Joh Siff helped launch Comme des Garçons in the US in the early 1980s, then moved on to high level roles at Prada. Now founder and CEO of her own strategic business advisory and brand consultancy, she works intimately with early to mid-stage luxury and fashion projects, helping them uncover their archetypal meaning and underlying story.
Who I am
I was raised in Chicago by exceptionally perceptive, curious, and encouraging parents, studied dance and the performing arts, before moving east for college, where I majored in Asian Studies and Japanese.
I spent several years in Kyoto and Tokyo for language studies and as a research fellow. That’s where I fell in love with Japanese fashion and street culture. When I came back to the US, New York was the logical place to be. I took a job in institutional investment and had planned to go on to graduate school – a career in fashion was the furthest thing from my mind. But when I learned that Comme des Garçons was opening a presence in New York, I applied for a part-time job on the weekend. One thing led to another and they offered me a full-time job as the general manager.
The first US flagship store on Wooster Street was a 6,000 square foot, immersive experience and, in fashion terms, a historical moment. The art world gravitated to the store – everyone from Cindy Sherman to Louise Nevelson, Jean-Michel Basquiat, celebrities, musicians, actors and directors, photographers. It was an incredibly dynamic environment.
I spent 15 years with the company, responsible for the US subsidiary operations, travelling frequently to Tokyo and Paris and throughout North America. It was a serendipitous and foundational education with one of the fashion industry’s most influential design houses, where conventional notions of beauty were challenged and the rules of retail redefined. It was rigorous and demanding, and I was young and full of energy.
When I left, it felt a bit like leaving the mountaintop monastery – Comme des Garçons was and will always be in my blood. I left to grow and test my mettle.
The day I discovered MAISON 10
I stumbled upon the W29th St location as I was walking to a meeting with one of my clients. It was one of the evenings early on, when they’d first opened and were spotlighting emerging designers. The door was open and I wandered in. Tom was in the middle of presenting and he just extended an arm, sort of wrapped it around my shoulders, and pulled me into the circle – it was serendipity. I was working on an almost full-time basis with this particular client, so I would walk by the store almost every day. It became very much a friendly, sort of neighborly thing, seeing them. They have been a real pillar of the neighborhood over the years. They're just extremely unique. And the store is my go-to resource for gifts. I bought one of the Jacto barracuda skulls in gold as a house warming gift for a friend who had just bought a cottage along the coast in Florida. And her last name translates to “forest”, so I bought the signature incense. I can always find something there that is symbolic.
If I wasn't living in New York
It might be somewhere in Mexico, because we have family there. We've talked about the south-west corner of France. Robin, my husband, is a drummer and he could pretty much be anywhere. So, while we’re very happy in New York, we’re looking to find some other quieter spot.
Where I stand on fashion and activism
I believe that activism can be amplified when expressed through the creative medium of fashion and product design. It's inspiring to work with designers who are part of a global community advocating for safe water and zero-waste as a necessity to sustain life for the people and every continent on the planet.
The books that changed my life
Cha-no-yu by AL Sadler, and then The Unknown Craftsman by Yanagi Soetsu. I was given these books as gifts when I was a young teenager – one on Japanese tea ceremony, the other on anonymously crafted objects of beauty and utility. And I was awakened, transported to worlds and cultures I didn’t know existed. I was excited by the possibility that such a world where rituals – spiritual and aesthetic practices – still thrive to this day. My torch was lit and I knew I wanted to find and experience the worlds of tea and craft in Japan, other parts of Asia, and the world. These were life-defining books that set an extraordinary path in life.
The quality I most admire in people
Integrity, a good and open mind and heart, and a wicked sense of humor.
These things inspire me
Being in nature with Beatrice, our beloved dog. Listening to live music, seeing a great performance, an exhibition, or an extraordinary architectural or design masterpiece. New places, sights, sounds, scents in the world, a great book, a great conversation. New forms of learning uncovered in places known and unknown.
What I’m afraid of
Sudden and unwelcome change.
One common misunderstanding people have about me
Is that I never relax. Which is not true.
If I could give young Joh a piece of advice, it would be this
Try to part ways with control. It’s overrated. And you really cannot control things anyway. Try to open up your perspective. Take in more, do more for others. Live in the moment. Allow life to take its course. Spend quality time with your parents when they are still vital and able to travel and explore the world, here and there, together.