Being JULIAANDBEN requires nitrogen stamina and a maverick’s agenda. Creative director and label principle Julia Heuse together with designer/artist Ben Klunker have birthed a new fashion category, amplifying the mood and look of post-party glam.
The two fashion school grads (ESMOD) started rocking a Berlin warehouse with cliffhanger ideas in 2009 (official opening of their Berlin flagship store), daring fashion folk to break their molds. It was after a lineup of exhibits throughout Paris and Berlin, and a riveting collaboration with photographer Fumi Nagasaka, when the pair reached eponymous label status in global sales and press (Vogue.it, Flux, Nylon, Interview Magazine, and the red carpet list goes on). This year they’ve already gone large with a five-star catwalk at Berlin’s prestigious Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. view show >>
“10 years ago there was hardly any German fashion, except Jil Sander, Wolfgang Joop, and so on. But there was a lack of fashion infrastructure, no fashion week, no fairs. Germany used to be a bit slow and conservative when it came to fashion. It tends to be underrated in Germany… However, fashion is an important indicator for cultural streams and tendencies, just as literature or music. I believe fashion actually belongs in the cultural section of newspapers, like theatre or film. This is probably a global problem, but in Germany, “country of the poets and thinkers”, it is very significant. “ – Julia Heuse
Every fashion conscious savant is fully aware of the 24-hour glam-o-meter when planning an outing: The pre-siorée. The soirée. The post-soirée. The after party. And then, the day after – which is increasingly more important as crowds revel in stories and the aftermath of debauchery over fine-tuned urban brunches and afternoon roundups. Call it the day after look, aftermath attire, model off duty, post-party glam, rebel glam, call it whatever you want, but it is a look. And what better place to master the vogue of ardent social clubs than among the art and stones in an international creative mecca, Mitte district, Berlin. “Broken and dirty inspires me” says the creative devotee.
With an attitude of defiance and a grace for form, the rockstar incognito pokes through high voltage cuts and tampered materials. Both their menswear and womenswear collections are saturated with coils of distressed fabrics, moon-washed, tie-dyed or bleached. The brand image stretches into an atmosphere of romantic destruction bred in street savvy couture as a polished team – including the touch of rising designer Ms. Angela Strabone and A-list models Janine Henkes with all-star DJs Hugo Capablanca and Frederic Stader – comes together for an eclectic compilation of moneyshots in there 2012 photoshoot “Julia Without Ben” (photographed & styled by Julia Heuse).
Renaissance and debonair, Julia captures the essence of this new born label in its infancy of Berlin fashion stardom. This close-up with Julia is as intellectually stimulating as it is invigorating as she touches on the seams of deep design culture, globally, and at the heart of a gestural Germany.
Interview with Julia Heuse by Angela Gleason
AG: What is going on with fashion in Berlin? Where do you see the generational momentum with fashion gurus, and where do you see JULIAANDBEN categorically with fashion today?
JH: In recent years, Berlin has become a cultural and fashion capital that has to be taken seriously. The Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin has established itself as one of the important fashion events on a global scale. Thus, Berlin has become one of the new fashion cities that are eyed from an international press audience. A range of young designers are situated here and do really good stuff, and finally getting noticed. I don’t think it s so much about fashion gurus here, but rather about high quality design and materials. Maybe this is also a German thing: We don’t make so much fuss about designer personalities here. It is more about the product itself.
JULIAANDBEN is one of the burgeoning and most promising Berlinian labels. A lot of young designers become very popular now with their first collections as Hien Le, or Augustin Teboul. This is because Berlin finally has the infrastructure that is necessary to promote its creative talent on a global scale. We on the other hand, have already 5 years of experience. JULIAANDBERN exists since 2007. Before, our focus was rather on international sales. Especially in Asia, where our creations were very popular from the very beginning. The new fashion scene in Berlin opens up new possibilities for us. Together we Berlinian labels can become a force in our own right. We are in a much stronger position now.
AG: As a young company, is JULIAANDBEN what you had envisioned back in school, and has your approach to design changed now that you’ve completed successful collections?
