TAKING NOTES X JULIA HEUER
In spring 2021, 100% Silk Shop owner Lee Dekel and writer Esmé Hogeveen began chatting about the idea of a survey asking designers and artists to share thoughts on revered textiles, pandemic pastimes, and creative practices. Taking Notes was born and our first conversation is with designer Julia Heuer.
Building on an illustrious career as a textile print designer for Jakob Schlaepfer, the German-born Heuer founded her namesake collection in 2017. Since then, the brand has developed a following devoted to its vibrant ready-to-wear, which features plissé-style pleating, unique patterns, and Arashi Shibori-inspired dye methods.
In late May, we sat down—or rather, zoomed in—with Julia to learn about working from home during the pandemic, her penchant for experimental colour combinations, her dislike of tube socks, and the best vodka for a Polish Tatanka cocktail.
- Lee Top and Jack Trousers in Udo
When did you last leave the house and where did you go?
On Wednesday night, I left the house to go to my friend Helena Dietrich’s performance with Thomas Proksch at the Fondation Fiminico in Paris. They had borrowed some outfits from me to use for their performance Critical Techno, which is part of an exhibition series called the Freedom of Sleep.
What was the performance like?
It happened at a well known foundation, but I noticed the event was framed under the title of a “meeting” and there were about forty people there. It was in a huge space so we were able to spread out, but it felt bizarre because it was about the first time in a year that I’ve been to a public event. It felt strange to be out, but I was also really excited.
The performance itself was kind of participatory, which I’m usually not so into because it can be so awkward. [laughs] When the piece started, it was very awkward because no one was participating, but the performers slowly built up the set and there was a physical—almost meditational—aspect to the show. The energy was building and building and then all of a sudden literally everyone was dancing. Far apart, because we were in this big space in an old factory. It was so cool, though, to see everyone go from feeling awkward to just enjoying it so much and wanting to be part of an unusual moment of dancing.
You’re painting such a beautiful picture of semi-back-to-normal life. I really hope more moments like that can happen soon!
It was really opening me up, like oh wow—this feeling is possible again!
I feel like there were some good attempts to make that energy happen over zoom about a year ago, but now the energy of a zoom party… well, I don’t want to speak for other people, but it feels pretty grim these days.
I went to two zoom parties and they both sucked. You can’t have the intimacy of a small group within that set-up. I don’t like it.
Looping back to your night out briefly, do you often lend garments for performance work or other art projects?
For friends, always! When they look for outfits, they usually ask if I have anything and I love to share options. For regular press inquiries, I will look at what is interesting and what might be fun to be a part of.
- the last selfie saved on your phone*
What’s the last object you’ve encountered that gave you cause for pause?
It’s a bit cheesy what I’m going to say, but the thing that makes me happy and that I always enjoy seeing is the blossoming trees. It’s the best part of the year. I also just bought some new industrial sewing machines for the studio and I’ve been super in awe of how well the machines function. Other than that I haven’t seen anything in real life that’s been too exciting because I’m at home or in the studio all the time… I mean of course I see beautiful things on social media, too. Would this also be relevant?
The other day I saw some pieces by Jennifer Rochlin, who is a ceramicist. She makes these incredibly beautiful vases that make me breathless.
What a beautiful trio—blossoming trees, heavy-duty sewing machines, and ceramic vases.
Yeah, treating yourself with good stuff!
What effect has the pandemic had on your creativity?
I’ve been in a privileged position because people have still been interested in my work and I’ve been able to push forward. I feel very lucky that I’ve been able to work freely in a way similar to what I was doing before the pandemic. I mean things have definitely felt reduced in terms of social contexts and I’ve had to simplify processes to what I can do myself. Working more independently has been positive in some ways though because it lets me review my processes and consider what could be improved.
The negative aspect has mainly been feeling dull and frustrated in the same space and routine at home. I wasn’t going out and seeing new things. No museums, no shows, no travelling, and no meeting new people and learning about their ideas. The only window to the world we’ve really had has been social media and I’ve found this quite frustrating because, at least personally, I don’t find social media makes me more creative.
What sources (art, film, writing, friends, Instagram accounts, etc.) do you turn to when you feel sapped of inspiration?
I never really know how to answer questions about inspiration. [laughs] I’m not able to say exactly: This is my inspiration, whether it’s this artist or this fashion designer or this show. I usually just collect things that I come across that give me some kind of feeling or interest and then I go through folders of photos and screenshots and try to sort out what I’m interested in or what I feel is relevant right now. For example, after winter I always feel I need colours or flowers or things that are fun and vital. It all depends on the context and what I’ve been lacking and what I’m drawn to for the next moment. So my inspiration comes from an intuitive emotional approach.
- the last image of a snack you saved on your phone*
So would you say your relationship to inspiration is quite responsive?
My approach is very two-dimensional because I come from a print and pattern point of view. First I focus on prints, patterns, and colours, and I think next about shape and mood.
Do you have a person in mind while you’re designing?
