Their brand has deep roots in the Juul family. Led by the pair of brothers, under their great grandfather’s name, Heliot Emil was conceived in the basement of their family home. This DIY origin has taken Julius and Victor Juul from Copenhagen to Paris, where they first rented a showroom and since have held a slew of extremely popular shows. Recently recognised as grand prize nominees by the Andam fashion award, since we last caught up with Julius and Victor Juul in 2020, the team has been busy at work, ushering forth new exciting collections, and rethinking their brand from the ground up.
In their review process for Andam’s grand prize award, the two took a critical look at the brand's first few years of operations. Although they have already been wildly successful, the Juul brothers have great aspirations for the fledgling label, and so took the time to initiate changes to their company’s infrastructure and organisational structure. They hope to expand Heliot Emil’s presence in Paris, where they have met a great deal of support, and build capacity in all their departments. I caught up with the brothers following their return from Paris Fashion Week and spoke to them about the future of their brand, their unique approach to designing luxury fashion and how to pave a way for yourself in a rapidly changing fashion industry.
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Hello Julius Juul and Victor Juul, what has the Heliot Emil team been up to since you last spoke to METAL in November of 2020?
Julius: A lot of things have happened! For the past year and a half, we have been very focused on the internal structure of Heliot Emil and accommodating the growth and momentum we've had, trying to utilise it as much as possible. During Covid, we wanted to get the infrastructure right and bring our supply chains up to par. We invested a lot in our production department and spent time figuring out how to take our brand to the next level. We're thankful we made those decisions [early], since we are now seeing many brands struggling with supply chain issues.
Victor: Exactly. I think one of the main transitions for the brand has been going from being a start-up, where it was literally just Julius and me sitting in a basement trying to fit the puzzle pieces together, to now. We are scaling up, trying to build a business that is bigger than just Julius and I, something that functions when we are away in Paris or LA. As Julius mentioned, a big focus of ours has been to get the supply chain running smoothly, because we want to deliver high-quality products, on time. I think that is one of the biggest obstacles in the fashion industry right now, especially during Covid. It's amazing to now see the results of efforts we implemented almost two years ago. That also just paints a picture of how much you have to plan, but also how agile you must be for the business to survive, because the industry changes almost every day. You can see how geopolitical events impact the market and can really damage the business. This provides obstacles for everyone.
Julius: I think that our shows have changed immensely as well. Being able to do physical shows again is amazing. I think this is a route we want to explore more. We are heavily invested in showing that we have a voice in that world.
Victor: Definitely. A big focus for us has been to really shine a light on our high-quality garments. Since 2020 we have had a huge focus on accelerating our tailoring and leather lines. We've managed to deliver some amazing products. We have structured teams who can create these products at as high a standard as anyone else in the industry.
Congratulations on your Andam grand prize nomination. Listing the prize’s alumni would be trite, but it is truly a venerable cast. I'm curious to hear what it meant for the brand to receive this kind of recognition, and what it was like looking back at your careers at Heliot Emil for this review process.
Julius: Thank you so much. We were extremely humbled and honoured to be among the finalists. I think Andam is very special in a way because they evaluate your business, and the fashion side of things. The prize committee asked us to send all our numbers. They are very focused on this component of the prize in general. I think this makes it quite unique, whereas a lot of fashion prizes are mostly just focused on design. At the end of the day, you must create a brand that's financially sustainable. I think that shining a light on these components, and to have a jury that looked at these things as a part of the evaluation, was very valuable for us. Heliot Emil is something Victor and I have grown without any prior knowledge of the fashion industry. We have been learning by doing, season after season––taking what we've learnt, taking what we've earnt, and putting it into the next season. We have developed our brand in this very organic way. I think that to be recognised for that, is very special to us.
