“It was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done,” says 25-year-old Julian Louie of putting together his first collection last year. Granted, the pressure was on. After an internship at Calvin Klein, he was handpicked by Francisco Costa to participate in Italian Vogue and Australian Wool Innovation’s Protégé Project, for which he and five other would-be designers created capsule collections that were shown in Florence, Tokyo and Sydney. At the time, Louie, a graduate of Cooper Union’s architecture program, had no practical fashion experience other than internships at Imitation of Christ and Calvin. “My biggest fear is that it wouldn’t be coherent,” he continues. “I was worried about the flow of it, of how each look would relate to the next. It was just basically really stressful.”
Louie is not a designer who can gloss over the details. He’s not the type to run breezy show notes about girls jetting to Capri for the weekend and needing easy-to-pack wardrobes. Instead, he mulls over the volume in a shell-back coat, or the amount of embroidery encrusting a bolero. Thanks to his architectural training, he’s a disciplinarian in an often flaky field, a difference that gives him an advantage over the competition. His designs tend to encompass disparate, esoteric influences, like Tiepolo and surf culture or samurai armor and matadors. So far, he has shown a tendency toward tailored, even constrictive cuts, but he’s not easily categorized. His spring collection, a gracefully executed exercise in tonal gradation from nude to shell pink to cream, was inspired by a sunset seen from an airplane window and is floaty and fluid where his earlier efforts were structured and rigid. But for all its airiness, it’s no less controlled.
“I like to set myself a test each season,” he explains of the about face. “If you limit yourself to a set framework, it helps you to make something legible and coherent. The problem is setting the parameters — and then making sure they’re in the background, so they don’t distract from the clothes.”