The Stark Elegance of Julius: A Look at the Work of Tatsuro Horikawa
The Stark Elegance of Julius: A Look at the Work of Tatsuro Horikawa
- Words Alexander Azar
- Date August 16, 2017
Seldom considered a Japanese brand, JULIUS is often associated with the likes of Rick Owens, Damir Doma, and Boris Bidjan Saberi. Opposing Japanese streetwear’s vibrant colors, JULIUS opts for blacks, that in turn contrast even-darker blacks. With a penchant for abnormally long jeans and elongated tanks JULIUS is seemingly diametrically opposed to the ivy-inflected styles that have informed the foundation of modern Japanese menswear. Creative director Tatsuro Horikawa, however, has been inspired by his native culture since birth, eschewing traditional styles and offering a fresh take on traditional and ceremonial garb.
Born on Kyushu—an isolated island in southwest Japan—in the early 1970s, Horikawa emigrated to Tokyo at a young age where he quickly grew to embrace the “pop feeling,” courtesy of the underground movements. He describes his childhood growing up in Neo-Tokyo as a future-wasteland, which “exists in [his] consciousness and in the consciousness of whole generations who saw Akira, Blade Runner, and Mad Max.” Horikawa defines underground Tokyo through its incorporation of techno and industrial music, a movement with which he easily identifies. Through those raucous techno and underground clubs, Horikawa was drawn towards music, which he dabbled with in high school. Eventually, though, he chose to pursue art.
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During his early twenties, Horikawa became a video jockey, creating intense visual art projections that played alongside DJ sets in nightclubs. To accompany the rigid, vibrant, techno music played in clubs, Horikawa constructed dark, linear, visual projections. The aspiring artist viewed the visuals as accompaniments to sounds—stagnant rather than melodic—which allowed him to focus on the individual components rather than be restricted by rhythm. Although Horikawa sketched and drew pictures as well, his interest in clothing had yet to materialize.
In 1994, Horikawa began first experimenting with clothing, creating a collection of art and garments based on the science-fiction anime Genma Taisen. Consisting mostly of techno-scene t-shirts (nothing overwhelmingly distinct), Horikawa made a small capsule for his crew of close friends, primarily DJs and other artists. Feeling somewhat unfulfilled, he aspired to create full uniforms, as his t-shirts were not “enough to be able to express the world [he] wanted to build." Two years later, in 1996, Horikawa launched his first label, NUKE.
With NUKE, Horikawa began to develop his signature style—exaggerated lengths. This was accomplished using superfluous quantities of leather and employing a primarily brown and black color palette. At this point in his life, Horikawa exclusively wore black, enamored with both the simplicity and inherent complexity that the color conveys. More than a clothing brand, NUKE was an artistic movement, one that combined his histories with music and visual art with clothing. Over its six-year duration, NUKE became incredibly influential amongst the underground Japanese art community.
In 2001, Horikawa folded NUKE and launched the first iteration of JULIUS. With the creation of JULIUS, Horikawa’s initial plan was to stop designing and producing clothing. Instead, his new JULIUS imprint would create audio and visuals to accompany collections from other designers. The new project was an opportunity for Horikawa to combine his love of techno music and industrial design in order to create the perfect atmosphere for designers to display their clothing. Even still, Horikawa aspired to do more.
Horikawa began creating clothing under the JULIUS moniker in 2004. Referencing styles from NUKE, the designer elevated his clothing to the forefront of gothic fashion through luxe materials and painstaking finishes. Horikawa saw JULIUS as a natural continuation—essentially NUKE rebranded—a thought process that allowed his underground work to spread. Horikawa firmly believed that understanding NUKE was the only way to understand JULIUS. In his eyes, the two labels were one and the same, with the only significant difference being that JULIUS tends to veer towards exaggerated silhouettes and, at least initially, a darker color palette
JULIUS has two main lines, the Julius_7 men’s line and MA Julius, a gender-neutral diffusion line. Horikawa describes JULIUS in seven words: “Black, Chaotic, Industrial, Techno, Avant-Garde, Contemporary, Minimal.” Developing a certain fascination with the number seven—stemming back to the fact the seventh month of the year, July, is his birth month—the seven word description is fitting.
