INTERVIEW: Meet Johanna Parv, the London-Based Designer Creating Solutions for Dynamic Women
“I don’t design for idols, I design for the contemporary woman standing in the street.”
Johanna Parv is a name that soon will need no introduction. The Tallinn-born, London-based designer is now part of the official London Fashion Week calendar after graduating from Central Saint Martins two years ago. With ready-to-wear and sportswear often being segregated into different categories, Johanna’s proposition of “functional elegance,” juxtaposes with the conventions of traditional womenswear.
Her eponymous brand presents a new, innovative visual language that integrates femininity and dynamism across experimental designs. Imbued by her love for cycling, Johanna strives to create elegant solutions for fearless urban women constantly on the move. Designed to adapt to active lifestyles and facilitate freedom of movement, her cross-seasonal outdoor accessories and asymmetrical pieces empower wearers, often restricted by everyday sartorial issues.
Produced in London using local factories and independent artisans, her handcrafted products achieve a balance between tailored formalwear and ergonomic performance wear, combining confidence, movement and style. Her design ethos ultimately considers the performance of the garments not only during but also post-commute, mystifying the female body in action.
On September 18, the emerging designer presented her new Spring/Summer 2023 collection, in which she reimagined her already functional designs by utilizing new materials and re-developing fit and balance. The lineup also features new cargo systems designed to function in motion, and delicate mesh pieces with stretchy, transparent and layered pockets that transform regular, everyday silhouettes.
Johanna’s commitment to movement and dynamism was highly present during her SS23 presentation, where her models engaged in an energetic workout while showcasing versatile, functional pieces. The campaign video, available at the bottom of the page, explores the functionality of garments through choreography directed by Will Pegna. Prior to the release, Johanna Parv gave us an exclusive interview about her latest collection.
Going back to the beginning, could you tell me what inspired you to pursue a career in fashion?
My interest in the fashion industry came initially from browsing fashion history books. I found figures like Pierre Cardin, the 1950s woman, and the flappers from the 1920s really inspiring. I was honestly obsessed with what a powerful and beautiful woman looked like in this era. But I’d also say that as I was born in the ’90s, the powerful performance element in Alexander McQueen and Hussein Chalayan’s shows made me realize the power fashion has and how it can make people feel emotion. However, I found my voice and motivation through brands like Stone Island, which pretty much focus on the purpose of garments, so my thought on how fashion can make someone feel became replaced by how garments can make every day more purposeful. I realized it’s not only about storytelling and aesthetics but also function. Eventually, the obsession over the Gibson Girl became an obsession with the contemporary woman standing in the street.
Has your feeling towards the fashion industry changed over the years?
I definitely think my understanding of the fashion industry has changed so much. For me, the industry is no longer about illusion or creating pieces for my idols. My ambition is to make meaningful products for real people. I very much acknowledge the heavy responsibility of being a designer; every product I create in this world must do something good or make someone’s life better. I strive to design innovative, beautiful products that can improve someone’s every day and last a long time. Part of my creative process includes asking cycling women to test my products. I love communicating with the community I’ve created, centered around the brand and products. That’s the real dream.
Your garments are heavily focused on functionality and elegance, would you say your collections are a product of your environment?
When I was living in Estonia, I was interested in the arts and performance scene, because Eastern Europe is very much about theatre and craftsmanship. But when I moved to London, the hectic and active environment started influencing me in a way I could have never predicted. Being a highly sensitive person, cycling became my sort of escape in the big city. I used to feel very anxious in public transport, I truly missed my hometown’s nature, freedom and fresh air. So cycling, which is the most sustainable thing one can do, became a part of me. One thing I realized was that when I started biking I would drastically change what I would wear. Suddenly, my active lifestyle was restricting my clothes choice, I lacked options, so I started becoming very interested in that area. And it became the mission of my work, to create functional and elegant garments that allow freedom of movement.
What does your creative process look like?
It all comes down to function and how I can leverage existing pieces. For example, I had a skirt from last season that I wanted to make better. So, I reworked the cut and changed the material. I also added some features to allow more movement. I used to wear it cycling and saw how I could improve it to make my journey smoother. Colors are also important – I always think of what palette works best for each season. I am constantly thinking about how I can make my garments more useful and how they can make active women more comfortable. I am not interested in trend cycles; I am interested in practicality and purpose.
Your work comes from a very personal place, what did you want to achieve with SS23?
Most of the reviews from the previous collection included the word “dynamic,” so I was curious to see how I could explore that term through my garments and models. The casting was a crucial part of the collection – all the women I featured are very inspiring to me because they are dancers, cyclists or runners. They are who I design for, active and modern women in the city. So I asked my models what dynamic meant for them and incorporated that into my designs. Beckyn, one of my muses, said, “To be dynamic is to be complex and multidimensional. Existing in more than one state or with multiple abilities and perspectives to consider. Forces of energy that stimulate change and progress.” I develop my collections by listening to my community. My creations are highly conceptual, born from a lot of experimentation, but that experimentation comes from my circle.
What’s next for Johanna Parv?
I want to reach a point in which my garments and accessories become everyday essentials for people. At the same time, I want to continue speaking to my consumers as they are part of my journey and for whom I design. I would also like to reach more stockists so the brand can become more accessible and reach more shoppers. Offering unisex accessories and garments is another goal. But for now, improving my efficiency and carrying on developing, creating and listening to the Johanna Parv community.
Take a look at Johanna Parv’s SS23 collection in the gallery above, lensed by Rory Griffin.