JH: Having started with lots of streetwear elements, my designs are much more “grown up” now. I still believe in deconstruction and distorted materials, but then the shape and the tailoring must be very sophisticated and elegant. For instance, for my Fall/Winter 2012/2013 collection, recently shown at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin, I did some very elegant long evening dresses. This is the first time that I did something like that. I never did that before, not even during studies. It was an experiment. I had no idea, I was even capable of doing that. But now I am very satisfied with the outcome, I think it is just beautiful.
AG: What/who are some inspirations behind the brand, and what messages or moods do you seek to convey through your work?
JH: I draw my inspiration foremostly from the materials themselves, that is, I see a piece of fabric and then the idea comes what I could do with it. Also, my direct environment influences me. Lots of our pieces are handcoloured and tie-dyed. The surfaces of the materials are artificially aged. When we started our label we worked in an old demolition house in which all the surfaces were broken or dirty. Broken and dirty inspires me.
AG: Are there any specific cultural elements that you seek to address in your work (German influences)?
JH: No. Or, if there are, they are not intended. My approach to fashion design is rather post-conceptual, that is, I start the working process with the fabrics I use instead of a specific concept or cultural element. However, of course I am always influenced by the impressions around me. Maybe you could tell me if you see anything specifically German or Berlinian about it? I am curious!
AG: What do you feel it is about Berlin that wreaks a uniqueness in the fashion scene? And what kept you from opening up shop abroad (why not Paris, Milan, New York)?
JH: In the beginning we could not afford to open up a store in a more established fashion city. And now, as in Berlin has emerged such a vibrant fashion scene, I do not want to leave. However, I can imagine to open up another flagship store in the near future. But at the moment that’s all still up in the air. In the meantime, our collections can be purchased from international stockists or in our online shop:http://juliaandben.myshopify.com/
AG: Where do you see your label heading (partners, collaborators, new cities, cultures to come in the future)?
JH: A lot is happening at the moment. Ben left the label. Karolina came, my new manager. This gives me more time to concentrate on the creative process. We plan a big catwalk show at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in July and are currently talking to potential partners about it. This might also lead to interesting new projects and collaborations. Moreover, I am thinking about opening up a second fashion line, JULIA HEUSE, for evening wear. We are also still looking for the most suitable sales agents in asia and the US. So there is definately a lot about to come this year.
AG: What have been some of the biggest challenges as young fashion designers in Berlin?
JH: Well, having a company is not easy. It is a 24/7-Job. Sometimes you sit in your studio in wild despair and you just hate your life. So having your own label is always a challenge – but somehow I managed it since 2007.
AG: Are you seeing a response to fashion in Germany today that was not there maybe 10 years ago, and how do you feel fashion is viewed in Germany compared to other international fashion arenas?
JH: 10 years ago there has been hardly any German fashion, except Jil Sander, Wolfgang Joop, and so on. But there was no fashion infrastructure, no fashion week, no fairs. Generally speaking Germany used to be a bit slow and conservative when it comes to fashion. Fashion tends to be underrated in Germany. For many people fashion always has a negative connotation. They don’t want to be fashionable, because they see it as shallow. However, fashion is an important indicator for cultural streams and tendencies, just as literature or music. As I believe, fashion actually belongs into the cultural section of newspapers, like theatre or film. This is probably a global problem, but in German, „country of the poets and thinkers“, it is very significant. Luckily, with the development of Berlin as creative Capital, it is getting better now. The Berlinian government under Klaus Wowereit understands the importance of fashion as factor in the economy. Still, a lot of work has to be done here. Creative talent must be supported even more. Maybe the Berlin government needs a genuine fashion professional in charge of these things.
AG: What do you foresee as being requirements to ensure a successful label for years ahead?
JH: Stamina, a high frustration tolerance and the curiosity to learn new things every day. Luck, also. You can do everything right, and still be at the wrong time at the wrong place.
AG: Are there any iconic individuals whom you would most enjoy seeing in your designs?
JH: I can’t think of a specific person at the moment, but I think the typical JULIAANDBEN wearer is more a type than a perfect beauty. I like types. Strong personalities, strong men and women. I always prefer types before models. This was also important to me for the casting for our last fashion show. I don’t like clean, boring, perfect models. I prefer people that have the je-ne-sais-quoi. People that just „wow“ you with their charisma.