By Flora Tsapovsky
When an online store is called Norwegian Wood, you can pretty much expect anything. And indeed, on Angie Johnson’s impeccably designed website you’ll find funky, colorful leggings next to decorative pillows, metal wall mobiles next to roomy, compliment-attracting bags and printed kimonos. The only thing that these items have in common is a cool-girl, desirable appeal, and a worldliness deserving of a globetrotter. And all of them are shipping around the world from Novato.
Johnson, who has a degree from the University of Manitoba in human ecology, with a focus on clothing and textiles, knows all about global vibes. She moved here from Montreal, following her husband’s job, in 2015, and brought Norwegian Wood with her. The store is almost a decade old.
“I started designing at a very young age, starting my first clothing line at 16 and selling the clothes in three local boutiques in Winnipeg, Manitoba,” Johnson says. She continued to run various small clothing design businesses on the side from that time forward, but also went on to work for larger clothing companies, earning industry experience and often traveling to Europe and Asia. The move to California prompted a slightly more free-flowing, liberal approach to merchandising.
“In the past I created seasonal collections, two times per year on the traditional fashion calendar,” Johnson says. “Since moving to California and starting the homewares collection, I’ve pulled back on that, and am now just making leggings and kimonos. That’s the beauty of having your own business; you can evolve it as your life changes.”
For the Norwegian Wood store, Johnson makes all of the textile-based homewares in Novato; the metal hanging planters are made by a metal fabrication company in Los Angeles and the leggings are printed and sewn in Montreal. The pillows are often made of African textiles like mudcloth and indigo-dyed cloth, and the Indian ikats, or fabrics, Johnson designs herself. Often, she collaborates with other makers or artists, like Jessi Preston, a tattoo artist from Montreal who co-created a mini collection of artful, bold lingerie featuring tattoo-inspired graphics (Johnson is a big fan of tattoos herself). Another memorable collaboration is with the well-known Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, focused on digital collages of various images to be printed on silk kimonos.
“All of the artists I’ve collaborated with in the past are personal friends of mine, so all those collabs came about very organically through conversations and get-togethers,” Johnson says.
It sounds like Californian style fits well into her general aesthetic. “It’s funny, but even when I lived in Montreal I always had the bulk of my U.S. customers based in California,” she says. “I think California was calling to me for a long time; I just didn’t know it until I got here. Now I have an even stronger reason to indulge in the bohemian West Coast aesthetic, and I feel like the history of that movement is deeply rooted in the Bay Area. It seeps out of everywhere, from the architecture and home decor, to the fashion sense of the people.”
In Novato, aside from enjoying the sunshine (“It’s not too hard to get used to life without snow!” Johnson says enthusiastically), the designer has become a true devotee of nature. “I love how close we are to nature at all times, having a big backyard for our dog to run around in, and exploring all the amazing plantlife year-round,” she says.
Gardening is a recently adopted passion of Johnson’s. “Very shortly after I moved to Novato I was looking on Craigslist for some used patio furniture and met a lovely lady who sold me her set,” she recalls. “She had a truck and offered to bring it to my house, and upon seeing our giant backyard invited me to join the Novato Garden Club.”
Johnson has been an active member ever since, joining the programs committee last year. “We put together the guest speakers and activities for the monthly club meetings,” she says. “It’s been so great to meet a group of people who care about plants as much as I do, and who can help me navigate the very different climate/soil conditions and teach me about California gardening!”
Luckily, when it comes to curating tasteful home decor and individualistic garments and accessories, Johnson needs absolutely no help.
Norwegian Wood; norwegianwoodonline.com.