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This tornado loves you: catching up with designer Hadley Anne Johnson

Hadley Anne Johnson was a relatively successful designer in her hometown of Kansas City, KS when she was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma in 2006.

The translucent drapery of one of Johnson’s dresses is exhibited by a model who sits next to a hanging installation. All images courtesy of Hadley Anne Johnson.

“Pretty much everywhere I thought my life was going to go just blow up in my face,” Johnson said via phone while on a business trip in Paris.

Yet after a year of successful chemotherapy, 34-year-old Johnson said she saw her moment of triumph over cancer as an opportunity to truly pursue her dream career as a fashion designer.

“It allowed me to grab hold of what I wanted, decide on my own as a 20something to define my own dreams, and I picked a really big one,” Johnson said.

Johnson took what designing knowledge she had and moved to Paris in 2008 — without knowing French — to attend the acclaimed Parsons Paris School of Art and Design.

A model presents a dark, flowing dress while holding a mink.

Since graduating in 2010, Johnson, whose current home base is Kansas City, Kansas, has garnered attention for her fashion and recently showed her collection “This Tornado Loves You” in Paris. The collection showcases Johnson’s work with textures and layering, the pieces embracing bold looks using primarily black and white. Her clothes focus on architectural elements with darting and folds, particularly in her coats and long, flowing dresses.

Johnson was recently in Paris showing her latest collection “This Tornado Loves You” at the trade show Rendez-Vous Paris, where people in the fashion industry can interact and select pieces to sell.

In 2010 shortly after her graduation, Johnson was awarded Designer of the Year from Parsons for her debut collection entitled “Till Death Do Us Part,” which, according to Johnson, emulates the past five years of her life with darker pieces.

As an artist, Johnson said she works primarily from an autobiographical basis.

“My art is a way for me to reflect and process my life, which is why I call my designs my diary,” Johnson said.

Black fur detailing on the back of one of Johnson’s dresses.

Johnson’s success was built on small though distinguished beginnings. Receiving her Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2001, Johnson began by silkscreening garments and textiles such as shirts, cultivating her desire for fashion design.  In 2002 she entered the 18th Street Fashion Show, Kansas City’s highly anticipated annual fashion venue, even though she didn’t know how to sew clothing.

“I just kinda figured it out,” Johnson said of teaching herself the ropes and learning how to design on her own.

From there Johnson began making clothing for a local boutique in Kansas City and, within a year, went on to open her own boutique, Spool,  in 2003.

She was also invited to Paris earlier this year as a part of Parson’s Cumulus, a fashion event that takes place every 50 years extended to fashion elites.

And while most would have been overwhelmed moving to a foreign country for school, Johnson said the isolation provided by a total language barrier was a perk. She said it gave her the solitude she had been searching for and that it enabled her to define herself as an individual and project that introspective process onto her work.

“I didn’t want to speak, so I purposely put myself in a situation where I was surrounded with people I couldn’t communicate,” Johnson said.

Aside from her artistic pursuits, Johnson also works as a recruiter for Parsons, speaking with prospective fashion students.

“I basically have two full-time jobs: one that makes money and one that sucks money,” Johnson said, laughing at the irony of having paid the steep tuition herself. “Isn’t it glamorous?”

When she’s not at her tiny studio in Kansas City, Johnson finds herself constantly on the move. She travels the country for her job with Parsons Paris, which grants her the isolation she desires to reflect and to conceptualize new work. She continues to be a pioneer in contemporary fashion.