The artist and fashion designer collaged together all the looks from Louis Vuitton's and Dior's mens' Spring/Summer 2019 collections exclusively for Document Online.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to wear an entire collection at the same time? Julian Louie did, and turned it into an art form. The artist and fashion designer may not be widely known, but you might have seen the fashion designer and artist’s work on the runway, or in major magazines. A little over a decade ago after Louie earned a B.A. in architecture from Cooper Union, Francisco Costa—then the creative director of Calvin Klein women’s collection—handpicked Louie to be his protégé for the Italian Vogue/AWI-sponsored “Protégé Project.” Louie then showed a collection in Florence in 2008, before showing it in Tokyo and Australian Fashion Week that same year. That September, Louie debuted his eponymous label during New York Fashion Week. From there, Louie tried his hand an art, collaging together fragments from various runway shows, and putting them on Instagram @cmmnd_v. The pieces earned the attention of several editors, including here at Document Journal, who eventually commissioned him for myriad projects. He’s also consulted for a number of brands and his work has appeared in magazines like Vogue, The New York Times and Dazed & Confused. Document caught up with Louie to discuss the intricacies of art, fashion, and architecture; how they informed his practice, and his artistic process.
Ann Binlot—You’ve worked in architecture, fashion and now art. How have all these disciplines informed you as a creative?
Julian Louie—I have a different relationship with each discipline. Architecture school certainly taught me how to think and problem solve in a creative and conceptual way, which has been a great foundation, but I never practiced professionally. Art—painting, drawing, collage—has always been a part of my life, and will always be, though in quite a personal capacity. Both of these disciplines inform my work as a fashion designer all the time.
Ann—What was it like when you became a fashion designer?
Julian—Moving from architecture school to working in fashion was a really interesting transition. There was a huge amount of technical and material knowledge that I had to absorb, which I really learned while working, and I believe you really only get that from working in a studio, with an atelier, and with all the experts and suppliers that a designer collaborates with. The other part of that transition was really re-examining my creative process and allowing myself to work more on instinct and emotion than architecture school allowed. It was very freeing to be able to work in a way that felt a little more natural, or at least to be able to own that instinctual, emotional part of the process. I still approach fashion design with rigor and intention, but I appreciate that not everything has to be so academic, and that the conversation during the design process can incorporate so many other disciplines and subjects and it all somehow informs the clothing.
Ann—You also make art. How did you get into that?
Julian—I am still primarily a fashion designer, but the digital collage project @cmmnd_v was specifically conceived as a small focused way of fusing fashion and art, and putting it out into the world on a specifically chosen platform. I started it at a moment when I had just left a full-time job and needed to find a way to engage with fashion in a different way, in a much smaller and more personal way. I really discovered fashion through magazines, and fashion imagery has been quite important to me, so this project was really a way to play around with that without all the complications of working on an actual collection or developing product. I have worked on the @cmmnd_v project on and off for a few years now, and it’s been great to be able to develop ideas as they come and not be tied to any schedule or have any pressure on it.
Ann—How did you get into making collages?
Julian—I’ve worked on collages for years, first physical and then digital. I guess I first started exploring it in college, purely as an art medium, but once I started working in fashion I incorporated it into the design process, both as a tool to explore silhouette, texture, color, proportion, but also as a conceptual approach, juxtaposing disparate elements together to arrive at a new proposition.
Ann—Describe your process when making a collage.
Julian—It’s a relatively instinctual process. A lot is determined by the image selection, and what I respond to about that raw material. Sometimes it’s more about subject matter, sometimes it’s more formal. I love doing the digital collages because the stakes are so low, and therefore really gives you the freedom to experiment, to make mistakes, to embrace those mistakes and see where they lead. There’s none of the worry of making a wrong cut with a blade or the glue not setting correctly or whatever. It’s a much bolder, more playful process. I never know where I’m headed when I start. I also am really interested in the possibilities of working digitally. A paper collage is like a relief sculpture, there’s depth and layers and a real physicality to the process, whereas in photoshop one can really mess with those hierarchies and limitations, and manipulate images together in ways you never could with paper. Recently I started doing these collages compositing an entire runway show into a single look, which started almost as a kind of tangent joke concept but ultimately is just a really fun exercise in how to dissect and visually process a show. As a designer, it’s a fun game to collapse all those individual looks into one wild hybrid silhouette—it’s like the most distilled, efficient vision of a show and at the same time the most chaotic and illegible.
Ann—Where do you find inspiration?
Julian—I’m not really comfortable with the word inspiration. There’s a connotation of grandeur or vision that really turns me off. At least with the collages, there is a very instinctive approach to starting points. If an image excites me, and seems like it could be an interesting jumping off point, then it’s worth exploring. Many times I will start a collage and it will lead nowhere and I’ll put it to the side. But the ones that work are more a function of an exciting and unexpected process than an originating point of inspiration. In that context, I usually look at photographers whose work I respond to, and then look for interesting possible counterpoints to the starting image. Most recently I’ve been combining current editorial imagery with non-fashion photography: Zoe Ghertner with Luigi Ghirri, Johnny Dufort with Lord Snowdon, that kind of mix.
Ann—You’ve worked in art, architecture and fashion. What are the differences between the three worlds?
Julian—The biggest difference is that fashion is a consumer facing business. Of course the art world has its own complex economics, and architecture is certainly commodified as well, but the majority of people experience art and architecture without any sort of financial exchange. Viewing a painting or walking through a building is different than buying an article of clothing. And then when someone buys a dress, there’s an ostensible pragmatic need and an end use, but there’s also these other things at play: emotion, desire, cultural context, social signifiers, etc.
Ann—What’s next for you?
Julian—Right now I am working on a new project in fashion. Too soon to talk about publicly, but am very excited.