How British Designer Zoe Turner Revitalized US Luxury Knitwear Brand St. John

Many brands are synonymous with their one classic design—take Diane Von Furstenberg and her wrap dress, or Coco Chanel’s tweed jacket for instance. Since 1962, American luxury label St. John has been the first word when it comes to elegant knit dresses. And now that British designer Zoe Turner is at the helm, the staple has been given a thoroughly modern makeover. Turner lets us in on her plans for the future, the ever-expanding exquisite jewelry and accessory offering, and what she learned under luminaries such as Raf Simons.  

How did you find yourself landing this role as creative director at St. John?
I was approached about the position over a year ago. After doing a lot of research I was really impressed by St John’s heritage. There was, I felt, an instant connection. It really is a pleasure to work with such incredible facilities and expertise.

Zoe Turner (courtesy)

What was your takeaway after your stint as Dior’s head designer, director of knitwear under Raf Simons?
Dior is magical, it’s where dreams are created. It is very important for me to make beautiful clothes that evoke emotions and I would like all women to see themselves in St John.

You also worked at other iconic houses—Alberta Ferretti and Max Mara—,what design sensibilities did you learn at these labels that you still lean on?
I learned about lightness, femininity, and, of course, tailoring. So now it’s about taking all of my experiences and using my expertise to bring St. John into a new era.

Tell us about the Spring ‘21 collection, you played with the idea of virtual calls and our changing wardrobe demands, what did this lead you to surmise?
I looked at a lot of creative women, which lead to the focus on the craft and humanity within clothes. The collection consists of hand-crafted crochet pants, hand-painted brush stroke prints, and jewelry that has been carefully carved in metal. For Spring ’21 we created more ease in the looks with wide leg pants, joggers and cool shorts, as well as swimwear shapes which inspired evening giving a relaxed attitude.

We’re particularly in love with the accessories like the belts and the chunky jewelry, they feel very fresh and new for the brand…
Thank you! Buttons and jewelry have always been iconic for St. John, and this season we sculpted these pieces in metal for a more modern feel.

St. John is almost 60 years old. Do you often look to the archives for ideas?
Yes, the brand codes of St. John come from the archive. They capture the spirit of St. John and act as the foundation to build our new story. St. John is American luxury to me. The brand was built on thoughtful design, and understated elegance. We are one of the pioneers of luxury US knitting and our craftsmanship and artisanal quality is unsurpassed.

What makes a St. John knit dress unique?
St. John started with a simple knitted dress, so it’s a signature look. We are dedicated to creating innovative knits and the expertise in our craft is one of the best in the world.

What do we need to know about the new handbag and footwear offering; what can we expect going forward?
Leather goods are very important to grow our position in the luxury market. We are launching handbags in November and our shoe collection will launch with Spring ’21 for a full lifestyle experience for our consumer.

I’ve been thinking about the amazing outfit Zendaya wore from your capsule collection ever since I saw it! It really put St. John back on the map for me. Is there a story behind this look that you can share?
This dress was worn for a dinner celebrating Zendaya’s Garage Magazine cover, which was a collaboration with artist Simone Leigh. Her stylist, Law Roach, told The New York Times that they were surprised when they came across photos of the designs. He said the dress was “artsy, Grecian—there’s emotion to it.” The silhouette, he said, “felt like something she had never worn before—simple, but it was still a statement.”

What are your hopes for the future of St. John?
This is a new chapter in the story of a great American brand. I look forward to leading the creative teams with a new vision. I want to continue to build upon the foundation codes of St. John through color, technique, and combination of yarn, while also introducing a new focus on woven’s to complete the collections. I hope to make beautiful clothes that all women have an emotional response to!

See the Spring Summer ’21 collection below:

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