Jeff Johnson’s attention to detail leaves nothing to be desired. The co-founder and creative director of The Arrivals recently made that clear while juggling wedding planning with a three-city pop up launch for his high-end outerwear brand.
Co-founded in 2014 with Kal Vepuri, a serial entrepreneur and angel investor in companies including Reformation and Warby Parker, The Arrivals is known mostly for its leather jackets, which range in price from $295 to $1,295. Dubbed “foreverwear” by the brand, the long-lasting, architecturally inspired pieces harken back to Johnson’s previous role as an architect himself.
The Arrivals co-founder and creative director Jeff Johnson
Discussing his design process, Johnson said he focuses on one thing: creating outerwear archetypes that feel current, but have an element of timelessness “They aren’t too trend-driven, they’re really driven by function,” he said. The results — raging from pebbled lambskin motorcycle jackets to wool cocoon coats — have won The Arrivals approval from publications including Vogue and The New York Times.
The brand’s second New York pop-up opened in Soho this past weekend, with two more rolling out in Los Angeles and San Francisco on October 21. Johnson will be heading to the West Coast later this week with his wife, interior designer Lotte van Velzen, to put the finishing touches on each space.
The Arrivals fall/winter 2017 lookbook
As a former architect, Johnson loves the idea of eventually having a permanent storefront, but he isn’t convinced it’s the right idea for such a seasonal brand. “Pop-ups afford us the luxury of not having to worry about rent for nine months of the year,” he said. “When we only set up shop for a few months, we can be more playful with the space and see it as not just a sales channel, but also an experience channel — focusing on activations, collaborating with artists to create a unique space, etc.”
We called up Johnson to discuss a less-than-average (but typically busy) day in his life: the day before his recent wedding, which happened to coincide with the ramping up of new pop-up preparations.
8:00 a.m.: My alarm goes off. I’m getting married tomorrow, so it’s going to be a pretty big day. All of our family members are flying in. I have some yogurt and granola before heading out for a quick run around Fort Greene Park, which is in Clinton Hill, where I live.
9:30 a.m.: Fresh off the run, I walk over to the Airbnb where my parents and soon-to-be parents-in-law are staying. My fiancée Lotte and I are taking them to check out the wedding venue in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. One of our friends is a production manager who handles sets for all the big runway shows like Calvin Klein and Prada. She was out scouting spaces for an upcoming show when she found this giant, ship-building warehouse from the early 1900s. It’s really close to where we live, but it was hidden in plain sight. It’s this special place right on the waterfront of the East River. We saw an opportunity to transform the super-industrial space into a more intimate setting.
10:00 a.m.: We showed our families what we’ve been working on for the ceremony, which is this enormous balloon cloud inspired by the Greenpoint-based creative duo Snarkitecture; they did something similar at the Oculus near the World Trade Center. The white balloons we’re using are huge — about 15 feet in diameter — and there will be 200 of them. Today, we have to build a structural system to support them.
Jeff working on the wedding balloon sculpture
10:30 a.m.: We have to begin actually constructing this thing, so I start drawing out some ideas on the ground until we find something that will work. Once that’s figured out, we head to Home Depot to get a handful of building materials, including long pieces of PVC pipe and rope.
11:30 a.m.: We go back to the venue to start creating this enormous thing. I’m curious and worried about whether or not the balloons will stay inflated until the next day, so we’re going to have someone go take pictures and check up on them at midnight. There’s lots of coffee involved in this process.
1:45 p.m.: Now life changes a bit, because I have to run into our office in the city to catch up on everything, from the pop-up launches to our spring product release. I snack on a Clif bar on my way in. Even though this is an unusual day, eating on the go like this (or not at all) is a pretty typical poor-diet habit of mine. I tend to eat in the morning, and then work super later, not eating until I leave — but I think that’s pretty status quo for those who run a business.
2:30 p.m.: I arrive at the office in Union Square, and right off the bat, we have product fittings for our spring 2018 release. We have fittings about once a week: We’ll prototype a handful of different styles and try them on the fit models. Based on how the prototypes turn out, we decide to either move forward with them or put them on hold for a later season. Today, we’re working on two different silhouettes, including a lightweight, unisex parka for the spring/summer months that’s meant to be more transitional.
I don’t have an assistant. Our team is about 16 people right now, and everything — from design to marketing — is done in-house. There’s a lead on each one of our teams that has access to my calendar, which is how we handle scheduling. We try to prioritize what needs to get done versus what we would like to get done in a day, which is always a tricky tightrope to walk.
4:00 p.m.: I have a lot of paperwork to tackle since we’re opening stores in San Francisco and Los Angeles, too. Opening something in New York is challenging, but opening something across the country poses totally new challenges. One of the most labor-intensive parts is going through the lease negotiations, signing papers and making sure all partners feel comfortable with the terms.
4:30 p.m.: I start working through and selecting what styles will be most interesting for folks on the West Coast, to make sure that we’re merchandising properly for those pop-ups. As a digitally-native brand, we have all sorts of insights as to where our consumers are, and Los Angeles and San Francisco are our two largest markets outside of New York. We can see what styles, sizes and colors are most popular in each city, too. New York and LA are surprisingly similar in terms of what they like most, which is largely our leather jackets; in San Francisco, the performance realm seems to be especially popular, including the Air and the Halo in our new puffer series.
6:00 p.m.: After about four hours in the office, it’s time to head back to the wedding venue to see how everything has been progressing. I’m hoping all of the balloons got filled up and that the piece came together alright.
The final result of the wedding balloon sculpture
6:30 p.m.: Luckily, all went smoothly. I head home to shower and get ready for our rehearsal dinner.
7:30 p.m.: We’re heading to the rehearsal dinner with about 40 of our closest family and friends. There are a lot of out-of-towners; my wife is from the Netherlands, so a lot of her family flew in from Amsterdam.
The dinner’s at Colonia Verde, this charming little place in Clinton Hill that has a beautiful back area. It has an Argentinian element to it, so they’re serving skirt steak with roasted potatoes, grilled octopus, Mediterranean-inspired dishes like hummus and vegetables, and a lot of wine. It’s a pretty eclectic meal, and their food is amazing. I think going into any rehearsal dinner, you imagine that you’ll be socializing and getting pulled in every direction, but I actually got to eat, which was nice after such a long day.
9:00 p.m.: With the dinner winding down, we all head to this bar nearby called Cardiff Giant that also has a great outdoor space. We were originally worried about the weather when we planned the wedding for October, but it is unseasonably hot, which was nice.
1:00 a.m.: My wife and I are still hanging outside with everyone, when we realize how late it is and that we have to wake up in six hours with a huge day ahead of us. We decide to head home and get some rest.