At JULIUS’ foundation is an infatuation and respect for black. Horikawa describes black as the most pure color. When asked about his favorite shade of black, the designer stated simply, “The perfect black is the deepest black. A black that has depths and nuances.” More than just pure from a literal color perspective, Horikawa views the shade as inherently spiritual. According to Japanese monks, the noblest color is “Eshiki”, roughly translating to “putrid color… a purple-orange hybrid color, a mixture of all kinds of impurities.” Horikawa views black as a form of Eshiki as, like the putrid color, its nuances exist due to the blending of all colors.
Building on the success of NUKE, JULIUS quickly attracted attention for its dark, post-apocalyptic designs. After establishing a presence in Japan, the brand pushed abroad, and in 2008 presented a runway show as a part of Paris Fashion Week. Being on fashion’s most prominent proved crucial. Now on the radar of European buyers, JULIUS expanded beyond Neo-Tokyo to an international audience, and quickly grew a cult following the world over. However, Horikawa did not let newfound success change the his signature design ethos; instead, he ignored outside influence, remaining true to his Neo-Tokyo techno aesthetic.
Horikawa conceptualized JULIUS as both chaotic and rigidly industrial—two contrasting yet complementary themes. Chaos is clearly present in JULIUS garments. The clothing is often heavily distressed—ripped knees, exaggerated inseams, and hanging threads all make regular appearances. Yet, the clothing is also industrial, as many of the articles are simply designed with a surprising level of structure and composition. JULIUS clothing combines careful construction with the destroyed, making a statement about perfection. Horikawa believes “perfection is ugly. Somewhere in the things humans make, I want to see scars, failure, disorder, distortion.” Through this industrialized chaos, JULIUS created a market for beauty attained tainted by disaster.
In 2011 the JULIUS flagship store in Hong Kong (Horikawa’s favorite city) opened its doors. Rendered in all black, the storefront was designed in juxtaposition with the neon lights of the city. In creating the store, Horikawa drew on Hong Kong’s energy. Similarly, Berlin—the world’s techno club capital—has had a profound effect on the designer. In the German city, Horikawa found incredible support among Japanese-expat designers, the robust nightlife scene, and aesthetically like-minded individuals. It is there he befriended Sergio Eusebi, Livio Graziottin, and Antonio Pincin, founders of Kuboraum, with whom he has collaborated with on sunglasses for the past few season.
While industrial and techno music form the foundation of JULIUS, Horikawa’s far-flung travels have been the driving force behind his most recent work. Inherently nomadic, the designer embraces tribes and shamans the world over, embodying their emotion and their garb in his collections. While on a secretive trip to Tibet, the designer connected with Buddhist Monks in order to find zen, hoping to translate that feeling into his clothing. The calmness he felt on his trip translated into flowing, soothing shirts. On another escapade, this time to Northern Africa, Horikawa became fascinated with the Tuareg people. The draping of fabric across the full body inspired a major portion of JULIUS’ Spring/Summer 2016 collection.
Apart from his travels, Japanese designers and culture have provided the bulk of Horikawa’s inspiration. Before starting NUKE or JULIUS, the designer admired the work of the Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo. Horikawa's love of Yamamoto is incredibly apparent, as he expands on a design language that Yamamoto helped establish: including a heavy use of black in drapey, androgynous silhouettes. Similarly, Kawakubo’s frivolous nature and unexpected fabric choice have impacted Horikawa, leading his work to regularly question shape, construction and purpose.
For Horikawa, techno takes precedent to fashion. He even compares his design process to making techno music. Unlike traditional melodies, electronic music is made through the manipulation of beat and tone. Through combining sharp and dull, loud and soft and long and short noises, techno can be cacophonous, while still creating something (sonically) pleasing. Similarly, Horikawa—rather than drawing out his designs—shapes and sculpts contrasting elements to inevitably combine them. To Horikawa, techno music is a form of experimental design, something embodied in JULIUS itself. Even when combining different elements that may initially appear outlandish, JULIUS somehow manages to consistently strike a chord between that which is chaotic and beautiful.
A twenty year veteran of the fashion industry, Horikawa has remained relatively hidden from the public eye. Unlike many other brands named after the designer behind the maison, JULIUS diverts attention from its leader. Rather, the designer emphasizes that his team is as equally important in designing JULIUS clothing as he is. Ultimately, JULIUS has grown well beyond the confines of Neo-Tokyo. Still, the designer is committed to upholding his vision, unwavering in the face of commercial and mainstream influence. Through the dedication of Horikawa and his team, JULIUS maintains itself as Tokyo’s premier "goth" label.