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Life is a Theme Party!

An Interview with Deb Johns, Creative Director and Co-Founder

Creative Director Deb John's taking photographs on a trip to Europe.

Deb, how did you decide on “Life is a Theme Party” as the theme for the Spring/Summer 2015 season?

I have always lived my life thematically. I collect by theme, I theme my wardrobe, I decorate my house by themes and I throw parties with themes. When you choose a theme and follow it all the way down to the small touches, whatever you're doing becomes more engaging. I believe we never truly leave our childhood behind and themes help bring the whimsy of childhood to the present.

I love the idea of themes giving you a renewed sense of youth.

One of my favorite memories was a year that we participated in a Christmas house tour in Georgetown. While many of the houses went very traditional, I choose to go very whimsical, with the hope of achieving a true sense of childhood. I decorated our entire house with different Christmas trees including a Barbie tree, a peacock tree, and a 12-foot tall tree with full-size toys. A Washington Post reporter stopped by our house and said he felt like he was a kid again. I like to have a sense of humor—it's important to not take yourself too seriously. This is really what SCOUT is about.

Tell us more about SCOUT.

SCOUT is about celebrating the everyday. Our products bring imagination to the ordinary. We want everything about our line to make you smile, down to the names of products and patterns. What I love about having two new collections every year is that we have the chance to really celebrate all the seasons and holidays. Our product evolves with the seasons, too, and creates an oasis within the everyday. Our life and our brand is about making every day its own theme party.

Do SCOUT products have a place in an actual theme party?

SCOUT will get you from start to finish with any theme party! You can take our product with you to shop for the theme party, you can use our products during the party to add color and pattern that complements the theme (and as party favors!), and then afterwards to store your party décor. Our product gets you there, keeps you there, and comes home with you after.

You also have a pop-up retail shop called Fifi. Tell us how you apply themes there.

Themes really help inspire emotions. That's why Ralph Lauren is so successful at creating a world and asking you to join it. If you approach theming in your store in a convincing way, you convey a sense of confidence in the product, and people will want it. That's what I try to do with Fifi.

Pictures from Deb's travels through Europe

Deb (shown at the top of the page) takes several trips to her favorite cities each year to take photographs of colors, fashions, patterns, architecture and other sights that inspire her. These inspirations kick off each new season of SCOUT.

Deb, many of our customers are not aware that you throw an annual theme party called Go Bo—an event dedicated to raising money to help families affected by childhood cancer. What have been some of your favorite Go Bo themes?

For Go Bo, we have done the themes “Tacky Wedding,” “Animal House,” “Beach Blanket Bingo,” “Gilligan's Island,” and some others, too. One of my favorite theme parties was my first, which was “The Big Hair Holiday Ball.” All of our guests did something incredibly creative with their hair—from beehives to mohawks. When we walk away from Halloween as adults, we walk away from the opportunity to be someone else or something else, even if for a short time. My theme parties provide another opportunity to do that.

Tell us about your career and how you got to be where you are today.

For me, everything was leading to this. I had the opportunity to study art at Carnegie Mellon with a professor who also taught Andy Warhol. That professor believed the true formula for success is to learn the discipline behind being creative along with honing your artistic talents. Plenty of people can draw and paint, but that alone doesn't make them successful.

Before that, it was a sewing class in 7th grade that piqued my interest. It was like someone turned the lights on. I could draw and then actually create my clothes and jewelry! I became the head costume designer for the theater department in high school. I was entirely self-taught and I learned to design all types of costumes from the Shakespearean era to modern day. It was then I realized my career had to be creative and fashion-oriented. I am happiest when I am creating something.

I went on to Cornell and studied textiles and design. I met the women of Conde Nast while in school and became an assistant editor at Vogue at age 21. That sparked my interest in the editorial route.

How have your experiences lent themselves to designing for SCOUT?

I try to view the world with an editor's eye, looking for influences that are relevant to our brand. Walking around inspirational cities is how I get inspired. For me, it's like plugging into a socket. It's an overload of stuff, but I love the visual assault. Then, I take it all in and edit it down. I believe in simplifying, and creating themes is a great way to do this.

I apply this same philosophy as a stylist. I want my clients to be comfortable in their own skin and for them to feel their most confident. I tell them, “Know yourself, know your formula, know your brand.”

Outside of my past styling experiences, theming started for me with collecting. Some of my favorite collections are my Prada bags (since 1984), restaurant china, royal tins, crowns, white teapots, shoes (40 years' worth!), black jewelry, enamel wear from France, Astro Boy figurines, and vintage beach memorabilia.

Deb, thanks so much for giving us a little tour of your world! At the end of this 2015, how will you know if it was a successful year?

I want SCOUT to become a brand that everyone is excited to use—a household favorite. I really believe that once you use SCOUT, you can't imagine life without it. We have lots of loyal customers who have said from the beginning that this is the best line ever. One year from now I hope even more people are just as excited about the brand. I would love more outposts nationally and internationally, too, but in the end, what I really want is for our customers to say, “This brand changed the way I live my life. I don't know what I did before SCOUT.”