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    Cool J- New Louisville Fashion Line
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    Louisville's very own John Wilson of Jeff Ruby's is about to start a fashion line: first t-shirts, next suits that even Brad Pitt might wear one day. The sky is the limit with Wilson. John Wilson has been best-dressed since he was a teenager, and has flourished in our city, from marketing, to dance, to music. Fashion was always an interest for Wilson, and this year is his year to explore that provlivity. This is the year of Cool J.

    Wilson kindly chatted with, giving us a behind-the-scenes glance into the man behind the line.

    ** Thank you for making time out of your busy schedule. First Jeff Ruby’s, and now Cool J!

    John Wilson: Oh my God, it’s been crazy. I just got back from Montreal, Canada. Then I get back to …Jeff Ruby’s, my 9 to 5, which I’m the brand manager. So, it’s been crazy. Deciding to do Cool J was something – I did think about doing t-shirts for quite some time. I always have been into fashion… I won Louisville’s Best Dressed back in… 2013. Did you always have this idea in mind for Cool J before then?

    JW: No, I didn’t. I just have always been into fashion and I knew I was going to break out into doing something. But I just didn’t know what… It was maybe six or seven months ago, I wanted to do a clothing line. And I wanted to start off with t-shirts. I started to look around. It seemed like t-shirts were… very popular… all of a sudden, with the sayings on the front of them.... And I was thinking, well, I could do that, kind of break into the industry very softly, very quietly.

    I was trying to think of a brand name. I had to ask a few of my friends. I kept coming up with a lot of different names. I was actually losing sleep over it, because I wanted to… announce it on my birthday, which is July 31st… I asked one of my very good friends, Amy Lewis. She runs the Palace and Mercury Ballroom. She’s very good at marketing. And I ran some names by her, and she just came back to me and said straight-up, “Well, what about Cool J?” … “It’s a brand that you’ve been working on since 1973.” Tell me a little bit more about that. How did this name come into play? Had you thought about this in a different context before?

    JW: The reason why 1973 is that is the year when I was born… I have been in the restaurant business for going on probably 21 years now. And my first restaurant job, there [were] a lot of Johns. One of the guys was like, “Ok. We have a Casual John. We have a Big John.” And he was like, “I think you’re cool. We’ll call you Cool J.” And it stuck. Ever since then, everyone in the industry and all of my friends know me as Cool J. So it’s kind of like this built-in, brainchild of a brand.

    JW: Exactly! I didn’t even think about it until someone told me. I used to have big, huge birthday parties every year. There were always at least 500 people or more. I also… dabbled in music a little bit. I danced with Prince [when he came to Freedom Hall years ago]. I was with MTV for one year on their band show called Global Grooves. I actually got signed to a record label called Nuwe Entertainment in Chicago and performed on the 49th floor of the Hancock Building…

    I just have always had a knack for fashion. It was just born in me… What I was trying to do was merge the two together and try to find a brand name. And why not use Cool J? It’s a brand I have been working on and that I stand behind. And it represents everything about who you are.

    JW: Everything who I am, yeah. My slogan is… Dance with Cool J. Laugh with Cool J. Wear Cool J. So you want this to be like a lifestyle mentality for your brand.

    JW: Right. Exactly… Where I see myself- what I want to try to venture into- I want to be the next Paul Frank. Paul Frank is the designer with the monkey faces… Everything he does is very classy. It’s not like a lot of it in the mainstream. You just can’t go anywhere to find it. He has a lot of specialty stores in Vegas, Miami. Nothing too out of control. I’m not trying to be the next Versace or anything like that. Which would be great, but I am trying to be more into clothing and apparel. Do you always want to focus on t-shirts, or as you were saying, did you just want to tiptoe into the fashion world and is this just your first step?

    JW: It will evolve. I have never actually taken any kind of textile classes or went to school for fashion. I just always had a knack for doing that. So, it’s something that I definitely want to venture into as suits- I definitely want to venture into ties, socks, hats, that kind of thing with apparel. And of course we’re going to do other kinds of shirts. Not just t-shirts. We’ll do polo shirts as well. But eventually, yes, I would love to partner with a great designer like Tom Ford to do some Cool J original classic suits. You have a clear direction. Where do you see yourself five to ten years from now with the brand? Do you have a set, structured plan? Or are you taking it a step at a time with more long-term ideas?

