Meet fashion designer Aaron Potts, a Detroit born and raised Brooklynite who grew up loving award shows.
Potts attended Parsons School of Design (The New School) in NYC. While there, he interned with Marc Jacobs at Perry Ellis and with Donna Karan at DKNY. After graduation, he went on to design for Emanuel Ungaro, Anne Klein, Victoria’s Secret, Escada (Munich, Germany), Badgley Mischka, Ellen Tracy, Kaufmanfranco, and Tamara Mellon.
For our most recent fashion editorial, we teamed up with the talented designer to showcase his latest collection. We caught up with the talented designer after the shoot for an in-depth chat about the fashion industry, inspiration, the ever-evolving business of fashion and so much more. Check out the interview and the editorial after the jump.
The Knockturnal: Where did you first develop your love for fashion?
Aaron Potts: I first discovered fashion on shopping trips with my mom. She went to a little shop for plus-sized ladies in a nearby little town close to our house in Detroit. It was called The Merry Widow. The owner loved my mom and would save dresses for her. I spent HOURS there and would actually help her choose. She was partial to flowers and the color red.
The Knockturnal: At what age did you know that you wanted to design clothes?
Aaron Potts: I was artistically inclined and sketched, painted, and did collage as a kid. By the time I was 8 or 9, my love for all things glamorous just took over: Diana Ross, Wonder Woman, beauty pageants, Dynasty…I was hooked. I took a fashion illustration class in 9th grade as it combined the art and the glamour. After week 2 of that class, I had what felt like an epiphany and knew I had found my life’s calling.
The Knockturnal: Do you remember the first thing you ever designed and made?
Aaron Potts: I designed a dress for the director of the dance department at my high school, Renaissance. It was fuchsia and turquoise heavy crepe…a reversible dress and shawl…that she wore to a big event in Detroit. I still keep in touch with her and count her as a friend….the lovely Mrs. Andrea Johnson.
The Knockturnal: What do you think is the biggest misconception about what it takes to have a successful brand?
Aaron Potts: People think fashion is glamorous. While it does have a few glamorous moments, there is a lot of hard work, late nights, and tons of schlepping. I am constantly packing and unpacking bags and boxes in and out of vehicles and elevators! Then there is the brutal necessity of steaming which is never fun. On top of all of that, you deal with bad attitudes and big egos. It’s a lot to deal with and when you aren’t exhausted, you are trying not to hurt people! When you are a small brand, you are everything: you design, source, clean, run errands, carry bulk items, steam, pack….and schlep.
The Knockturnal: The business of fashion is constantly evolving, where do you think is the fashion industry’s next big pivot?
Aaron Potts: I am glad that fashion is in an upheaval. It has leveled the playing field to a certain degree as we have all gone virtual. I think you will see the rise of small, scrappy brands that were able to get their foot in the door during the tumult. The big brands often ‘use’ street culture, current events, and social causes simply for commerce…..small brands like mine and those of my peers actually are borne out of these experiences. So we bring an authenticity to the table that big brands can only try to replicate. Customers want authenticity and real connection.
The Knockturnal: I love your past collections, how do you decide on a theme or come up with inspiration for a collection?
Aaron Potts: I love to read and I love black history. The novels of Octavia Butler and Tomi Adeyemi greatly influenced one collection that was meant to reflect Afrofuturism and Afromysticism. Island Under The Sea by Isabel Allende was the starting point for Babyland Rag, my SS21 collection. I try to stay open and listen to the story that wants to be told through my clothes.
The Knockturnal: What is your design process like and where do you prefer to work?
Aaron Potts: I love fabric, so that is usually my starting point. I assemble a fabric story and through the colors, textures, and patterns, I start to sense ‘the story’. Once I get a sense of the story, I dive into the rabbit hole of inspiration. I keep myself open and flexible because usually, that first influence isn’t ‘the one’. It is through the ride of the research that the inspirations start to shape themselves and rise to the top. I design mostly on my couch on the weekends while I am binge-watching TV.
The Knockturnal: You always have interesting models in your clothes. What do you look for when picking the right model?
Aaron Potts: I love interesting, singular beauty… the beauty that is often bypassed or even negated. I also love models with interesting personalities. This is extremely inspirational and I absolutely find it in an array of people…it’s about spirit…not size, race, gender, or age.
The Knockturnal: How has the pandemic affected your creative process?
Aaron Potts: On one hand, it messed up some wholesale orders…but on the other hand, quarantine allowed me to go deep within myself to really find my creative voice.
The Knockturnal: Do you think the fashion industry will go back to “normal” post-pandemic?
Aaron Potts: Too much has been learned to ever go back to what once was. This is true for the pandemic and the social/racial revolution that is happening. We now know too much, we’ve learned new things and we must keep moving forward instead of trying to hold on to the past.
The Knockturnal: What’s the inspiration behind your latest collection?
Aaron Potts: The Topsy-Turvy doll was a slavery-era doll that was a pretty white doll in finery on one end and a black slave doll in tatters on the opposite end….they were joined at the waist. I wanted to explore the symbiotic relationship of black/white; male/female, casual/extravagant. The idea was to look at that exploration through the lens of a joyful child playing dress-up.
The Knockturnal: What designers did you look up to when coming up as a young designer?
Aaron Potts: My fashion hero is Willi Smith. I love his melding of high fashion with real people. He was a creative genius and was absolutely ahead of his time. Seeing him fueled my hopes as a young black kid in Detroit. I also absolutely adore Yohji, Issey, Claire McCardell, Patrick Kelly and Donna Karan. And I also LOVE practical brands like Dickies, Carhartt, and Land’s End.
The Knockturnal: What advice would you give new designers in today’s world?
Aaron Potts: Be honest, hardworking, and reliable. Learn the craft of actually making and constructing clothes. Learn about fabrics. Build good relationships. Do NOT let people walk all over you. Don’t try to fit molds and expectations. Be generous and collaborative. Don’t rely on the internet for inspiration: read books, go see, and do new things, be in nature, travel, experience people out of your comfort zone. If fashion defines you, you need to reassess your priorities. Your work is just a tool in your own self-discovery and actualization. Work on being your best self – your best work will sprout from that.