Victor: Yes, exactly. Something I want to add that really paints a picture of the growth and evolution of the brand is that we started Heliot Emil from literally nothing, in our parents’ basement in Copenhagen. To see that, without any help, or any knowledge of the industry, we have been able to grow it from our parents’ basement, first shows in Copenhagen, then to shows in Paris, and now we have received an Andam award nomination! Being recognised by all the biggest names in the fashion industry is something we are super proud of. It also just shows that when you put a tremendous amount of energy and creativity into a project, anything can happen. Especially in the era that we're in now, where it's not necessary to have a degree in design. But if you're able to just engage your community, and really learn from your mistakes, you can grow your brand into a luxury fashion label that's recognised by the biggest people in the industry.
I saw in your Andam profile that you started the brand with 3,000 euros! I think this is a really motivating story for young designers who are frightened by the risks of entrepreneurship. Where did these first funds go, and what were your first steps as a brand?
Victor: Our first funds went into samples for a collection, which we took to a showroom in Milan. There, we met with different buyers, this was literally a result of writing to info-email addresses on their website and saying “hey, we have this showroom, can you come by.” Luckily for us, we had some great responses, and we got some first orders in. At that point we didn't even know what a delivery window was, what order terms were, or anything like that. We were sort of making things up on the spot in the showroom, which I think would have been quite funny for people to observe. And then when we came back the next season, we had a bigger collection because the profits that we made from that first season just went straight into the next collection and showroom. So, I think it's important to have a wide view of, first, simply maximising the profits of your collection so that you can reinvest your money into the next season, but also focusing on not spending your money on unnecessary things. We must be honest and say that we've done everything ourselves. We've been very lucky that Julius has a lot of experience in art direction and photography and stuff like that. So, it's been easy for us to keep the funds tight. And I don’t think we come from a very privileged background. I mean, we're not used to having a big office or anything. So, for a while, we could just stay in our parents’ basement, and that was fine at that point. It's all about just stretching every single dollar.
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You also discussed your hopes for a move to Paris! So many have done this, a particularly relevant example seems to be the Japanese antifashion designers of the late 20th century. Why make this move now? Is that part of your goals to achieve greater infrastructural support, and letting go of some of the DIY spirit?
Victor: Yes, exactly. A big obstacle that we are experiencing right now is recruiting: finding the talent that we need and getting them to move to Copenhagen. I think we also just see how much support we have received for the brand in Paris. A funny story is that our previous show location got leaked, and we ended up with 500 people standing outside wanting to come in and see the show. I think this really paints a picture of how much support we have in Paris, and what we could do if we move more of our marketing activities there. I think the move is going to happen in a few phases. We will start with our marketing activities, and then see what makes sense moving forward. I think we're going to keep most of our business in Copenhagen for now, but we're definitely going to move more activity to Paris.
Heliot Emil’s collections often toe the line between art and technology, Unstable Equilibrium seems to interrogate this relationship most directly. Where does the process of experimentation begin while designing a collection? Does it feel like more of a scientific or artistic process of experimentation or somewhere in between?
Julius: I think that you're right about Unstable Equilibrium. We explored technology through every aspect of that collection. But, generally, I'm always fascinated by technology, and by developments in other industries and seeing how I can apply them to the fashion industry. I have a funny story, which is that when we were just in Paris, we had dinner with some friends: a girl who works for Balenciaga and her boyfriend who works in cybersecurity. You would think that I would be most interested in talking to the girl from Balenciaga, but I actually spent the whole night talking to her boyfriend, who's really fascinated by cybersecurity! We talked a lot about the next steps of that industry. I think that gives a pretty good understanding of where my fascinations lie. I think that it's always interesting to look at different developments and see how industries can overlap in interesting ways. I think that our purpose is to infuse innovation into the fashion industry, and I think that this mission goes hand in hand with my fascination with technology and developments thereof.
Luxury is so often associated with time-honoured craft processes, which much of your production defies using new technologies like 3-D printing. What constitutes luxury in industrial elegance?