    JW: Trying to take it a step at a time. You know, I’ve been with Jeff Ruby’s for ten years and I’ve done the marketing for that brand. And that brand has been an easy brand to market, because of what we stand for: great food, great service, great ambiance. It embodies all of the senses…

    Things are moving very quickly, but there is a certain standard that I want to have… I just don’t want… for Cool J to be any old brand. If it takes five years to get to the next level or even to do the ties, then that is what it will take. I don’t want to move so fast that the brand gets saturated. I have seen that happen with a lot of designers. You’re being strategic even though you’re passionate about this.

    JW: Right. Exactly. Because everyone has taken really well to it. …It has been an overwhelming response. On July 31st, I started the Facebook page and I already have over 4,000 likes… I am thinking that the launch is going to be the first weekend of October. October is a festive month. Did you have the fall season as a target in mind?

    JW: Yeah, exactly. I live in St. James Court, right in front of the fountain, so that would be a great kick-off to the weekend to do the actual launch on that weekend. What does it mean to you, stepping into the fashion world in a city as eclectic as Louisville?

    JW: You know, I’ve always thought that when it comes to music and fashion, I think that since we are in the middle, sometimes it takes a minute for trends to get here. So, I think that starting here in Louisville, in the middle, where regionally everyone knows Cool J, but nationally, no one does. So, me getting my footing here locally- and Louisville is such a growing city, and with the connections that I have, I think Louisville is a great space to start. Do you want to make this brand intrinsic to Louisville or do you hope to expand eventually, when you move on to ties and beyond?

    JW: I’ll always be here in Louisville, but the brand is definitely going to expand, because of the contacts I have out in the celebrity world. Luckily, working at Jeff Ruby’s, I can’t say names, but once the shirts get out there to see people, I think it’s going to become a national thing…The brand itself is there. Now, it’s time to let the world see it. What do you hope your brand will do for other people? I know you said you want people to dance and laugh. Do you want people to associate Cool J with entertainment and fun? Do you want them to live their daily lives in these shirts? What is your vision for how you see your products being used?

    JW: …There is one thing I have learned in this business. I think if you are going to have a successful brand in the future, I think the successful brands care about people and not about branding. That’s a great mentality.

    JW: Being in the service industry, I love people. I’m looking forward to being able to use Cool J to be able to help other people. I’ve been around millionaires. I’ve had money. I’ve not had money. I want to be able to help. Cool J is going to be a chance to be a philanthropist, because there are so many causes out there… that people aren’t paying attention to. And I told myself if I ever got… [the] money, that is something that I want to do. It’s inherent in me. I’m a Christian. And so, from a kid, it was inherent in me to always give back…I want to be able to give back to the community and know that I am doing it sincerely. Do you feel like your faith compels you to reach for these aspirations? Will that be expressed at all in the line, or is it more just empowering you?

    JW: It will eventually be expressed in the line… I grew up in a church… It’s always been in my bones that if I receive it, I can believe it. If I see it, I can do it. And that’s always been my mentality. This is just another step in my life that has finally come to fruition as far as the Cool J brand.

    You can do things that are premature sometimes before you really need to step out… Everything right now has been working in line. Everything is just coming together like I knew that it would. I’ve got great family backing me. I’ve got great friends. There’s really nothing that I can’t do. That has to be a feeling of invincibility to feel the backing of the people whose opinions you care about the most.

    JW: Oh yeah. It’s amazing. And you know, it’s a very important thing, because it could be a scary thing starting to venture out and do something like this on your own. It’s important. But I surround myself with people that are much smarter than I am. I step back and say, “Look at these designs. What do you think about these?” And they say no. They say yes. I still have a clear vision of what I want to do, but I also know when to listen to people. It takes intelligence on its own to be able to know with whom to surround yourself.

    JW: Exactly. And it’s been two years of getting to that point. But now it seems like it is your moment. It is your year. Is that why you also liked the idea of announcing the fashion line on your birthday, making this the year of Cool J?

    JW: Yeah, I did… Jeff Ruby’s just… wrote a bio about me that is absolutely amazing, coming on the heels of me coming out with Cool J. It couldn’t be a better time. It really couldn’t. Do you have defining moments of your childhood that you can look back on and see it makes sense why you are where you are today?

    JW: You know, it’s funny. I think every kid might say this, but a defining moment was when I was watching Motown, when Michael Jackson was on TV and he did the moonwalk. I sat there and I saw that. I turned around to my mother and said, “Look. I’m going to do that one day.” Ever since then, I look back at that moment. I was sitting on the floor in front of one of those big TVs in the living room. He did that and it just changed me… I just turned around to my mom and said, “One of these days, that’s going to be me.” You said you have always been fashion-inclined. Did you go through any awkward phases of fashion that most go through during that teenage/adolescent phase? Or were you just someone who was always ahead of your time?

    JW: I really can’t think back of any time that I wasn’t. So you just always had it together. That’s awesome.

    JW: Even in the eighth grade, I won best dressed. Clearly a lot of years of impressing Louisville with your fashion sense and your savvy.

    JW: Well,… I grew up with three older sisters. They wouldn’t let me leave the house any other kind of way. Even if I tried, I’d walk downstairs to breakfast. They’d ask me, “Are you wearing that?” And I’d be like, “Yeah.” They’d just talk amongst themselves and I knew what I was wearing wasn’t right. So, I went and fixed it. My father died when I was seven years old. He was actually the first black barber in Shelby County. So, my hair was always cut once a week. My mother kept me dressed to the nines at all times. In my bathroom, there wasn’t Sports Illustrated; there was Vogue Magazine, there was… Seventeen… Those were the kinds of magazines I was reading... I couldn’t wait for [those magazines] to come…. I just have always had that eye for fashion. There was one point where I did want to go to a fashion school, but I just- it just didn’t happen. I knew I had the fashion down, but then I got more interested in the music. Do you still feel passionate about the music? Do you think you will mix music and dancing with the promotion of your fashion line?

    JW: I most certainly do. I haven’t been in the studio in a while, but I do plan to get back in the studio when the time is right, because I love writing music… Right now, I am really excited about this clothing/apparel line. What made you decide to go for this dream? You have always been interested in fashion. I know you said that you had that time ticking in your mind for your birthday. What started it all and made you think you wanted this?

    JW: I think it was after I realized that I had a brand. And it’s no one else’s but mine. I tell people that I have been working on t-shirts since there was a design that I had to get a license for. I didn’t have the copyright to it. I saw this image… a picture of my face wearing sunglasses, because… most of the pictures you see me on Facebook are of me wearing sunglasses… It gave me a reason to really do this.

    It’s me. It’s something that I can stand behind…. This isn’t somebody else’s name. I’m using Cool J, which is a name that at least in Louisville has a great name and a great brand. That is what excited me… and now everything else is just falling into place. What do you want to tell the people who don’t know you yet, but will through your brand? Fashion-wise, creativity-wise, how do you hope your brand will help people express themselves to be the most authentic versions of who they are?

    JW: I think that hopefully when people find out who I am through other people and the respect that I have in Louisville that they will be proud to wear Cool J shirts. That they know that when they are wearing this shirt, it symbolizes something. It symbolizes a boy from a small town growing up and going after his dreams…

    I’ve worked hard. I have always had a job. I’m just following the footsteps of my family, with my father having had his own company. I’m doing the same. And I hope that people in Louisville can definitely relate to it and aspire to do the same thing. What does the word “cool” mean to you? What do you think it means for the people who will be wearing Cool J?

    JW: I think that what I want for them to think when they have it on is not only fun, but a bit eclectic. Cool is a universal word. Everybody wants to be cool… Everybody can be cool. Did you design the logo yourself?

    JW: I did, yes. So what was that process like?

    JW: I knew Cool J was going to be the brand name. I was thinking: What do people know me for? Not just for the fashion, but people who see me out know me for wearing some pretty high-priced sunglasses. Either Ray Ban or Gucci or Prada. I was like, that’s it! I want to find something that is universal; that everyone can relate to. Sunglasses are definitely the universal symbol for cool.

    JW: Exactly. Sunglasses really are the universal symbol for cool. I got with my friend. His name is Tilu. He’s a graphic artist. I told him what I wanted. And there it was. It came out great… The female one looks really, really cool. Whether you’re black, white, Hispanic- you’ll definitely be able to relate to Cool J. You’re launching yourself into the horizon here. You’ve got the drive. You’ve got the creative vision. Is there anything else you would like to tell our readers at

    JW: Stay tuned! Watch what happens. I’ve got some really great things… I want to try to give [Louisville] another Jennifer Lawrence. I want to be that person where if you see Brad Pitt wearing a Cool J shirt, you can point and say, “You know what? That guy is from Louisville.” 


    Visit the website or Facebook page here, and keep your eyes out for Louisville's best-dressed-turned-visionary Cool J!


    All Photos: Courtesy of Cool J's Facebook page and John Wilson

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    About Julie Lamb

    Curly-haired owner of one massive sweet tooth, believer of Harry Potter and Disney fairytales, and a fierce lover of all things literary and the arts.

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