Redefining the fashion world
Julius and Victor Juul, the geniuses behind the subversive Danish brand Heliot Emil, are redefining the fashion world. Beginning the brand together in 2017, the two have pioneered their Industrial Elegance aesthetic while laying the foundations for the Heliot Emil universe. We got the honour to talk to Julius for our Coming Home issue (#135) to discuss their A/W and S/S 21 collections and creative philosophy Since then, the two have humbly been nominated for the Andam Prize – AKA one of the most respected fashion awards in the industry. In light of this, we got a chance to catch up with the trailblazing duo to reflect on their inspiring journeys, goals for the future, and everything in between.
P.S. Julius, Victor, it’s always a pleasure and we can’t wait for your next steps in the Heliot Emil universe.
First of all, how’s Paris?
Julius: It’s been great and just so amazing to see people and physically be at events.
It’s great to have a chance to talk to you both! Could you both introduce yourselves and tell me your individual journeys that lead you to this point?
Julius: So my name is Julius, I’m the creative director and co-founder of Heliot Emil with my brother Victor. My journey started out in advertising. I used to work as an art director for more commercial entities and brands, but then transcended into working in the fashion industry. I worked in New York for seven years for different brands while trying to figure out a way to pursue what I was passionate about and also make a living off it. And then we started Heliot Emil remotely through Skype. We had a long WhatsApp thread and when the time zones matched we would call and formulate an idea of what we wanted to create and then slowly took it step by step. We started in 2017 and just pretty ad hoc – learning by doing. We didn’t know much about the fashion industry so we slowly figured out all of the ins and outs. I think it was a blessing and a curse, not knowing too much about rules and restrictions is creatively freeing but it also means each season you have to really learn a lot. Regardless, this experience laid a great foundation for how we like to work and iterate on our collections to make sure that we’re always progressing and thinking about how we can improve this, how we can push this and how we can get to that next level?
Victor: My story is a bit different. I am the business director of the brand and I’ve always been very drawn to entrepreneurship. I started importing, exporting and selling goods when I was around 12 years old – buying stuff from the U.S. and Asia and selling it online in Denmark. So I started to study Business, Innovation and Entrepreneurship at CBS in Denmark. Simultaneously while studying I founded a company that sold packaging for restaurants in Denmark and that took off. It was challenging balancing school with this but also very exciting. Julius and I started the company together while I still had school and this company. I think that’s how I learnt to manage multiple projects at once and just power through. As Julius mentioned, we started the company while he was in NY so it was also a lot of late nights on Skype, just trying to communicate back and forth showing each other different environments and fabric samples on the screen. It was an interesting process at that time.
Yeah, I can imagine. You guys kind of touched on it but I’m curious what inspired you guys to start the brand?
Julius: We’ve always been very in sync in terms of wanting to start something together. Given that I was working in the fashion industry it was a natural progression in that direction. I had experience in the industry and Victor had the business interest so it just fell into place. I think mostly we’ve just been drawn to create something together. I’ve always been very interested in sort of expressing myself creatively, and I think fashion is an amazing medium to just do that. You’re pushed to constantly produce something which gives you the constant opportunity to express yourself.
Yeah, for sure. And your guys’ first collection was Spring/Summer 2017 which means that you have had the task of growing your brand over the craziness of the past few years. So, Victor, could you tell me a little more about that and what that was like?
Victor: It’s been a wild ride for sure – a lot of that has a lot of ups and downs. Before COVID we had a tremendous amount of growth – especially in China. We were actually invited to do a pop-up in an art installation in Shanghai in December of 2019 so we just escaped China when COVID hit. In the beginning, we didn’t expect it to hit the world as hard as it did. But when it did, we started to reach out to everyone we knew to ask them ‘how are you handling this situation?’ It seemed like everyone was panicking – and rightfully so – but we tried not to. We just kept on going and continued to invest in a lot of stock. We ended up selling our entire collection wholesale. So we’ve got a lot of wholesalers on but obviously as lockdowns started t and a lot of these stores cancelled their orders. Regardless, we just kept on producing the goods and once countries came out of lockdown everyone wanted to purchase the stock that we had invested in. And so it actually turned out to be a good thing that we invested because we just bet that everything would be back to normal in a few months – which was the case in some countries but not in others. So I mean, it was a lot of keeping track of individual markets and figuring out, okay, what’s going on in this market now and can we reactivate some of that stock in other markets? It was a lot of day-to-day work.
A hot topic at the moment, especially catalysed by COVID, is contemporary luxury or new luxury. This is also something that’s very core to your brand. So Julius, what exactly does contemporary luxury mean to you and how does that manifest in your designs?
Julius: I think you’re absolutely right in saying that there is a sort of a reconfiguration of what luxury means and what it means to create something that people aspire to have. I feel like the last, let’s say five years, we’ve sort of seen this tremendous takeover of the people. Now luxury brands like to collaborate with smaller brands that are able to create communities. You see super high-end brands like Louis Vuitton collaborating with really niche young designers that have managed to create a strong unique community. There’s also no longer a definitive way of saying, ‘this is how to create a luxury brand’ or, ‘this is how to create the things that people want.’ I think that the most important thing is that you don’t neglect anything that’s happening. TikTok is a good example of this. TikTok a year ago was 12-year-old kids dancing, and now it’s the hottest social media app and every big fashion brand is on there. If you had said like a year ago this is never going to be it, then you would have been rejecting the progression. So I think that it’s super important to keep an open mind about everything that’s going on because things can shift at any time. It can be a completely different fashion week next season. You don’t know what’s going to happen. And I think that’s also part of what keeps it interesting – the next step might be completely different from what you thought before.
