Last month, Japanese avant-garde label JULIUS and founder Tatsuro Horikawa opened its first flagship store outside of its native Japan in Hong Kong. Known for its unorthodox approach to silhouettes, a focus on the use of leather and above all else the color black has made for a brand that has many layers of meaning.
Beyond the superficial, the brand has embraced and manipulated gracefully the relationship between entirely different entities and inspirations. Punk and techno are able to mesh cohesively with Zen through the eyes of Horikawa. Much like Kazimir Malevich’s piece of artwork known as Black Square which symbolized perfection, Horikawa has shared a similar opinion on black’s representation of the absolute perfect notion. Going further, the natural degradation of Malevich’s Black Square can further be paralleled with Horikawa’s own desire to see his apparel worn down and destructed through wear to reflect a natural beauty.
In this interview, we speak wtih Horikawa about several aspects of his brand including some in-depth thoughts on color selection and the design of his Hong Kong store.
Interview: Edward Chiu
Text: Eugene Kan
Photography: Louis Lau
Interview with Tatsuro Horikawa
From the start of your career, you’ve always been working and experimenting with the different depths of black. Why are you so fascinated with this particular tone?
To be honest, apart from black, I’ve never worn any other colors in my adulthood. Black has a lot of meaning in life. For example in the city, black can be worn in a lot of scenarios. You can see it as a pure color as one can wear it in any situation.
Can you explain why you changed your first project’s name from NUKE to JULIUS?
NUKE and JULIUS were both created to express contemporary art. I was born in July, hence the name JULIUS. JULIUS is also not just about fashion, but it also includes art and music. My core inspirations and ideals have stayed the same since I created both projects, the name change was just a mere transformation of titles.
You’ve mentioned before that you’re heavily influenced by cult films such as Akira and Blade Runner, but why is the use of neon colors absent in your work?
The Akira world can be compared to Hong Kong, although neon colors are prominent, but without black, these colors won’t shine through. Therefore black is a more outstanding and fascinating color. Like the design of this new store, its a huge contrast to the street signs outside and subsequently the black and white theme is a more powerful combination.
How do you balance your designs between techno and industrial influences? Both seem to be on opposite sides of the spectrum, in terms of colors and forms.
People might think fashion and industrial designs are the complete opposites. However both influence each other in colors and forms. Techno can influence Punk and Punk can influence industrial designs. I believe all designs are the same and can be morphed into one another.
You’ve mentioned you’re an avid fan of music, what are you listening to right now?
I’m a big fan of underground music and recently I have been listening to Magda.
You’re known for working with traditional fabrics such as leather, but with the resurgent of performance fabrics in recent times. Will you be incorporating them into your future collections?
Leather is the most natural fabric you can get. Back in pre-historic times, leather was first used by humans as clothing, therefore it’s the most ancient, useful and adaptable material you can get. Natural fabrics are important in my collections. For the Spring/Summer collections, silk is often used as the primary element, whereas for Fall/Winter, cowhide and lamb leather are often used. Having said that, I’ve always been open to man-made compositions, as design has to incorporate and be open to all the options out there. Our company is also currently exploring and inventing new materials which can be used into our designs. However, fundamentally leather will always be my first choice.
For the opening of the Hong Kong store, you’ve created a capsule collection of fourteen pieces that reflect your aesthetics and past work. What is the main difference between these new releases and your main collection?
This one off collection consists of my favourite and notable designs from my past collections. Not all of them were dressed in black before, so I wanted to re-create them in my signature palette of black. The opening of this store is also a good occasion to get myself to dig through my own archive and present my favorite pieces along the years. I also see this collection fits well within the city of Hong Kong, which is something that is not suitable to launch in Tokyo or New York.
Will this store be a new channel to sell furniture, art and music produced under the JULIUS label?
For sure there are plans to do that, but only when the right time comes. If you look at the interiors of the store, a lot of the elements are actually designed and made by us. This includes mirrors, chairs, cushions and art pieces on the wall.
It is known that you’ll an avid traveller, were there any life changing moments through these travels and how did they affect and influence your work?
There weren’t any life changing moments through my travels, but the different drapes and layering of monk’s attire in places like Tibet really influence my work. I also love big cities such as New York, Paris, Milan, Berlin and London, but Hong Kong tops it all as it provides a huge sense of contrast. Although born and bred in Japan, I’m actually not a big fan of Tokyo. (laughs)
It seems that you’re a big fan of tattoos, can you explain some of the pieces?
Most of them are influenced by African spiritual music and an African priest who once gave me a blessing wrote these words on my forearm. He wrote on my right hand as he said it was my creation tool. In total, I have seven tattoos and I find it interesting that as a designer, I’m also offering my body as a blank canvas for others. I also feel tattoo is a form of protection.
Is the concept of Zen a crucial element to your work?
Definitely. The idea of Zen and its sculptural and architectural influences have made a huge impact in my work and lifestyle. Yin and Yang is also of huge importance to me. On one hand, Zen represents an important part of my life and on the other hand Punk and Hardcore music also have their place. Both are extreme opposites but yet they come together in harmony in my work. This shop was also created to reflect the idea of Zen, but together there are punk elements within the space.
How do you see designers such as Yohji Yamamoto, who is also inspired by Zen?
I very much admire Yohji san and also Rei Kawakubo of COMME des GARCONS. Both have had huge impacts to the fashion industry and also changed the way we see fashion today.
You’ve kept a very low-profile over the years, has this been based on your personality or because you see the team as the designer of the brand?
You’re definitely right, I don’t want to see myself as the star of the label, as all of us contribute to the designs. Without the team, there would be no JULIUS.
What is the perfect tone of black?
The perfect black is the deepest black. A black that has depth and nuances.