I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Julian Woodhouse, the creative director and designer of his namesake brand WOOD HOUSE. Julian’s story is a unique on that involves growing up as an army brat, later moving to Seoul, Korea, where he joined the military himself, and his transitions from model to stylist to designer. His unique story has led to the creation of a fresh and powerful brand that the whole world will soon know about…
Jared: Let’s review your background because your story is quite interesting and not typical. So tell us what you’re doing away from fashion now and as well as what led you to this point.
Julian: Well, first of all, I grew up in a military family so I’m an army brat. I was born in Germany, traveled all over Asia and Europe, and moved every 1-2 years. I ended up going to a university in Minnesota. I did JROTC, so I took normal classes but then one extra class about military history. They pay for full tuition and study abroad, and then afterwards you do 4 years of serving in the military as an officer. I didn’t realize I wanted to do anything in fashion until after I came out of the closet, which was after I graduated and it was too late to say “hey, I don’t want to join.” So I joined the military, did a brief stint in Oklahoma, which was horrible. I ended up in Korea, when they asked where we wanted to go for our first time. I wanted to go to Korea but nobody wanted to go to Korea. It wasn’t until the first fashion week that I realized I could actually do something here.
JA: When did you realize Korea had something fashionable to offer you?
JW: I was looking at the options I could go to. I didn’t want to be in the United States. I started researching Seoul fashion; it wasn’t on my radar at the time. I realized it’s an amazing and diverse environment when it comes to fashion. It also changes very quickly; it’s very progressive. When I got there, I realized that kids in Korea wear runway on the street, which is unlike any other place I’ve been to.
JA: What led you to the design aspect?
JW: In the beginning of JULIAN, I was just going to Seoul Fashion Week and cool parties, and dressing in character. I looked at fashion before as an accessory to my life and then I realized that fashion is a part of who I am. When you’re in Korea, you can kind-of get rid of all of your hang-ups and inhibitions. You can literally wear whatever you want on the streets and it’s completely fine. So one day, this guy Steve approached me and said “I can see that you’re wearing a lot of things you designed. Have you ever thought about making a brand for yourself?” I didn’t really take it seriously. I was styling on the job, but I wasn’t really learning and garment construction. And even as a stylist, I was more of a designer than a stylist. I was always changing things up. I was always commissioning a design team because I couldn’t find what I was looking for for a specific job. It was noticed by a lot of people, so we made 7 pieces and showed the brand. I told Steve that I wanted to focus on menswear and he asked how I was going to do that. I knew I could figure something out.
JA: Were you making all of this by hand by yourself?
JW: I was making all of it by hand in the beginning, along with being helped by the design team. Those guys have been around for years; I have a history with them because of my parents.
JA: Yeah, I was going to say, your garments are advanced for a beginner! There must be a secret there.
JW: It’s no secret for me. I always start with my own pattern and thinking about what I want from my sketches. I put pieces together and the design team perfects it. That’s exactly what my parents did when they were there.
JA: It sounds like you come from creative parents. Is that the case? Because when someone thinks of an Army brat, usually they follow their parents’ footsteps but it’s usually not in the creative field.
JW: Yeah, my dad is extremely creative. He wanted to be an illustrator but he ended up getting into law, and now he’s a legal office manager in Colorado Springs. My mom was in the military and then got her PhD in psychology. The one thing my parents taught me is to continue going; that I was made to be the head, not the tail. They taught me to push forward, even when my reality isn’t looking the way I want it to, because I can change it in the future.
JA: So how are you the head instead of the tail in relation to other Korean designers?
JW: I try to stay as humble as possible. In regards to how I’m standing out in Korea, I think it’s because I’m trying to push menswear into a more alternative style with more options. I want my consumer to be able to take the clothes and do whatever they want with them. My goal is to just bring something completely different.
JA: How do you balance your whimsical desires and a cohesive collection?
JW: That’s probably the hardest part. It’s mainly cohesive because it’s coming from me. I think it’s cohesive because there are a few things I stick to. I stick to clothes being able to transform, panels, high waists—the list continues of things that I will probably always do. Once you have your silhouette solidified, then you look towards the color palette.
JA: You just presented at New York Fashion Week for AW16. Walk us through what the collection means to you and how it symbolizes your arrival.
JW: This collection is the most technical when it comes to detailing, hardware, the styling, everything. My first collection was my experiment; it was in black and blue. My second collection had a little more experimentation and I played with color blocking. So for this collection, I decided to mix the past two collections with the lessons I’ve learned.
JA: What were your favorite pieces?
JW: My favorite is the ‘Emerald City Crown Jewel’. I love the zipper detailing, how striking it looks, the quilted wool, the button and the back pocket (which was actually a joke at first). I also love the embroidery. I used my husband’s face and had a lot of Photoshop. There are a lot of graphic embroideries as well. I didn’t want to use printing because I wanted it to feel rich.
JA: Your husband is very much a part of your collection!
JW: Yes, he’s everywhere! He’s all over the shirts, he closed the show and he is my ‘it-boy’ for the ad campaign. I’m just very inspired by him and I think he’s one of the greatest models in the world right now.
JA: So with all of the technical fabrics, are you continuously looking for the newest fabrics? Or even going the technology-route?
JW: Yes, definitely. The core for my brand is silhouette and fabric-play. I love quilted fabrics, I love hardware and I love fabrics that are structured. When I want to feel strong and feel like I have a presence, it definitely starts with fabric. I used so much athletic mesh in the Spring/Summer collection. As much as I love fabric, it still needs to be comfortable.
JA: Yeah, the non-wearable stuff isn’t going anymore, even though streetstyle photographers still want it.
JW: The market is definitely mixing wearable with non-wearable. In Korea, there’s no such thing as non-wearable because they will wear anything. There are some people that only wear non-wearables because they shoot well, but then there is everyone else. So designers really have to cater to both and be successful in it.
JA: How do you see the evolution of your brand going? Of you going?
JW: My brand is myself. It always changes when I change. It was started based off of how I felt and it has continued with how I’ve felt. It’s the first place I’ve been able to call ‘home’ and I love it. I also love my husband to death. He’s amazing. And I do want people to know that you can do anything. I’ve been in the military, I’ve been in styling, I’m in modeling, but at the end of the day, I always find that means the most to me and that’s designing. If I can do that with parents who weren’t the most supportive and living in an environment that doesn’t really understand the fashion industry, anyone can do it. You just have to overcome.
Wood House Fall/Winter 2016 Collection: