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Jenna Johnson has just emerged from a groundbreaking season of “Dancing with the Stars”, where her flawless technique, creative choreography and self-confidence were in the spotlight. Also in the spotlight? His next-level rehearsal mode comprised of pieces from his own line with Jo + Jax. The collaboration kicked off last summer with a fantastic dance parade in Pleasant Grove, UT, surrounded by the state’s dance elite (think “DWTS” pros Witney Carson, Lindsay Arnold and more). The partnership was a first for both parties, and each was committed to presenting it to the world in style.
Dressed in a firecracker red ensemble, Johnson and her husband, Val Chmerkovskiy, hit the ground first with a fierce cha-cha. Soon an army of J + J dancers paraded (read: danced) the catwalk in all new designs. From jazz to hip hop to the ballroom, Utah talent was on full display (and covered in cheetah prints), including the minis, who walked the marley with ultra nerve. It was a show reminiscent of the days before the pandemic, something Jo + Jax co-founder Joey Dowling-Fakhrieh had dreamed of. “The energy was intoxicating,” she says. “It was amazing.”
JJXJJ: A collaboration made in alliteration paradise
Over the years, Jo + Jax has been approached by various agents and managers looking to get their dancers to collaborate. Despite the interest, Dowling-Fakhrieh never jumped at the chance. “It was just never the right solution,” she says. But that all changed two years ago when designer (and Dowling-Fakhrieh alumnus) Hannah Sobisky Gordon joined the Jo + Jax team. “Hannah was my first roommate in LA 10 years ago while in fashion school,” Johnson says. “I would come in from rehearsals of ‘DWTS’ and she would sew and pin, and set up sketches. I saw her become an incredible designer.
Due to their personal connection, Dowling-Fakhrieh and Gordon began to trace the potential for a formal collaboration with Johnson. “Jenna was the right fit for our brand,” says Dowling-Fakhrieh. “We knew her personally [Johnson, Dowling-Fakhrieh and Gordon were all raised in the same Utah dance community], and knew the kind of character she had. It promotes all of the same things that we value: believing in yourself, standing up for yourself, working hard, and being humble. “
When the Jo + Jax team officially offered Johnson the opportunity, it was obvious to them. “I always wanted to have a line with my name on it, but I didn’t want to create my own brand,” Johnson says. “It was perfect because I really trusted Hannah, and it all fell into place.”
Early in the line’s design, the Jo + Jax team were interested in harnessing the recent boom in ballroom dancing for young people brought about by conventions such as 24Seven (where Johnson and Chmerkovskiy are on faculty) by introducing it into their program. According to Johnson, many students who attend her classes on the weekends don’t have proper prom attire, and she can’t wait to change that. “I was showing up to lecture in a dress and heels, and the dancers were in their usual dance clothes, wowed by what I was wearing,” Johnson says. “My goal was to give these kids access to good quality ballroom clothes, and in colors that make me feel better: fire red, cheetah print and sleek black. “
The design process
Courtesy of Jo + Jax
The collaboration process began with Johnson and the team at Jo + Jax taking inspiration from what they wanted the line to be. “We didn’t just design clothes and put Jenna’s name on it,” says Gordon. “She was involved every step of the way.” Once they figured out what everyone was looking for, Gordon and the Jo + Jax design team sketched out designs for review. “We started with 25 models and had to cut it down to five or six,” she says.
“I want to be proud and confident in everything I create or promote,” Johnson says. “The material had to create an appropriate flow and movement. There was a lot of pressure on all of us to get it right. Johnson brought in some of her favorite prom outfits and together she and Gordon dissected what made her so good and applied it to their designs.
The fashion show
In recent years, Jo + Jax has moved its headquarters from New York to Utah (a dance education hot spot). In their new space is a room they call the “movement laboratory”, intended to organize events, rehearsals and, one day, master classes in which students can dance with the Jo + Jax equipment and give their opinion on the designs. “Our biggest vision when it came to moving to Utah was the possibility of having events where we could experience the dancers,” said Dowling-Fakhrieh.
And, boy, did they give an experience at their J + JX Jenna Johnson launch party. Dowling-Fakhrieh and Johnson worked together to choreograph the show: Johnson created the ballroom sections while Dowling-Fakhrieh defined the jazz and hip-hop moments. “We’re both such determined choreographers my husband was a little nervous,” says Dowling-Fakhrieh. “But it ended up being so easy and fun.”
At the end of the performance, Johnson, Dowling-Fakhrieh and Gordon took the stage to thank, and the three women burst into tears. “We wanted to create a community where people support each other,” says Dowling-Fakhrieh. “This launch was the culmination of all our hard work, and it was the most amazing experience ever.”