Julius: That's a great question. I think that the concept of luxury has really been broken down over the past couple of, I guess you could say, centuries. I think that there's more to the definition now in the past. Luxury used to be something that money could buy. But now, I think there are many more angles to it; a lot of people tie things like freedom to luxury, and also the concept of not having too specific an agenda, being a slave to society in a way. I think that there are interesting ways to look at luxury post 2020, or just in the new era. I think there have been great pioneers in this space that have helped to break down the boundaries between what gets recognised as luxury, and what does not. People like Virgil really paved the way for the culture to be very incorporated in high-society and shined some light on all these artistic movements usually excluded from luxury; both in art, but also in music and sports, through sneakers and skateboarding. Now all these things can be a part of what we know as luxury. The boundaries of luxury have been broken in many ways. So, I think it's a super great question to ask, what is luxury today? And consider how we define it. But I think that if I had a straight answer for you, we couldn't be considered luxury in a way. It's strange, but luxury is something so indefinable, because if you start to define it, people steer away from it. You want people to be surprised, or in awe; in a sense this is luxury. It's like an experience with food, or an experience at a show, where you're so surprised by something, but can't really define what made you feel surprised. I feel like that is an interesting space to explore. That felt like a bit of a vague answer, but I'm trying to get at something that is an undefinable entity.
Victor: To add to that, we also try not to be too calculated and really just create products that speak to the universe we are trying to create––which is this industrial elegance we try to infuse within every collection. I think it's more important that the community engages with and is attracted to this universe. If you define that as luxury, then perfect. But we just try to cater to that community we are creating. More than trying to be very calculated concerning what has been a luxury strategy of the past, we try to create our own universe.
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Continuing regarding this expansion of the Heliot Emil universe, and what industrial elegance entails, in your last interview for METAL, you mentioned expanding into furniture and footwear design. You have now done this on several occasions. Can you talk a bit about stepping into new mediums?
Julius: We are actually coming out with our first, what we call, objects collection next month. So that's quite exciting for us. Generally, we just want to expand the universe so it’s not too fixed within the fashion industry. This is important to demonstrate by entering other categories, and other industries. Furniture objects particularly have a life of their own. They sort of exist outside of the fashion industry as objects for people who are not necessarily into fashion to collect. I think this is a super interesting space to include within our universe. So, that's where our fascination stems from.
There is this really nice contradiction in much of your work between functional aesthetics and counter-functional, almost sculptural, design elements. I am particularly thinking about some of your recent leather jackets and puffers. Can you tell me a bit about working with this design logic? And if you see this as something that will progress into your objects collection as well.
Julius: You have a very good eye; I think that you're exactly right in saying that the puffers and leather pieces really speak the language of this industrial elegance we are trying to create. The objects will be a continuation and reflection of that same energy. They will continue to work with some of the same design principles of managing juxtaposition and working with asymmetry, balancing these kinds of things. But also, will work with materials like metals, very shiny metals, surfaces and textures.
To finish off, I'm curious to hear a bit about what's next for the Heliot Emil team.
Julius: There are so many interesting things in the works right now.
Victor: Yeah, where to start!
Julius: We just came back from an extremely successful fashion week. In terms of expanding all our departments, we were very impressed by how we, not necessarily intentionally, ended up working on literally every department while we were away. Just in terms of the internal structure of Heliot Emil, the next levels for our PR and our collaborations, we workshopped every aspect of the brand during our meetings at Paris Fashion week. It is very exciting to see us stepping out in every direction right now. We are just generally super happy and enjoying the ride, trying to also take a step back and think about all we have achieved so far. Hopefully we can continue this momentum and take Heliot Emil to the next level. We think it has the potential.
Victor: As Julius mentioned, we have so many things going on in every department. We are just trying to optimise everything and make sure to always over-deliver to everyone. This is concerning everything from the little trimmings on our goods, to how fast we deliver to our customers, to the showroom we have in Paris, and the collaborations we are doing. We have so many things going on right now, and I think the most important thing is just to build that team and the infrastructure that can support these projects Julius and I started in Paris. It's really about attracting and building a team that can support all of these different projects we have going on at the moment.
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