'Blenheim fashioned me' - star designer

ANNA WILLIAMS
Last updated 10:44 30/05/2014
johanna johnson
BEN RUSHTON BGR
PAINSTAKING: Fashion designer Johanna Johnson puts final touches on a custom gown for Christina Hendricks in 2009.

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A Blenheim-born designer, who has dressed celebrities including Pink and Kim Kardashian, says growing up in Blenheim is the reason her label exists.

Sydney-based bridal and couture designer Johanna Johnson (nee Johanna Macdonald) attended Marlborough Girls' College before moving to Australia with her family at the age of 14.

One of her designs was splashed across entertainment sites in the past week when Kendall Jenner, the sister of Kim Kardashian, wore a midnight blue satin gown at Kardashian's Parisian rehearsal dinner for her wedding to Kanye West.

Johnson responded to questions from the Express by email from Los Angeles yesterday.

The Vaudeville gown, which retails for about $6340, has about 22 panels of bias cut fabric and is made with the heaviest silk satin available, hand-dyed to Johnson's own colour palette.

Jenner's stylist was familiar with her work after she dressed Kardashian-West at last year's White House Correspondents Dinner with President Barack Obama.

The gown was selected for Jenner to wear but Johnson had no idea it was to be worn at the rehearsal dinner until she saw the images online.

"It was a huge compliment, especially given the company she was in - including the likes of Mr Valentino himself.

"Kendall also posted a social-media shot of her dancing in the rain in the grounds of the Palace of Versailles with the creative director of Balmain, Paris," Johnson said. "Not bad company."

She started making her own clothes because there was little fashion available from Blenheim stores while she was growing up, she said.

"Growing up in Blenheim is the reason my label exists," she said.

Her mother and grandmother taught her how to sew at their home in Blenheim, with "Vogue patterns scattered around the lounge room floor", she said.

"On reflection, and as sport wasn't my thing, it's what kept my mind busy and kept me from potentially roaming the streets."

Her grandmother, Margaret Dysart, inspired the quality of what Johnson produced today with her impeccable wardrobe, she said.

"The quality of the garments brought in from London for the farmers' wives, back in the day, were made from luxurious fabrics, beautifully finished and lasted the test of time."

Johnson's other grandmother by marriage, Jan McEwan, who married her maternal grandfather in 1966, still lives in Blenheim.

McEwan, 87, told the Express yesterday she kept up to date with her granddaughter's work and was very proud of what she had achieved.

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"I get all the news from her mother. I know she's a clever girl, an absolutely delightful child, and she still is," she said.

Johnson called McEwan a "style force all of her own".

It was humbling to come from a small town in New Zealand and be able to reach millions of people through her designs, she said.

"I still struggle to get my head around that idea. I think that, once you think you have made it, you lose the drive to better yourself and your craft."

- The Marlborough Express

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