the optic patchworks of a pretty pinafore dress worn over a fine ribbed knit, or a Korean method of splicing together leftover scraps, called bojagi, to make a color-block suede dress. From a distance, another dress appeared to feature a flower print, but careful inspection revealed additional embroideries and delicate beaded trim accenting the cuffs. That Johnson would create a collection of intimate pleasures like those feels fitting for the moment we’re living in.