How John Targon Is Taking Risks with His New Label

For Fall Risk—a brand that forgoes convention—fashion designer Targon drops a new cashmere line at the height of summer.

For Fall Risk—a brand that forgoes convention—fashion designer Targon drops a new cashmere line at the height of summer.

Starting an apparel line is risky business, but John Targon is certainly up for the challenge…again. In early 2019, the New York-based designer launched Fall Risk, a label that eschews standards that the industry has practiced for decades. For one, Targon doesn’t follow the seasonal fashion calendar, preferring to introduce his collections in somewhat sporadic drops he calls “volumes.” His third, Volume 3, surfaced at Communitie Marfa and Communitie East as a line of cashmere waffle separates, a peculiarity during the high summer months when swimsuits and light, breathable fabrics are de rigueur.

This outside-the-box way of thinking is evidently the whole point of Fall Risk. Targon created it after a few months of consulting for a number of fashion, beauty, and automotive brands, which was preceded by a short stint designing at Marc Jacobs. His claim to relative fame, however, was a five-year run at Baja East, a label he created in 2013 with Scott Studenberg that offered bodysuits, chunky knits, tops, and bottoms with a sporty, street-inspired vibe—and that won the LVMH Prize in 2015 and the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund in 2016. Before then, he earned his stripes through merchandising and branding roles at Givenchy and Celine. Indeed, working at both start-ups and big-name companies gave Targon a breadth of experience, teaching him what it takes to succeed in the fashion business. Now that he is riding solo, he’s decided two throw the rulebook out the window—perhaps the best move he could make.

John Targon. Photo courtesy of Gregory Wikstrom/Fall Risk.

The fashion industry, to be sure, has gone through a series of seismic shifts. Instead of shopping at traditional stores and flipping through the pages of magazines, consumers are now looking at other outlets—namely, social media and celebrity endorsements—for sartorial inspiration. Today, they wait for buzzy, one-off drops to actually make a purchase (this is most evident with sneaker firms, which have seen their collections sell out in a matter of hours). So, though it may seem that Targon playing with fire here,  he’s actually marketing his wares in a manner that is ahead of the curve.

As for the design, Targon hasn’t really switched gears. The aesthetic that he helped form at Baja East continues at Fall Risk, albeit with a more curated offering. Volume 3, for example, is comprised of just four items: cashmere hoodies and joggers in black and purple, and turquoise and yellow—with a mere 50 units available for purchase. Styled to be oversized, the pieces have a relaxed, urban feeling, leaning on the younger side, which is perhaps why stars including Gigi Hadid and Dua Lipa have shown support for the brand. This backing, along with the limited number of SKUs, creates a sense of hype intended to bring about demand for more Volumes.

Still, a cashmere drop in the summer is a stretch, but here’s Targon to explain otherwise.

What was the impetus for starting Fall Risk?
Fall Risk was built on the premise that you go for things in life, and, no matter the outcome, it’s to get knocked down. When we do, we get back up and build on that. And those setbacks are often the biggest blessings. So, in short, the brand is built on a mentality of zero judgment. I tell this story through the marketing and the product, which give you a view into my world—and the layers of the onion peeling back on my past, and how I see the world today. Fall Risk is not in a box of my own thinking. It’s a mash-up of cultures, inspirations, and lessons I learned from all the people I interact with.

How does Fall Risk differ from what you created at Baja East?
It’s impossible to think I woke up one day and my entire world was something new. The thing that has changed the most for me is my perspective. I view design in a way that is all about product for today. I am infatuated with details and trim, and absolutely unwavering when it comes to executing the best possible product with innovative yarns and a no-waste approach to manufacturing. I find innovation exhilarating, the ways you get to the best design without it always being the most expensive path. I get a total high from finding yarns that work and look more vintage, as well as ones that are sporty. It depends on what I am creating, but there are endless possibilities. The hand-feel is the most important thing to me—how does it feel now, and how will it make me feel in three years when I continue to wear it.

How has working on your own been different from working as part of a duo? Do you think you have more creative freedom?
My entire design process is about collaboration. I am confident in what I set out to do, but I can’t expect my clothing and my brand to connect with a large variety of people through just one singular tone. I think the tone is quite clear, but how I get there is with a lot of help in my office—from my graphics person to my technical designer to my interns that share their irony, humor, and their own design processes. Collaboration and coming together is an essential brand foundation. So, while I would say I drive the voice, it’s really shaped by more than me—by bringing in people from a variety of backgrounds. This also applies to who photographs my imagery, who styles, who does hair and so on. It’s about creating a collective of thought and perspective.

