Experimentation with imperfection: Hadley

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Hadley Johnson isn’t just interested in building garments. For this year’s collection, “Only Perfect In An Empty Room,” she’s more inspired by the process of sourcing materials with flawed personality. To her, soiled silks and sun-bleached organza certainly have a past life and story to tell, even before the designer gets her hands on them.

Hadley opened up her small but intimate storefront in 2012, nestled in between Birdies’ and Peggy Noland on 18th St. in Kansas City. Since its inception, Johnson has produced one collection a year, each group of garments sometimes planned out years in advance, with the final assemblage usually taking about a month’s time.

Feminine, and with the most vibrant color I’ve seen from the designer so far, the collection consists of flowy, soiled silk patchwork caftans and fluorescent nylon caged tops. Even a pair of mint green overalls hold a utilitarian quality, but still evoke the ethereal and lightness of spring. For Johnson, history and imperfection are the starting point for inspiration.


LK: Tell me the about the conception of the “Only Perfect In An Empty Room?” What comes first, the name or the work?

HJ: For years, I have been obsessed in how to highlight and make use of the history of garments (as evidenced through stains, tears, frayed edges, etc.) without actually creating them myself. In this way, the reasons for throwing away a garment became my inspiration.  This approach to imbue old cloth with new life comes directly from my own activities; I tend to think of the clothing that I wear as a giant bib. I am the person that has cat hair, nail polish and coffee stains all over my clothing when I am out on a Friday night.  I really love that authenticity.  These were some of the initial ideas of the new work.  After that, other thoughts collage themselves into the planning, thinking and making.  There are of course always secrets embedded into the work that I haven’t learned about yet.

As to the name itself, the process of naming the work scares and excites me each year. I take it very seriously as it speaks for me when I am not there.  Years previously I named the work first or in the middle of the process. This year it was the day before I hung the first part on the rack in my showroom; there is no formula for me.

Tell me more about the materials you used and the color palette you’ve arrived at.

The color palette is inspired by the movie 3 Women by Robert Altman.  It opened the year I was born and was made by a man from the city I was born.  There are murals painted in abandoned and contained pools by the artist Bodhi Wind in the film.  They have a feeling that they have been damaged/kissed by the sun. I have referenced this color story in past collections but this year the colors and the winding narrative of the story created a larger part of the substance.  The links of the velvet and nylon pieces are part of a spacial thought; the abandoned and the linked.  I enjoy having large space between the visual and the thought.  Direct reference is not interesting to my work/process.  I want you to feel the story, not just listen.

Where do you source your materials generally?

I am probably one of a very few number of designers who is completely uninspired by textiles for sale.  I generally don’t give a shit about fabric stores. I am interested in the search, not something that is made by the yard in large quantities. In searching, I am able to find truly unique material; material which has been overlooked, disused, discarded, altered; this goes to the history and authenticity of the materials I am making use of in this collection. I don’t want to have access to what hundreds of other designers will have their hands on. This would be like using the same pantones in Photoshop, as opposed to establishing a color swatch myself. Or using ink straight out of the can, or paint straight out of the tube. However, when I do buy textiles I order online from a silk source I have and other places in NYC and LA.

How was designer Debra Smith involved with this collection? How did your relationship form?

Debra, a friend and neighbor, was in the showroom last year.  I was speaking about looking for soiled, stained, molded, faded silks and Debra is an incredible artist who uses vintage silks in her work.  As we are both makers who use textiles, our studios can become dumping grounds for people getting rid of yardage.  She told me about a curtain she was commissioned to make years back made of silk organza and it had been damaged by the sun.  She still had the piece and offered it to me.  She later realized the vast amount of stained/torn silk pieces she had and shared them. This work’s nucleus is the textiles.

How long did it take you to build this collection?

After the years of thinking, I give myself 4 weeks to actually construct the pieces.  The first few weeks are full of procrastination, experimentation and dreaming.  Then about a week and a half before my deadline I figure out what I am making, freak out with anxiety and excitement and put my head down to work. This time I made the first 16 pieces of the collection in 12 days with help of my lovely intern Avery Dennison.

When will the second part of the collection become available? Any spoilers on what to expect?

Top of April, I will have new styles in extended textiles (and PANTS!) and further examination / refinement to the first part.  I am really enjoying myself in my studio so I hope to have about 12 parts throughout the year into fall.

What is your favorite garment in this collection and why?

I have spent an incredible amount of time living with the textiles this past year and then developing their final result. I think the textiles as a whole are my favorite.  The final pieces have ease and intelligence to them but the foundation of what they became is what I was invested in.

Any other news involving your curated retailers in the store? i.e. Majendie, etc.

The biggest news on that front is that I am taking a break from curating others in the space. I will continue to carry Majendie Jewelry, as what Erica makes is so complimentary to what I do and I just love her. I have learned much in the past several years as a business owner and creative. A part of that learning is to give the garments full attention in the space. It is first and foremost their home.


Visit Hadley Wed-Saturday 12 to 6

122 West 18th Street
Kansas City, MO  64108

Instagram: @h_a_d_l_e_y




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Leslie Kinsman is a freelance blogger/writer and photographer living in Kansas City. Check her out at wunderhub.tumblr.com.

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