Yeah, for sure. Specifically in your designs technology is a huge part of that. When I was looking at your Autumn/Winter 22 collection I was drawn to the pockets that were GPS signal blocking. To me, that’s total luxury. Like these small little details of privacy and like the things that you may not associate with fashion but can be a part of fashion. And like you said if you don’t keep an open mind and be like ‘privacy and fashion have nothing to do with each other’ then you would completely miss a detail like that. You guys also just came out with your Pre-Spring Summer 23 collection. Could you walk me through that a little bit?
Julius: Thank you so much for noticing that. It’s a cool little side story that’s running with the brand that’s about combining mental health with the fashion industry. We’ve had a lot of talks about how your phone has become an extension of ourselves. To be able to block that out by putting it in the pocket and being able to focus on yourself I think is a luxury that few people will want to explore. We’re developing more things within this realm of mental health and clothing in general in the next collection as well. But speaking of SS23 and Pre-23, the concept and theme for the collection is based on an artwork by Bill Viola called Look for Martyrs. It’s a video of the four different elements Earth, Wind, Fire and Water and how they are affecting the human body – if you haven’t seen it I would highly recommend it’s super cool. Using this, we started to explore how the different elements affect the body through clothes. For example, we made some details that were inspired by the wind like air slits inspired by aerodynamic construction. There are a lot of details where the garment almost looks like it’s been blown back. Then there are water-resistant, waterproof materials that are inspired by water. There are materials that sort of look like they’ve been treated with the different types of dirt and earth and have sort of like a rugged surface. And then there are some materials that look like they are sort of like clouds meant to depict air and water together.
I love how that fits in with your guys’ storytelling in general. While the clothes do speak for themselves, Victor, how else does the brand effectively convey the brand’s ethos and story?
Victor: What we try to create is more like a universe that conveys this idea of what we call industrial elegance. So we always say that we don’t sell products, we sell the universe. Everything from furniture to luxury fashion to soundscapes can be encapsulated in this universe of industrial elegance. Trends come and go but we just want to stick to our own identity and universe that encapsulates this aesthetic.
I also read that you guys are also hoping to move locations more to Paris. Would the end goal be to fully move to Paris or do you also want to keep a home base in Copenhagen? Basically, what’s coming up?
Victor: Yeah, it’s a good question and I think it’s going to happen in a couple of phases. So the first phase would be to move more of our activities and marketing to Paris. And we have our showrooms, we have a couple of shops and stuff but we want to sort of like more of our activities moved to Paris. It’s not a secret that it’s not easy to run a fashion company in Copenhagen as the fashion industry is so small. So we feel like the next natural step would be to move more of our activities and eventually our office to Paris.
Nice. Also, congratulations on being a finalist for the Andam Prize! How did you guys feel when you found out that you are in the running for it?
Julius: To be honest, I was extremely surprised given the people we’ve been nominated with. They’re all designers that I’m personally a big fan of and have followed for a long time. We’re just very honoured to be included in that mix. As Victor mentioned before, it hasn’t been our main focus to steer the brand towards this direction of recognition, it’s been more focused on creating our community and universe. But then to get recognised by the mind-blowing jury is really humbling for us. We’re really happy to meet these amazing profiles and regardless of what happens, this has been an amazing experience.
Okay hypothetical situation – I’ll knock on wood first – if you guys were to win, what are you planning on doing with the amazing award?
Victor: What we want to win is the mentorship programme – I think that’s the biggest value of this prize. I mean the cash prize is also amazing but I think just meeting these profiles and building our network is worth even more than the cash award. I think the cash award would be spent on the activities that we mentioned before like marketing activities and moving the infrastructure of the company more to Paris. So it’s going to be spent on a lot of the wise things that are going to improve the business, for sure.
Julius: And French lessons.
Haha. Everyone always says with prizes like this, whether it be the Andam or LVMH Prize, everyone who’s nominated as a finalist is ultimately a winner because you make these amazing connections and level of recognition. So congratulations again. What else can we expect from you in the future?
Julius: Oh, we’re only just getting started. I mean, we’re just now seeing the potential of what we can create. I think a big thing of what we’re working on right now is getting that company structure and infrastructure right. We’ve been fortunate with the people that we’ve met throughout our path and career. And I think that now we’re fortunate enough to bring people on board that we can learn from and grow with. That’s really what’s going to take us to the next level. Speaking more in strict terms, I think what we’re working on right now is expanding in terms of collections and some different lifestyle things that we’re getting into. We’re working on some amazing collaborations as well – so a lot of exciting things.
Victor: I think that’s the best part of being nominated for a prize like this is that we’ve gained a lot of visibility. It’s way easier for us now to collaborate with interesting partners around the world and we can use this as leverage to partner with different innovative factories and laboratories. Also, if you look at our collections and how we have run everything for the last year and a half or two years, you can see a huge development. If we continue to scale at the same pace, we will see a big development in the collections, shows and everything we do. I think that’s a huge goal that we have, to really develop and learn from everyone around us.