It can be challenging for some to forge their own identity in the shadow of a famous relative, but one Nashville artist and designer is defining herself through fashion and art.
Savanna Dohler, a young artist from Nashville, is the creator of pj club. One of her earliest creative memories is making small, plush creatures from gloves she called Glovies. Her grandmother, singer Donna Summer, tried to teach her to sew, but she disliked it. However, she was always interested in fashion, music and photography.
“I have always had an intense connection towards her and who she was,” Dohler said, referring to her grandmother, “…and was told by my mom she had this connection to me as well.”
Dohler said Summer – an American singer, songwriter and actress, who gained prominence during the disco era of the 1970s with music that drew a global following – has been one of her biggest inspirations. She said Summer was also a designer and painter. This creative freedom helped guide Dohler’s journey.
Dohler said she initially felt pressure to sing because of her grandmother’s legacy, but her individualist nature ultimately led her to photography in high school. She said her grandmother also religiously influenced her. She admired Summer’s faith and connection to God.
“My grandma, and her faith in me… and how well she listened to the spirit and what it was telling her, as well as her being an incredibly intuitive person, I think has impacted me a lot,” Dohler said. “I hold who she was very close to me… Even her spirit around me, I feel it a lot.”
After high school, Dohler became an apprentice under one of her grandmother’s close friends, shoe designer Fabrizio Viti, in Paris. Viti has been the head shoes style director of Louis Vuitton since 2004. While Dohler worked under him, she helped with designing, creating visions for the runway, and perfecting the showroom. She also experienced personal struggles of uncertainty about her purpose and insecurity about her identity at the time.
Dohler said learning the process of creating shoes and garments under Viti was valuable. She helped with his personal line and Louis Vuitton. She has also worked for the art gallery, Kaufmann Repetto.
During her year in Paris, she also worked on an American Eagle campaign with her friend and partner, Zach Taylor. Dohler and Taylor met in 2018 through Instagram for a photography session. Taylor is a musician, who goes by the stage name Dreamer Boy, and he was approached to be a part of this campaign.
Taylor was asked to invite friends, and they became friends with the crew and photographer. This led them to shoot more than they had planned and led Dohler to become involved in a separate campaign shot in New York later that year. She was grateful for the opportunity, but it left her feeling lost about what direction her career should take.
“You just gotta do it,” she said. “You just have to start. You can’t let fear control you or stop you from doing something you want to try. Because if you don’t try, it’s the only time you’ll actually fail.”
After that year, Dohler began sketching and designing shoes and clothing. She wanted a pair of patterned flare pants, but could only find expensive designer versions, so she decided to create her own. Dohler said her mother is an incredible seamstress who taught her how to sew the pants. Her business pj club developed from there.
It started with a love of fashion and a desire to bring something new to the world that is fun and wearable. Dohler said she originally planned to bring her different mediums of art together, including fashion, painting, and music, to create a runway show to showcase her new project.
After the pandemic began, Dohler shifted gears and decided to create an online shop. She said one day she was on Depop, an online clothing marketplace, and she found a store called jp clubs. She then thought of calling her collection pj club because the pieces are made from blankets and are similar to pajamas. However, she later had a realization.
“Oh, it’s not pajamas or peanut butter and jelly,” she said. “It’s pure joy. That’s what I stand for, and that’s what I believe in.”
As the idea developed, she created more pieces for the collection and shop. She was also inspired by her little brother, Levi. After receiving a Nintendo Switch for Christmas, Dohler gave him a hug and said, “Hugs are better than switches.” She remembered the moment, and it helped shape the vision of the collection.
“Those are the messages I want to portray,” she said. “Love is presence, is acceptance. Joy. Being there for people who need you. So, with the initial pj club drop, everything I named after either books from my childhood, people I love, stories, and things like that. I feel like it is really an extension of myself and my faith.”
Taylor suggested that Dohler roll out the collection. This allowed her to merge her art, design, photography, music, and video skills to release the project. The day she dropped the collection, it almost completely sold out in the first eight hours.
“She is such a perfectionist,” Taylor said. “Not in a sense that debilitates her, but really pushes her to make the best possible end product…I feel like she is always trying to do the best that she possibly can.”
Following the success of her first drop of pj club, she became even more determined. She said it was intimidating to release it into the world, and she was shocked by the response.
“God gives you gifts to give away,” said Dohler.
She plans to release another pj club collection soon and hopes to find a more permanent home in Nashville. She said seeing other people walk in their purpose inspires her and encourages her to continue. She hopes she will also inspire others.
“I’m excited to keep getting to know Savanna and keep seeing her grow,” Taylor said, “and to see her next chapter open up, because I think that she is really at a place where this next chapter will be a big jump into her purpose, into more projects and more beautiful things that she’ll get to touch and create.”