Menswear designer Brett Johnson’s personal sneaker collection hovers around 700 pairs, and his latest acquisitions—refined suede-and-leather models from Berluti, Brunello Cucinelli, and Tom Ford—are a departure from the hip athletic models he once chased. Interestingly, Johnson’s shifting taste in sneakers mirrors his progression as a designer, from sporty to casual elegance. The 28-year-old, who started dabbling in fashion nearly 5 years ago with sporty clothing items, opened his first concept store in New York’s SoHo neighborhood last fall. Stocked with his full range of elegant luxury clothing, outerwear, and knitwear, the space is also appointed with wood-and-Lucite furnishings that he helped design and are available by special order.
“I want people to feel like they are walking into my home, or really my closet,” says Johnson, who most days can be found in the store welcoming clients and offering wardrobe advice. “I like to share the story of how and where the clothes are made with customers.”
Indeed, it was craftsmanship that drew Johnson into the fashion business. Growing up, he vacationed often in Europe with his family (his parents, Sheila and Robert Johnson, founded Black Entertainment Television in 1979), gaining an appreciation for Italian clothes and craft—which eventually prompted him to seek out small workshops in and around Florence to produce his garments and knitwear.
“My clothes work in the city or the country,” says Johnson, who divides his time between New York City and his weekend home in the Virginia countryside. His personal style is casual and sporty—evidenced by such ensembles as a checked double-breasted gray sport coat, comfortable gray velour trousers, and gray suede sneakers—and his brand follows suit, with luxe-casual items that include a double-breasted wool-and-cashmere bomber jacket, drawstring wool trousers, and a trucker-style jacket made of ultrathin calfskin. And while Johnson’s personal style has evolved, he continues to build his sneaker collection: “An elegant sneaker enhances the look of my sportswear.”