Military man, model, stylist and fashion designer. When it comes to introducing an individual like Julian Woodhouse, it begs the question: Where should one begin? The global citizen and jack of all trades has quite the story to tell.
Growing up with military parents and living across three continents, eventually setting up base in South Korea turned out to be the creative pressure cooker that honed the German-born designer. Way before founding his eponymous menswear label, Woodhouse had known at a young age that fashion was ingrained in his DNA — it's recognition sparked by a pair of Gucci shoes his mother had gifted him when he was 12. Fast forward past the adolescent doodles, drawings and dreams, he's managed to get a foot into the Korean fashion industry as a model and stylist, and then, there's where he's at today: Fresh off Wood House's SS17 presentation at New York Fashion Week: Men's.
Leading up to the label's latest collection, we spoke to the designer — who also splits his time between heading the brand and serving the US military — about the modern man he designs for, the impact culture has on fashion, and of course, how he's taken the leap from showing at Seoul Fashion Week to scoring a spot on the New York schedule.
Tell us more about yourself and your journey to founding and designing for Wood House. Working with a co-founder, how different is your role from his?
I was born to two military parents in Heidelberg, Germany. Like any army brat that moves every two to three years, I grew up in several countries from Europe to Asia with stops in the United States. I fell in love with fashion at 12 years old, after my mother bought a pair of Gucci shoes for me. Just like Miranda Priestly referenced in The Devil Wears Prada, "There are millions of dollars and countless jobs that go into creating a simple sweater." I realised that the fashion industry was broad and diverse enough for me to place my fashion-loving self into. I started sketching and dreaming up entire collections. It was this foundation that would make up how I work in the industry as a designer. When I got to Korea, I wasn't too sure what to expect, but I progressed to the point of meeting my first team and completing our first collection — I had learnt a lot. I knew I had found a place for me and my creativity to coexist. Since my second collection, I now work very closely with my husband — who is the general manager of the brand — and I take care of making sure we have fresh looks, deep concepts, and solid brand direction. He manages the logistical side of the brand, making sure we meet deadlines, stay within our budget, and have everything we need so that things go smoothly.
The man you're designing for — what is he like in your opinion?
The Wood House man is confident and has an eye for detail and silhouette. He enjoys experimenting with clothing and knows no bounds in regards to what he can wear. He looks at all clothing as a way to express his freedom and liberation from social constructs that can make contemporary menswear drab, and at times, forgettable. He can and frequently wears anything he likes, whether it's something minimal or extravagant, but sticks to his guns in regards to fit and tailoring.
We now have a different set of beliefs, values, and tolerance of ambiguity, and I think men should dress and reinvent themselves as culture evolves.
It's become more prevalent in the recent that menswear is not all about traditions and rules. You're a great example for this. What do you think the modern male looks for in clothing?
I love that we live in a time where men can wear whatever they want. I think the recent liberation from conservativeness has given men more options than they've ever had — and, this is exactly what I aim to do every season. As social cultures evolve, menswear should as well. We now have a different set of beliefs, values, and tolerance of ambiguity, and I think men should dress and reinvent themselves as culture evolves.
Having lived across so many countries and worked as a model and stylist prior to Wood House, how do you think these varied experiences have had an impact on your designs?
I would say styling has impacted my work the most. As a stylist, I was always pulling pieces from designer showrooms and wishing I could have them altered in small ways to give the visual impact I've dreamt of. For editorals, fashion films, or advertising campaigns, the models walk onto the set with about 10 to 20 safety pins all stratigically hidden from view, with an added yard or so of double sided tape. I used these tools to 'design' new pieces that I didn't have the luxury or freedom to permanently alter. This process taught me that a finished piece that is already beautiful, can transform into something new with just a few changes to the fit and silhouette. As such, I will always create pieces that don't need actual alteration, but allow for modification by way of zippers, snaps and buttons. This versatility is something that makes my clothing flexible when worn. A pair of skirted trousers can also transform into a pair of simple trousers with a few removable panels.
Tell us about your progression from showing at Seoul Fashion Week to debuting at New York Fashion Week: Men's.
Going from designing in private, to designing as a hobby, and then as a job, is very, very different. When you finally do a show, it changes how you look at your processes. My first show at Seoul Fashion Week was rewarding, but a logistical nightmare. I knew how to put on a show but I had no idea the level of logistics and resources needed to properly manage and market it. I walked away from that experience with an exhausted mind and a heavy heart. So, I set my sights on expanding. I had already solidified a close relationship with my supply chain and managed to pull together a cohesive collection — all I needed was a market that I could fit into, and administrative support to pull it all together. I was fortunate to find — after months of looking — a PR agency that placed us in NYC, a city I dreamt of showing in and living in. After a season of introductions and private presentations, we set our eyes on showing at New York Fashion Week: Men's. Three seasons of preparation later, we were finally at the next level. I felt like a high schooler who had planned a house party while his parents were on holiday, and everyone actually showed up. People came to my party and that to me was rewarding in and of itself. My advice for any emerging designer or creative is to jump in wide-eyed and bushy tailed and learn from every mistake. Once you get your engines running and you build momentum, your future goals get closer and you start looking at them as benchmarks, rather than final destinations.
How do you think showing in New York will impact the trajectory of your label, and what do you think Wood House will bring to the fashion conversation there?
I hope that I can come to this tough market and somehow gain traction as a brand that continues to push the envelope in subtle ways, that can eventually give men the true ability to wear whatever they want and feel confident, sexy, and most importantly, themselves.
I think showing at NYFW: Men's is definitely an accomplishment in the short term, but it takes a focused eye and consistency to make a difference in the long term.
Do you have a personal motto in life you live by?
Well, mostly, it's: How do I wear next to nothing in the humid Korean Summer, yet still hide these thunder thighs? Jokes aside, it's 'consistency is key' and 'style knows no boundaries, so why should I'. I live by those two mottos.
Let's talk about the future. Where are you looking to take the brand down the road?
I am always aiming at expanding in physical and metaphysical ways. I think both are necessary to not only broaden your craft and impact, but also to be able to emotionally handle the successes and failures you experience along the way. In five years, I hope to be doing exactly what my husband and I are doing now, but in an increasingly global way. My brand was born in Korea and now it lives in New York. I want it to exist wherever there are men looking at the clothing he has access to, but with dreams of more. I think I need to stay humble, savvy, focused, and flexible, as I continue to grow as a designer.
Lastly, how can we purchase Wood House clothing in Singapore? Do you have plans to launch an online store?
At the moment, my sales are being handled in New York by Black Stallion Trading and we are launching our e-commerce store this season. You can follow me and the brand on instagram at @julian_woodhouse and @woodhouse_official as well as view all the collections on our site.