O'Donnell, founder of johnnie-O and brother of
actor Chris O'Donnell
many years, John O’Donnell’s fame came by
association with actor and younger brother Chris O’Donnell
("NCIS: Los Angeles," "Grey’s
Anatomy," "Scent of a Woman").
the past decade, though, John has built a commanding
national presence of his own via his johnnie-O clothing
line, which has carved a distinct identity between
Southern California surfer and East Coast popped-collar
prep. Its emblem: A stand-up-paddle boarder embroidered
on the chest of shirts.
guys are comfortable because it’s not too preppy, and
preppy guys are comfortable because it’s not like they’re
throwing on a Hawaiian shirt and having an identity
crisis," O’Donnell says.
have doubled each of the past five years for johnnie-O,
which counts Pete Sampras, Ryan Seacrest, the Farrelly
brothers, and Peyton and Eli Manning as customers.
Johnnie-O has added women’s and children’s items as
well as his premium High Yield collection for men.
thinks guys relate to the johnnie-O logo — "an
actual person" versus a whale, alligator or pony
— as well as the sport it depicts, which has been
taken up across the entire country.
the guy with the lakehouse in Ohio who has a stand-up
paddleboard can look at our logo and say, ‘It’s me,’"
is also O’Donnell, who grew up outside Chicago and has
a 12-foot paddleboard in his Brentwood garage in Los
Angeles (where it has been spending more time since the
birth of son Jack a few months ago).
the paddleboard isn’t his only inspiration, or the
only secret to johnnie-O’s success.
How did you conceive of this brand?
I grew up in a preppy, conservative environment, on the
North Shore of Chicago. I’m No. 4 of seven kids.
(Chris is the youngest.)
I went to UCLA (where he played on the golf team) and
was thrown into this other culture. I realized there
were similarities — the house drink might be a
margarita versus a martini, fish tacos versus
cheeseburgers — but we all have the same interests. It
comes down to family and friends and being active and
enjoying life. Maybe it’s squash on the East Coast and
skateboarding out here. But we all gravitate toward the
lived in both and saw them both. I thought, why can’t
there be something that we all kind of "get"?
What sells best in your line?
Our men’s four-button polo, which we refer to as The
Original.We are constantly updating colors and bringing
in new stripes so that our core customers can come back
for what we call "freshies."
What’s one of your greatest twists on standard prep
On button-down shirts, men are always struggling with
that second button dilemma — do you button or not
button that second button. The minute you button it, you
look a little too buttoned up, but when you don’t it
looks like you’re going too far. I invented a hidden
placket button — a tweener button, like in-between. It
has been a massive home run for us.
What’s your business attire?
A pair of johnnie-O khakis — they’re like a
jean/khaki hybrid — and a johnnie-O button-down shirt.
And then Chuck Taylors, loafers or flip-flops depending
on what the day will bring.
What’s your first style memory?
My Hang Ten shirts in the early ’70s ... loved them!
Did your upbringing influence the laid-back vibe of your
Growing up, we spent summers at our cottage in Douglas,
Mich., on the lakeshore. As my dad used to say,
"The only thing on my mind was my hair." To
this day, whenever I hear the Bee Gees or Abba or any
other early ’70s light favorites, it takes me back
there. It’s my favorite place on earth.
Is there anything in your closet from that time that you
One of my dad’s old madras blazers; I wear it on
special occasions in the summer.
What’s your worst sartorial mistake?
The apple green socks I’m wearing today.
Do you hang or fold your polos?
I hang but am thinking about switching to fold now that
you mention it.
What do you wear when up in the air for business or
A pair of jeans, a button-down shirt and a blazer.My mom
always said to pack a blue blazer — you never know!
Are you becoming as famous as your little brother?
No, and that’s fine with me. I’m very happy just
being the voice and face of this brand.