Alexander Julian and son bring their newly revived brand to Charlotte

Alexander (left) and Huston Julian, father and son, will appear at Taylor, Richards & Conger menswear store in Phillips Place on May 13 to introduce their newly revived Alexander Julian brand, which features sportcoats made from breathable cotton but printed to look like tweed.
Alexander (left) and Huston Julian, father and son, will appear at Taylor, Richards & Conger menswear store in Phillips Place on May 13 to introduce their newly revived Alexander Julian brand, which features sportcoats made from breathable cotton but printed to look like tweed. Courtesy of Alexander and Huston Julian

Alexander Julian, perhaps best known nationally for his “Colours” men’s clothing line and locally for designing the Charlotte Hornets’ first basketball uniforms, will appear in Charlotte May 13 to promote the relaunch of his eponymous line of upscale menswear – a line he’s creating with his 23-year-old son, Huston.

The excitement behind the newly revived Alexander Julian collection, debuting for fall 2016, is about sport coats made from a new fabric – Cotton|Tweed – which Julian says he’s been designing for the last 26 years. The fabric looks like tweed but is actually cotton, printed to graphically mimic tweed. The result, Julian says, gives the look of a fall-appropriate heavy-gauge material but feels light and breathable for the Southern climate.

Julian and his son will bring the collection to Taylor, Richards & Conger menswear shop in Phillips Place, where they’ll meet with customers and take sizing for fall orders. The Cotton|Tweed jackets run $595. Shirts and ties are also part of the collection, with shirt prices ranging from $175 to $195.

Julian, 68, was born and raised in Chapel Hill and grew up in his father’s Franklin Street menswear boutique, Julian’s. He later opened his own men’s shop on Franklin Street, Alexander’s Ambitions, before moving to New York, hoping to create a national brand. (He says he and his wife, Meagan, remain “stewards” of Julian’s, which will celebrate its 75th anniversary this year.) He famously designed the original Hornets uniforms when the team debuted in 1988, and the UNC Chapel Hill basketball uniforms in 1990. He still designs pieces UNC coach Roy Williams wears on some game days.

He started his Alexander Julian label in 1974 and sold it through high-end stores, and later launched his more affordable, mass-marketed line, Colours by Alexander Julian, which still exists today.

A textile designer as well as a clothing designer and furniture maker (he teamed with fine furniture company Jonathan Charles for the Alexander Julian line of tables and chests; offerings include coffee tables in the shape of a neck tie or bow tie), Julian lives in Connecticut. But he says he visits North Carolina often; during one week in April, he gave three speeches in the state.

Richard Pattison of Taylor, Richards & Conger got to know Julian while Pattison worked in a neighboring Franklin Street menswear shop during college in the early 1970s. Pattison and Glen Taylor later carried Julian’s high-end Alexander Julian line in the 1980s in the Charlotte upscale menswear shop they headed, Jodhpurs.

Pattison said he’s excited about introducing Julian’s new line to customers for fall.

“Is Alex onto something? I think he is,” Pattison said. “He’s from the South and he understands the look and he understands the weight and he understands the needs of the young guy,” he said. “There is a good market for people wearing sportswear jackets as opposed to a tailored garment. The fact that he’s been able to take a new idea and make a garment is clever.”

Julian and his son talked to the Observer by phone about their new partnership and the newly revived line.

First, the father:

On how he’s designing differently this time: “This is the culmination of a new way of making fabric; I started work on this concept in 1990. It’s been a long time coming. The problem with fall clothes for men in the South is that the fashion style of menswear was engrained by Edward the Eighth, the former Prince of Wales, with great English and Scottish tweed fabrics, and you can’t wear them here. They’re too heavy. What I’ve developed ... could fool a moth. It is a digitally printed tweed on lightweight cotton. The cloth is cotton faced on one side, and rayon faced on the inside which acts like a lining. You can actually wear it in the South.”

On collaborating with Huston: “He was very much a dark horse candidate. He got a degree in chemistry and environmental science (from UNC Chapel Hill). It was totally unexpected to me (that he would want to collaborate on the brand). My wife told me about it and I was like, ‘You’re kidding.’ He had her smooth the way. At the prep school he attended in Connecticut, he started a gentleman’s dress code. He started the whole dress-up thing with men wearing jackets and ties to school. It ended up where half of the guys in the school were dressing up.

“I truly love working with him. He’s my youngest son, the next-youngest of all seven of my kids. (Julian has four girls and three boys.) His little sister graduates in two weeks from Carolina. I have four kids who are Carolina grads. He’s always been a part of (Julian’s). He works with marketing for the store as well as media outreach for all our brands. He’s involved in design, too. He actually designed some of the pieces in the line. We collaborated on them together. It’s definitely a ‘Julian’ design.”

On how the upscale menswear landscape has changed since he started his career: The biggest change “is the number of quality specialty shops. Eighty percent of them are gone. Taylor, Richards & Conger is one of the greatest stores in America. We are very honored to be showcasing there. I’ve known those guys (Pattison and Conger) since we were in Chapel Hill together. They were one of the first stores to support our new endeavor.”

Then the son:

On his vision for the resurrected Alexander Julian line: “It’s really focusing on the classic Alexander Julian esthetic and trying to recreate that kind of excitement. Colours is very important to a lot of people, but we want to be able to show a little more creativity and wildness and a little more of ourselves and him.”

On how he believes the line will appeal to today’s younger man: Formal dressing “is less relevant to people my age. Having a jacket seems to be more of a rarity, but this is something that can really jumpstart that and get people to think about presenting themselves a little differently.”

On the parallel between his dad’s former Franklin Street store, Alexander’s Ambitions, and the pair’s new endeavor: “His store was designed to be more hip and modern than traditional; something different” from his father’s store, Julian’s. “There’s an interesting similarity there.”

Want to go?

Meet Alexander and Huston Julian at Taylor, Richards & Conger, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. May 13. The pair will have samples of their fall 2016 collection of jackets, shirts and neckwear, as well as “fit garments” shoppers can try on to ensure correct sizing. Items ordered in May will be delivered in August. Their appearance is free and open to the public.