- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
When Bella Hadid wears your hand-painted pants, expect to garner some attention. Juliet Johnstone never intended to work in fashion, but shortly after the Los Angeles–based artist began experimenting with clothing, Hadid wore one of her pieces—and it ignited an instant craze for her work. “People went crazy—within five minutes, I had hundreds of messages,” Johnstone says. Before, Johnstone had been posting one pair of old Dickies or Carhartt pants decorated with hand-painted affirmations to Instagram. They’re free-spirited in feel and often say the words love or peace. In other words, the kind of pants that make you stop while scrolling. “It’s wearable art,” Johnstone says, adding that she has been creating these pieces while sheltering in place at her parents’ house in the Malibu area. “I moved my studio into their garage,” she says.
Johnstone originally studied to be a classic painter: She graduated from Parsons in 2017 with a fine-arts degree but found herself lacking inspiration and direction for her work. “I was working for a bunch of artists and doing the studio-assisting lifestyle, and I just felt really stuck,” she says. “I felt like this huge responsibility to be making hyper-conceptualized work.” Last year, around October, she began experimenting with painting onto trousers instead. “One day, I painted on my own painter’s pants because I ran out of canvas that day,” she says. “I wore them out, and people were asking me where I got them.”
Interest grew even further after Hadid posted an image of herself wearing them earlier this month. Hadid’s pair was in a khaki colorway, with hand-painted flowers and the words baby and love on them. Though the two have never met, Johnstone and Hadid have mutual friends: Johnstone also models on the side and is currently signed with the agency One Management in New York City. The artist sent Hadid her own pair this past Paris Fashion Week, after noticing the fellow model had begun liking a few of her pants posts. “I wasn’t really selling them that much then,” Johnstone says. “The demand hadn’t grown to what it is now.”
Johnstone says she gets inspiration for her designs from daily nature walks, vintage botanical books, and Japanese flowers, among other references. Her upbringing also lends to her ongoing creativity: Her father is a musician and part of Elton John’s band, and her childhood was often spent going on tour with the crew. “I would help out in the wardrobe department,” she says. “That was what I loved to do. Elton’s clothes brought happiness into the world, and his idea of fashion definitely influenced my own.”
Sustainability is also an important aspect of Johnson’s work. She only uses vintage or upcycled pants, and each pair is one of a kind; Johnstone herself mostly wears vintage. In the future, Johnstone is open to expanding her hand-painting onto vintage jackets or shirts—but amid the coronavirus pandemic, Johnstone says creating the pants brings joy to both herself and her customers, and that’s enough. “Painting flowers and butterflies—these things make me happy, and I think now, more than ever, we need breaks from what real life has become,” she says. “I realized that my role can be to give people a break, make people smile, and take these pressures away.”
Originally Appeared on Vogue