Interview Gissella Ramirez-Valle, Photos Soo Kei & Gissella Ramirez Valle
You’re now a fashion designer, but your trajectory is not a typical one. Tell us about your formation.
Julian: I was 14 when I got my first internship in fashion illustration. At first, fashion was an interest. Then it became a hobby and later on, a career goal. It was all connected to my sexuality. When my parents found out that I was gay, I told myself that fashion was bad and divorced myself from it. I took a military and typical college route instead of pursuing the arts and fashion school. I went to the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota and majored in International Business and joined the ROTC. I commissioned into the military – a choice made too early, I think. I didn’t know myself completely then. I came out with my sexuality after graduation and got back into fashion. I did a bit of styling and creative directing in Chicago and then the military gave me a list of places that I could go in the world. One of them was Italy, another Germany, but I knew that if I went there I wouldn’t be able to dual track my career. I wanted to fulfill my commitment with the military and pursue my passions in art and fashion.
So you decided on South Korea. Why?
Julian: I arrived to South Korea in 2013 and I wanted to observe what the fashion in Seoul was all about. I had been hearing some buzz about Korea being different and exciting. That something was happening here.
Tell us about your first experience attending Seoul Fashion Week.
Julian: Seoul Fashion Week was still hosted in Yeouido, Seoul in 2013 because Dongdaemun Design Plaza had not been completed yet. I was living an hour and a half north in Camp Casey but I wanted to attend the runway shows so contacted all of the designers. I sent them a small portfolio of the work I had done after graduating and requested to see their shows. There still weren’t many foreigners going to the shows back then, not many international buyers or editors, so it was pretty easy for someone like me, a newcomer, to get perks like front row seats. Some people took advantage of that to just go for the thrill of it. For me, however, it was like my oasis in the middle of the desert. I had to travel from so far to just enjoy being myself and feel as if I am part of something. I took it really seriously and dressed up. Bookers started contacting me on Facebook after that. Next thing you know I was booking modeling and styling jobs in Seoul!
"I HAD BEEN HEARING SOME BUZZ ABOUT KOREA BEING DIFFERENT AND EXCITING. THAT SOMETHING WAS HAPPENING HERE."
You got involved in the Korean fashion circuit rather quickly. But how did Woodhouse come about?
Julian: A colleague I previously worked with in Seoul contacted me. They said, “Hey I’m doing this production company and we want to start an incubator of creatives and we want you to be the first one.” Together we started with an accessories brand called Woodhouse since I was already making my own accessories for styling gigs. It was honestly a disaster, but it made me want to fast forward to creating fashion and menswear.
Did you recruit anyone to help you start the menswear label?
Julian: When I was younger I lived in South Korea for four years and my parents would get custom clothes made all of the time. There was this one seamstress they would go to and I decided to go back there. Twenty years had passed but he was still there! Shortly after reuniting he started making the clothes I that I would design for myself to wear to parties. I found out that he used to be a pattern maker for Lie Sang Bong back in the day. After all of those test pieces that he made for me, I decided that I could rely on him. He’s fast, he’s detailed, his workmanship and detailing is out of this world, up there with the big atelier. It started out as an experiment and it escalated sample by sample. I would design and go to Dongdaemun to source fabrics. I would tell him the concept and details and he would execute everything precisely. In the middle of this experimentation, I found out that I had a potential investor in New York City, so that’s when it started to get serious and he became the pattern and sample maker for Woodhouse, the menswear label.
Has Korea inspired the aesthetic of the clothes you create?
Julian: Korea has had a big factor. My favorite designer is Kaal E Suktae and I love pushBUTTON’s shows too! You know, there’s a lot of allure to the Korean silhouette.
What’s the Korean silhouette?
Julian: You know, wide leg trousers that are cut at the shin, with white socks and tennis shoes (laughs) ... and bomber jackets. I have loved Korean fashion so much because of that silhouette, even if it has always been included in every show. I myself included that silhouette into my collection, because of what I saw at Seoul Fashion Week. I think their perspective is so unique, it’s really cool. It matches classic menswear and European atelier with dreams of the future.
"I think the Korean perspective is so unique, it’s really cool. it matches classic menswear and European atelier with dreams of the future."
At its core, is there a mission you want to fulfill with Woodhouse?
Julian: Overall I’m inspired by options. I go to the men’s section at stores and the options are boring and I go to the women’s section and there’s a nice oversized sweater that on me doesn’t necessarily look feminine, it’s just a sweater. So why is it not in the men’s section? So with my brand I want men to have cool stuff to wear! For women there’s options for different body types available but for men there really isn’t a designer focusing on giving options to different kinds of guys. Woodhouse is a brand for men. Once you start blurring the lines between classic menswear and progressive menswear there’s always the word androgyny thrown in and it’s like, no! It doesn’t have to be androgynous. Woodhouse is progressive, manly and cool.
Is it safe to say that hardware is one of your design trademarks?
Julian: I think so, yeah. I think adding a little bit of wow factor is essential, even if the clothes are comfortable. It’s all about the small details, I like it when a zipper doesn’t zip up the typical way for example. It’s still comfortable but the zipper is placed differently. I like it when clothes can transform with zippers or with detachable panels but executed in simple ways that would not push men into an uncomfortable territory.
What’s the story behind the Spring/Summer 2017 collection?
Julian: Imagine a beach but instead of sand its rocks. It’s a stony beach with a house on a hill, it’s sunset, it’s undercast, and you’re just walking. Mix that idea with the silhouette of a flapper from the 1930’s, really long and graceful.
You’ve accomplished so much in such a short amount of time! Are you satisfied?
Julian: It’s so funny. First it was simple: I just wanted to create something. And then, I wanted to be published somewhere. I got those. Now it’s about sales. I'm stressing about sales.
On that note, what are your thoughts on some design houses altering their process so that their collections are available in stores immediately after their runway shows?
Julian: I think it’s great. The thing about fashion people is that we’re emotional. We love being in the moment. I’ll spend way too much on a jacket because you know, it’s here now and I can get it. From a sales perspective it’s a very good strategy because it’s Fashion Week and the clothes look so amazing and we want them now! You don’t want to wait six months. You’ll forget about it and your connection with the piece will have dwindled. Designers can really capitalize on that emotional effect a fashion show has on a consumer. In the past, I would have just gone with the system, but now this new system is what I want to do. I have the ability to do it, I’m super connected with my design team, pattern makers, and factories. If I drop an order today it’ll be done in ten days in a snap.
Julian, you still are a full-time army officer. You’re dual-tracking as you intended, four seasons in, but there are only so many hours in a day. How the heck do you do it?!
Julian: There’s always break times! I take advantage of every moment to design and get things moving. I also have my husband giving me reminders to stay on track. It’s all very possible if you use every moment wisely! I’m always ready for challenges and I think I’m ready to ride the wave and do I what do every season.