Not exactly, but my friend Kris Lemsalu has inspired me along the way. I always love her sense of style and how she combines pieces. Many times I will think of Kris and wonder if she’d like a piece or how she might wear it. In general I try to take a broad approach to imagining who might wear my clothes. The customer could be aged fifteen or eighty-five. I try to stay true to the idea of making something very beautiful and not think too much about targeting a certain audience. I really appreciate that our customers include a wide range of women.
Who is the first person you want to share a new idea or project with?
What textiles or textures do you most like to feel on your body?
I’m fine with everything I would say. I feel that every texture and textile—every fibre really—has its purpose. I can enjoy linen. I can enjoy silk. I can enjoy polyester. Every fibre needs to find its right purpose basically. Sometimes it makes absolute sense to use an artificial fibre because it’s been developed for a specific purpose. Of course there are quality differences within each category, so of course I’d rather have a nice polyester than a shitty polyester, you know?
That’s very democratic of you. No one wants to wear soccer shorts made out of wool. Have you picked up any weird snacks, diversions, or vices during the pandemic?
Probably just the extra screen time. In the evenings, my boyfriend and I often watch something. We’ve been watching The Sopranos again recently.
Is this your second time watching the series?
It’s actually my first time, but my boyfriend is rewatching it.
I feel like The Sopranos has made a big comeback during the pandemic. It’s one of those classics that people seem to be watching in part to have something in common again.
I came across one of [the Bulgarian designer] Kiko Kostadinov’s stories, where he posted something about the series, so maybe it is getting popular again. [laughs] There’s so much free time now that I think maybe people feel like it’s an opportunity to watch moodier television.
- the last image of your home saved on your phone*
Are there any textiles, garments, or looks that you're sick of seeing right now?
I don’t know. What about you?
I’m a bit sick of jeans or any kind of pants that are too short. But I’m also tall, so that’s my bias.
Oh yeah, when the pants are too high and the socks are short. You know tubes?
Yes, those are something I have a problem with. [laughs] Socks that don’t come out of the shoes. It’s creepy.
Are there any textiles, garments, or looks that you'd like to see more of?
It would be nice if people felt less intimidated by what they could wear. People mostly feel comfortable wearing dark colours or black and I wish people would embrace colour more. Everyone has colours that make them look particularly good and I’d like to see people acting less shy towards colours.
Is there any television show or film you’d like to borrow costumes from?
I want to say Ab Fab [Absolutely Fabulous], but that’s a bit hardcore! [laughs] I love it so much. Another thing that comes to mind is Dead Ringers from David Cronenberg. There’s a scene where characters wear full red, Laibach-style surgical outfits when they’re performing surgery. It had a heavy impact on me and I kept thinking about those scenes.
Tie-dye or tartan?
That is impossible to answer, but if forced I guess I’ll say tie-dye!
Linen or PVC?
Chainmail or taffeta?
What is the most overrated part of working in the fashion industry?
What is the most underrated part of working in the fashion industry?
The textile knowledge.
Do you have a dream collaborator?
No, not really.
Is there anything you’d like to learn in the upcoming year?
My French. I want to improve my French.
How long have you been in France?
For four years I have been between Paris and Rottweil, my hometown [in Germany].
- the last image of a landscape you saved on your phone*
I’m curious about what it’s like to live in Paris.
At first I struggled a lot, but now that the pandemic has smoothened me, I’m going to give it another chance.
Well it sounds like you have some friends inviting you to cool performances, so that’s a start.
A city is always as good as the people that you know. Right now, I feel like I'm in a good moment where I’m going to get to know the city in a different way and I’m excited about that.
What colour—or colours—are you excited about right now?
I always think of colours in combinations. For instance, I don’t have a favourite colour because what intrigues and excites me is how patterns and colours work together. I can’t tell you: I love lime green! It’s more about the tones in combination.
How do you come up with the names for your collections?
With my boyfriend. Honestly he plays quite a big role in naming the collections. With the earlier ones, we weren't together, but more recently he’s had the best ideas.
Did he name Funny Animals?
No, but Funny Animals is an awkward one because most people don’t understand it. People often take it literally as in funny animals, but I always wanted it to be understood in a more stupid kind of way [laughs] so I don’t think it was a good title in the end. But with the more recent Diplomatic Tatanka or now NPC Loom, the names more often reflect references to the prints or life in general.
- the last image of an artwork saved on your phone*
What does Diplomatic Tatanka refer to?
A Tatanka is a Polish cocktail. It’s vodka with apple juice and ice cubes if you have any. The “diplomatic” was a way of thinking about what ways it makes sense to create a collection in this time. The “tatanka” reflects the vibe because it was our favourite drink while making the collection and we thought it brought the overall sense of the collection quite well!
Apple juice and vodka, wow! Sounds good.
You have to use the right vodka though. It's Żubrówka, which has buffalo grass and an aromatic taste. It's connoisseur’s vodka and you drink it with pre-made apple juice.
So it's not like a Smirnoff ice?
Yes, why not? With a strong east European vibe to it though.
Thanks so much for your time! I know it's a Friday evening in Paris, so I hope you have a Tatanka on the horizon.
Thank you! I’m out of apple juice actually….
- the last image that made you laugh*