A new niche: urban Baltic with deep pagan roots
“If you want your own identity, you need to know your roots”, says niche clothing designer Julia Janus, 45. Today she designs subtly expressive neo-pagan mens and womenswear for her signature brand, but she has done everything from rebel fashion to evening wear for the wives of presidents.
Julia grew up in Vilnius during the dreary period of Soviet occupation. She lived in one of the drab concrete buildings near the railway station that were built during the rule of Nikita Khrushchev. Back then, she had no idea of the reversal that would later come when Lithuania regained its independence.
Julia (front row, third from right) pictured during her schooldays in 1985
Revolution was in the air in 1988, and ambitious artistic ideas started exploding. Fashion was no exception. Everyone talked about the “New Design” era in the Soviet bloc. But shortages of everything were the rule during the dying days of the regime, and to this day few realize how much the lack of fabric choice contributed to that movement.
Julia with her group mates from Vilnius Academy of Arts, 1996
Experimental and dynamic photo shoots, although common today, seemed very special in the decade after independence.
Photoshoot of Fall/Winter'98 collection
Editorial of Fall/Winter'98 collection
“For example, a photo-shoot at a trolleybus stop. A model stands in front of everyone and, behind her, the make-up artist and I pretend to be famous stage actors. To be honest, some of those pictures still look very relevant today”, says Julia Janus.
Photoshoot of Spring/Summer'98 collection
Around 1996, Julia developed an appetite for avant-garde forms. She started “Son of a Bitch” (Kalės vaikas) -- a men’s clothing line.
“It was a personal revolution. I wanted to discover youthful, free-minded shapes with no rules. A guy in the rain, a running dog, cosmic costumes, abstract constructions.Symbols that break stereotypes and clichés were very important and are still part of my identity”, she says. “This lasted for four years. I shut down the brand because it was too radical for the local market. One businessman said to me: ‘You create for leaders. But how many leaders can you find in this small country?’”
Collection "Son of the Bitch"
Afterwards, Julia spent a decade running a small atelier Old Town Vilnius. She made outfits for a glamorous circle of clients, including one head of state and two presidents’ wives. At the same time, she took on freelance design work for mass market ready-to-wear brands in Lithuania, Canada, and Denmark.
“This is why I have a distaste for fashion. I create things in order to make people feel good, amazing, cool, modern, and courageous. My designs give people freedom. That’s what I like doing. The fashion market is a mess. There’s so much rubbish clothing--cheap and sexy is a waste. I do lifestyle designs. I can’t call these fashion items, because they’re not. They’re about the sexuality that lies beneath. They are winter-proof, they are monastic and elastic, and that’s why they’re so seductive. There’s nothing seductive about unconcealed bodies anymore. Forget that approach. It’s trashy and tawdry”, Julia says.
She makes things that are in-demand and that have a function -- clothing that helps people with attitude express their character.
It’s a stance that developed over time, but she traces it back to her days as a fresh graduate of the stagnant and conventional Vilnius Academy of Arts, which made her hungry for all things underground, angry, and short-lived.
“It was an era of drugs and house music. It was dark and wild. That’s when my modernism, paganism, and feel for the zeitgeist was born. But I wasn’t ready to start a new brand, so I chose to wait and learn. Now I’m more serene”, she says.
Collection "Son of the Bitch"
“I create for open-minded people. For those who refuse to be part of corporate reality, beauty and fashion. Not all of those glamorous, shimmering dresses and perfect silhouettes make me happy. I care about clothes that dignify every human body’s nature and shape. I’m still making revolutionary clothes, but the message is different: in the 21st century, style for me no longer has an age and a size”, Julia says.
Julia dived into her current project in 2008. She called it simply “Julia Janus”. It is a signature lifestyle brand with a strong identity. After five years of brand development, she finally added a men’s collection, and that’s when a flashback came -- she saw the line connecting “Julia Janus” menswear and her earlier foray, “Son of a Bitch”.
Julia Janus FW16/17
Julia Janus FW16/17
Today Julia helps men and women find their own style by connecting roots with surroundings. Her source of inspiration is the severe and sublime nature of Northern Europe, with its ancient pagan culture and lifestyle. There’s an organic touch to everything she does. Julia likes dark colours. Her designs are semi-toned.
“Western beauty requires full daylight. My foggy halftones come from the meditative half-light. Back in the 16th century, Lithuania was the sole remaining pagan culture in Europe. I identify my creative power with it. Lithuanian paganism is close to Shintoism in Japan. Pagans cultivated a different aestheticsensibility over a long period of time: it was subtle, secret, and discreet”, she explains.
“It is very important to try and retain a national signature. I can speak as many languages as I wish and travel all around the world, but in my creative process I would like to remain North European, from the Baltics, from Lithuania”, Julia says.