Fall Risk Volume 3. Photo courtesy of Dario Castillo/Fall Risk.

Who is your target customer?
I can’t pinpoint one demographic and say, hey, that’s my sweet spot, that’s exactly whom I design. That feels one dimensional to me. What I can say is my target customer has been revealed more with the release of each new Volume. The reason I launched my first two volumes via my hotline line, 212.982.RISK, was because I wanted to hear the tone when someone loved something, or when they asked me questions about it. I’ve found the consistency in my target customer is less about age or gender, and more about people feeling that the product I create takes them somewhere. Yet, they don’t actually have to leave their house in the clothes because it’s more of a mindset. I’m obsessed with design details and quality, and I really stand by humor as the bonding part of Fall Risk. I’m really democratic in my design approach: it is part bro, part lady, part sex, part buttoned-up—but every part is comfortable.

Why did you decide to split your collection into Volumes?
Every good story has chapters. I look at each Volume as an opportunity to share a nugget of my story, and, frankly, I’m not in a rush to tell you the whole story. Just as I am patient in my own life, Fall Risk will unfold slowly and morph in real time. This means that you have to look at the nuggets of information I drop, whether that be in a few weeks or a few months. A thread is always there that gives you intel into what is going to come.

How are you looking to expand your line with each Volume?
Each volume is a full and complete story within itself. When you dissect the clothing, what came before mixes with what’s currently available and will also mix with what’s next. I view each Volume as a complete story, but with a cliffhanger. The idea is that everything has the ability to stand on its own and not feel of one moment. I want you in the world exactly how you see it visually, but then when you get the pieces, it becomes part of your style. I have no problem making visual suggestions on how I see things together, but what gets my rocks off is seeing how you took it and mixed it with the other pieces in your wardrobe. Expansion for me is also an approach of singularity: nailing a single product so well that it, when brought forward, creates a natural progression. I can’t get too far ahead of myself, but I do see expansion as an opportunity to take the same approach to skincare, homeware, and hotels.

Fall Risk Volume 3. Photo courtesy of Dario Castillo/Fall Risk.

Why did you decide to make Volume 3 a cashmere collection, and launch it in the summer? Who will be wearing these pieces in the heat?
Luxury is seasonless. In fact, I was sitting in front of my air conditioning unit in my office when I started to perfect this cashmere waffle story. And while I was working on these pieces, I thought about the irony of the most luxurious, buttery cashmere you can find available in the middle of summer. Nostalgia and reality met in one place for me: there is never a wrong time for cashmere. By mid-August, I find myself on the beach during the weekend days and looking for something to cover up with when the temperature dropped in the evening. The desert temperature drops at night, the West Coast temperatures drop in San Francisco and Portland, and here on the East Coast, where I spend the summer, the evening is 10 degrees cooler than in the city.

With that, I’ll drop Volume 3 in Amagansett, on the beach, because everyone wants the perfect summer sweater when they sit with friends in front of flickering candles and under the long, late summer sunset. And if you can’t wrap your head around that, there is always sitting inside on the couch in cashmere waffle sweats reading a book. If you haven’t done it, I bet I’ll change your mind about when is the right time for cashmere to be available—there is never a wrong time. There’s also the airport and the plane. And if you’re still worried about the heat, hold off and wear it in September or October. You’ll have a one-up on the seasons.

How does your cashmere line differ from others in the market?
I don’t actually have a clue about who would be in my market. In terms of quality and details, I would say I am most definitely in line with the most luxurious of brands. But in terms of price—because I the brand is direct-to-consumer—I cut the middleman out and offer that promise of quality way more competitively. I have custom zip pulls, covered buttons, and embroidery all wedged within the most luxurious cashmere on the market—and for $395 a piece. There isn’t someone doing it the way I am. It’s bold, but I have to be bold on this front because it is backed by facts from the manufacturing process.

Is the luxury sector something you’re looking to develop with Fall Risk?
For me, luxury is a feeling. It’s how something withstands time in terms of design aesthetic, and—yes, of course—the quality and manufacturing. This idea that luxury is upheld by price can often be very true. I see it most notably with the furniture I love and cherish, pieces from Joaquim Tenreiro and Carlo Mollino are mixed in my office with a dining booth I got at a Chinese restaurant supply store and the books I’ve collected over 20 years. Luxury for me is the mix of things you love that can withstand the test of time and, no matter the item, it means they need love and attention to be preserved. Fall Risk is the definition of luxury for me because I already get the emails from customers who can’t take it off and can’t imagine their day without it.

(Photos courtesy of Dario Castillo/Fall Risk)

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