StylePortfolios: John Renaud
What is your employment status?
JR: Employed at CALA
What is your official job title?
JR: Design Director and Senior Operations Manager
Please summarize your professional career in 1 to 3 sentences; what should everyone know about you?
JR: From red carpet and stage to everyday favorites, my career has been about rising to the unique challenges that brands (and individuals) big and small have faced during the past decade of fashion and retail ups and downs.
Describe what you do?
JR: I consider myself to be a creative problem solver. I help people build brands and team through thoughtful and strategic creative and design direction, merchandising, and calculated pivots in reaction to the ever changing fashion landscape.
Why did you choose to be a designer?
JR: I was always making things when I was younger… sculpture, craft projects, painting etc… and grew up in a house that enjoyed the arts. My grandmother took me to New York when I was young and we saw several Broadway shows which planted seeds for a teenage career in community and regional Equity house theater in costume design in my teens… I loved fabrics, color, textures, and garment construction but I was also very business-minded… so I started looking into fashion as a career choice when I was in High School.
What steps did you take to become a designer?
JR: I think the biggest step / challenge was convincing two business professional parents to let their child go to design school in New York City. My family is from Texas, and not closed-minded at all… But the cost and the lack of knowledge about the design industry probably gave them a heart attack to be honest. They thought I would never get a job. It took a few visits but, after encouraging words from recruiters and head admissions counselors (and a few scholarship offers from Pratt and Parsons) my parents gave in. I knew education was key. I grew up in an oil town in the middle of nowhere with limited contact with contemporary art, fashion, and culture. I needed that cultural education of being in New York, I knew I needed to work with industry professionals… I already had the construction and basic pattern knowledge but I needed that education to refine it all.
If you weren’t a designer what would you be?
JR: I think about this a lot… I’m quite into science so if I wasn’t so squeamish maybe a medical professional of some kind? Definitely would find joy as a showroom sales rep, and have filled in as one many times.
How did you get started in design?
JR: My first actual design job was while I was still in college. I was hired as an assistant designer for Christian Joy. We most notably did costumes for Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but I also worked on her boutique namesake line doing design, pattern, and all the other little things you do for a little indie label. It was a lot of work but it was so fun.
What do you like about what you do?
JR: I like making people have little moments of joy, no matter if it’s a basic knit tee or an over-the-top silk georgette gown; I believe everything should be thoughtfully designed with purpose and optimism.
What’s a common misconception people have about what you do?
JR: I think people can think fashion people are snotty and out of touch… I (and most designers I know) tend to be very in touch with the needs of the consumer.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
JR: Still creating, still building brands, still pushing us forward together.
How has your work evolved since you began your career?
JR: I started off in the sort of wild world of costume design… Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Peaches, Margaret Cho, Cyndi Lauper, and so on… most of that time while working full time design jobs with the exact opposite likes of JC Penney and Converse…. I continued to work mostly with musicians and did freelance and custom projects for a couple of years in Berlin and came back to the US to dive back into ready-to-wear. I was LA-based for a few years where I Design Directed and designed the first year of ARE YOU AM I for Rumi Neely and then oversaw three casual contemporary lines for Dolan Group (where we picked up a GenArt Womenswear Designer of the year award for 34N 118W) for nearly four years before returning to New York. So I guess I really was focused on the creative and conceptual side of things starting off but I have really grown to love and focus on building brands through beautiful thoughtful product. For the past few years I have partly focused on truly sustainable design. Better design, that actually has an impact on the environment. I subscribe to the theory that every person deserves clothing that makes them feel empowered in their daily life. I guess you can say my work has gotten more refined, more easily digestible by a broader audience. But I’m still there in the clothing. I always put my little winks into things… and I can pivot at the drop of the hat if someone needs a leather space suit for a stage show, ha! Currently I help guide and build new brands at CALA, an all-in-one platform for the next generation of fashion. While there I have overseen several brands from concept to creation including one of my favorites which is RE-INC (Megan Rapinoe, Christen Press, Tobin Heath, and Meghan Klingenberg from the USWN Soccer Team).
Are there any types of clothing/footwear/accessories that you avoid wearing?
JR: Crocs. Not even Ironically. Never.
What are you fascinated by at the moment and how does it feed into your work?
JR: Our industry’s real challenge with sustainability. So many companies are out there just virtue signaling… Sustainable solutions are not hard, they just take time to think about…. It’s about localizing… it’s about slowing down a bit… it’s about being thoughtful. Organic is rarely sustainable, in fact often times organic fibers are worse for the environment than their responsible conventional counterparts. So many companies are recycling PET but, in turn, creating microplastics. We are in such a rush to signal that, “Hey, we are the good guys! Look at us!”, that we end up causing more problems and end up doing more of the same. It’s alarming, but exciting because I see so many of our generation of designers working to change things.
What is the biggest lesson that you have learned since you started your career?
JR: Everything can be improved, and nothing is ever finished.
What advice would you give to young designers?
JR: Learn to enjoy the parts of the design process you dislike… No one is probably ever going to really carry those tasks for you but you never know when you will need to rise up and carry that task for someone else.
What would you like to achieve before the end of the year?
JR: I think we’d all love to have a glass of wine with our friends once this COVID19 craziness is all over. I hope that’s before the end of the year.
Are you superstitious or do you have any rules you live by?
JR: Question everything, even if it annoys your boss… Better to test an idea now than to fail later.
John Renaud is a West Texas native who has lived in worked in New York City (along with a few sprints in LA and Berlin) for nearly fifteen years. He is a graduate of Pratt Institute and was selected along with designer Jeremy Scott as one of their 40 under 40 in 2012. John was the recipient of the 2016 GenArt Womenswear Designer of the Year for the line 34N 118W. He has designed, managed, and directed lines and brands for major retailers, small boutiques, and creatives from all over the world. His designs have been worn by the likes of Karen O, Peaches, Cyndi Lauper, Debbie Harry, Margaret Cho, among others.