The designer who launched Donna Karan menswear is now directing Johnstons of Elgin
Alan Scott has 27 years of design experience, including stints as a creative consultant for Barbour and Joules in the UK and luxury brands Loro Piana and Vestimenta in Italy. He joined Scottish cashmere brand Johnstons of Elgin as creative director in February.
Your first job was at Donna Karan. How did that come about?
As soon as I graduated [from the fashion design BA at Kingston University in 1990], I travelled to New York to try and find a job. I sent my portfolio to Donna Karan and she called asking if I could come in to see her that evening. I walked in at 11pm. She was showing the next day, so all of the models were there for fittings. She laid out my sketches on the floor and we went through them. At the end she said, ‘I’d love for you to be part of the team.’ I was 22.
You quickly became menswear design development director. Tell us about the role.
Donna asked me to produce some initial menswear designs. After many attempts, I showed her a jacket made from fila crepe wool that had natural stretch. It was the most sensual garment, never before done for men.
She became quite emotional and said, ”That’s the one. I want you to develop that for the runway.” After that, we launched the menswear business and the collection debuted at [US department store chain] Barneys in the winter of 1991. It was surreal.
After seven years at Donna Karan, you launched your own, eponymous, men’s and women’s wear label. Why did you discontinue it in 2002?
My business partner and I made the decision to stop the week after the September 11 attacks. Milan Fashion Week was due to start that week, but of course nobody travelled. The showroom was empty and sales dropped off overnight. We wouldn’t have been able to support it for another year, so we wound it down. It was hard, but the right thing to do. I continued to work as a consultant creative director for Loro Piana and Vestimenta.
How did you come across Johnstons of Elgin?
I was standing on a street in Paris and I received a call from Johnstons out of the blue. It was already a company that interested me, but when I went up to Elgin for a few days I was blown away. It’s an incredible sleeping giant and I could see the potential immediately.
What makes the brand unique?
Johnstons has been in business for 220 years. As a vertical manufacturer, it has a social responsibility for the towns it operates in – Elgin and Hawick. That gives us a unique identity. Johnstons is also a brand for real connoisseurs. For example, for autumn 17 we’ve produced a tissue-weight 18-gauge 100% cashmere seamless pullover. The cashmere is so fine it needs to be spun with crushed crustacean shells to strengthen the yarn. We have also invested in Shima Seiki 3D knitting technology from Japan.
For autumn 17, we have taken our own cloth and crafted it into some tailored pieces – three women’s coats and two men’s. Johnstons has sourced, washed, dyed, milled, spun, woven, finished and produced the garments in a truly vertical process. Nobody else does this.
Johnstons manufactures private label for a number of well-known designers too. What do you think of the “see now, buy now” trend?
I think it’s a very clever way to connect directly with your clients. Of course, the brands need the customer desire and following to ensure the sales. They also need an amazing distribution network that can sustain the quantities of production in advance.
Favourite clothing brand
Hermès or Valentino
Favourite places to shop
Dover Street Market London, Matchesfashion.com and BDDW interiors in New York
Last fashion purchase
A Bottega Veneta bag
Biggest fashion splurge
I don’t splurge
Al Bustan Palace in Muscat, Oman
Last book you read?
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Last film you watched?
The Girl on the Train
Design development director, Donna Karan Menswear, New York