Behind every brand is a story. We know this to be true, especially when it comes to the heart behind Patrick James. Like all good stories, they’re centered with passion, grit, and determination, and this definitely applies to Johnnie-O Designer, Chris Knott. We sat down with Chris as he shared his story behind the brand, what his journey has looked like in the fashion industry, and his inspiration for every collection.
How did your career start? What has your journey looked like thus far?
I grew up in a small farming town in North Carolina. My family farmed tobacco, and around there, if you didn’t farm, you had to make a different career for yourself. At the age of 14, I started working at the local retail store, a third-generation family-owned business, and continued working there throughout high school. It was also at that time that I met my mentor, Steve Ashworth, who would take me to New York on his buying trips - it’s safe to say that I learned a lot about that side of the business, and to this day, Steve continues to be a huge influence on my life.
After graduating from East Carolina University, I began my career in selling and merchandising in the New York showroom of Hart Marx. After 21 years in sales, I founded Peter Millar in 2001. Patrick James was one of my first customers, and I was lucky enough to draw inspiration from Patrick Mon Pere, the founder of Patrick James. Now, as the designer for Johnnie-O, I bring that same quality approach to a more casual style out of Raleigh, North Carolina.
In designing your collections for Johnnie-O, where do you draw inspiration from?
Johnnie-O has a coastal casual factor to the brand - we try to bring that California style to the line for all ages. When I first sit down to design a collection, I pull from my library of 35,000 images that I’ve saved throughout the years, with anything from interior design to architecture to other fashion notes. The Netherlands is actually an up-and-coming fashion capital, and I’ve been keeping an eye on some of their clothing. After I spend some time in my digital library, it really flows from there.
What has been the key to your success?
In growing up in a small town, you learn to appreciate the value of things. I’ve always been able to identify things that could sell a big quantity of, and still maintain great quality. Value is the most important thing to call out. It’s hard to make something really great, and quality shows.
What’s one item you never leave home without?
I never leave anywhere without throwing a few Original Knit shirts from Johnnie-O in my suitcase. They’re so comfortable no matter where I’m going - it’s the first thing I throw on in the morning.
What is the importance of the role that independent menswear stores like Patrick James play in today’s world?
It’s more important than ever. Pat Mon Pere is a visionary, and the friendship we’ve developed over the years runs deep. I can count on Pat as a soundboard, get his feedback on our designs, and bring what’s needed to the right audience.