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Alexander Julian: former 5-year-old in a custom made suits

Carolina's born and bred fashion icon Alexander Julian giving a speech at Wilson Library on April.19th
Carolina's born and bred fashion icon Alexander Julian giving a speech at Wilson Library on April.19th

Tuesday night, Wilson Library hosted “Gladys Hall Coates University History Lecture: The Threads of Carolina Style” with Alexander Julian to discuss how the fashion of Chapel Hill has changed throughout the years.

Julian has a history with fashion.

His mother and father owned a store named Julian’s College Shop. He attempted to start his own business, received a Coty American Fashion Critics’ Award in 1977, redesigned the graduation gowns and introduced the iconic argyle onto the uniforms for multiple sports teams at UNC.

Julian said the shop was a second home to him and his younger sister when they were growing up.

“It was our playground when we were little, and it was our after-school hangout when we were a little older. We made forts out of suit boxes, shirt boxes and sweater bins, and I loved my sister. I was very nice whenever I pushed her into a fort — I always made sure it was cashmere.”

The store wasn’t only a playground, but a place of learning.

“The first time I went to design school was to teach about design, and though design schools are tremendous help and an advantage, my design school was the design school of Julian’s Clothing Shop,” he said. “There were hundreds of students that studied under my parents when they were students as student help, and they learned how to do business correctly.”

Even as a teenager, Julian had an eye for color and pattern.

“I became this go-to guy in the store when I was 14 or 15. If there was a difficult jacket to find a tie for or if there was a difficult tie to find a jacket for, whatever outfit it was, it was me,” he said. “Putting colors and patterns together became my little specialty. I had no idea that it would serve me in another way later on in life.”

And serve him it did. As he went on to design more things, Julian said he would add a little bit of Franklin Street in everything he created.

Molly Ritter, a UNC first-year and an attendee of the event, said she had heard of Julian’s when she first moved to Chapel Hill and said she is interested in design herself.

“I think it kind of shows us where we came from, and unites us as a school through the history of fashion,” she said.

John Blythe, the lecture’s coordinator, said the library wanted to tie in the fashion exhibit on display with someone from the fashion world.

“His parents’ store has been on Franklin Street since 1942, so they have seen many generations of students come through and had an effect on the style of Carolina,” he said.

Though Julian has done a lot with his career, the store on Franklin and the custom suit remains the same no matter what.

“I was just the average 5-year-old with a custom-made suit.”


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