Long known for its boxy knit suits favored by society matrons, Irvine-based St. John Knits rocked the fashion world last year when fresh-faced celebrities made news wearing its gowns, particularly the glittering, long-sleeved backless dress former O.C. resident Chrissy Teigen donned at the Met Gala in May. Credit Greg Myler, the senior vice president of design, who helped change the line’s aesthetic to capture younger clients. The Brit spent years honing his craft at Milan’s fashion houses before arriving at St. John’s in 2006.
Tell us something about St. John Knits most people don’t know.
Unlike most fashion houses, we don’t buy fabrics and materials from the usual French and Italian mills—we are our own mill. We buy our wool from New Zealand, we spin it, dye it, and make our knitted textiles. We own state-of-the-art machinery that can knit a tweed that, for example, looks like it came out of the best Italian mill. All this technology and know-how is based in Irvine. For a creative person, it’s like beinga kid in a candy store. The possibilitiesare endless. We pride ourselves on
being a made-in-America brand.
Did Vogue editor Anna Wintour really approve Teigen’s Met Gala gown?
We submitted several sketches, and Anna and Chrissy chose our personal favorite. The team was thrilled with the dress so this validation was really meaningful. The gown had 87,000 Swarovski crystals.
How long did it take to make?
We actually developed a knit structure for the gown, using a new stretch yarn. The design had to be super-stretchy, to mold to her body and allow for that plunging back to stay in place. Once we had the material nailed, we tried different layouts and sizes of the crystal pattern, which Anna and Chrissy also reviewed. Once the pattern was decided, it took two of our embellishment technicians two eight-hour days to apply the crystals by hand.
What happened next?
We took a prototype to Vogue, where we fitted it on Chrissy, with Anna and her team. Once everyone loved how it looked, we made the actual dress. Part of the design was also a gold-plate belt. We made the plates in our hardware facility, and during the fitting we made sure the belt was molded to Chrissy’s shape and would not pop open when she moved and sat. In the end, Chrissy told us she not only loved how she looked in the dress, but that it felt incredible on her body, too.
How did it come about that Sofia Vergara wore St. John to the Emmys in September?
Sofia’s team was familiar with Chrissy’s dress and accepted our invitation to present sketches for her consideration. Our team worked closely with hers during the process, to create an Italian gold lamé jacquard gown that features a curved strapless neckline and softly flared train. Sixty-four-thousand Swarovski stones were hand-applied to provide sparkle.
Do Sofia and Chrissy represent the company’s aesthetic?
We believe the St. John woman authors her own storyline. Sofia and Chrissy both embody this independent, confident spirit.
Which actress would you like to see in St. John?
I’m particularly obsessed with Alicia Vikander (who stars in “The Danish Girl” and “Ex Machina”) at the moment. She’s incredibly talented, sexy, and beautiful, and has the most amazing voice. If velvet had a voice, it would sound like Alicia. She’d be my dream actress to dress!
Are you going after a younger client?
Yes. As our collections evolve, we see the opportunity to introduce the brand to more women. As we expand our communications channels—including a blog on our e-commerce site and our presence on Instagram and Twitter—
we speak to a younger woman. We’re also courting her through strategic media partnerships, at store events.
Will St. John stop making its iconic suits?
Never! But we will continue to evolve the structure, fabrics, and design to meet the needs of our customers.
What about your spring collection?
It was inspired by the iconic landscapes of the Mediterranean—a range of collections that reference Mykonos, Panarea, and Ibiza. It displays the St. John signature blend of craft and couture with a creative flair.
Who’s the St. John’s woman?
These are women who lead rich, busy lives and are never idle or passive. I’m proud to design clothes for this woman.
What’s next for the line?
It’s about tweaking the DNA that keeps us unique and ensuring it’s relevant for today. We like to say evolution, not revolution. As we expand our international business, I see us also focusing on the needs of customers around the world. In Resort 2017, we’re introducing a casual lifestyle collection that addresses less formal occasions, like travel, which our customer loves to do!