The Long Read: The Julian Klincewicz Interview

Hello, and welcome back to the third and final part of our Julian Klincewicz week together with Vault by Vans. Last time we had the pleasure to talk to Julian’s friend Jackson Sjogren about building up their work relationship and getting closer as friends. Now we come back to Julian to talk with him about his second Vault by Vans collection, finding his way through the working world, his current mindset, and of course his trip to Milan. We had a great time. Thank you, Julian and Vault by Vans.

Interview and intro by Louis Marschall.
Photos and collages by Steffen Grap.

Hello Julian, let’s start the interview. Jackson Sjogren did this whole piece about your Vans collection. The documentary. Was there a pre-summary of what the collection should be about?

Yeah, first of all, the thing I’ve found tricky or interesting is that I obviously like to make stuff as just an individual or also as an artist. It’s nice to make things but it is also kind of like “Why do I need to make another t-shirt?” or “Do I really need to make another pair of shoes?”. Why do I need to make more stuff? So I tried to approach this collection as the opportunity to make something but the real opportunity is to do story-telling through those things. To craft a world where the product serves to tell a larger story or just to sort of facilitate an experience. When Vans approach me to do the collection their only note was to make it a summer collection and so I just tried to think about how to make that a little bit more meaningful because especially in the sneaker world everybody drops a sneaker. There’s a new shoe literally every day from some company and some hyped-up collaboration. So I just tried to approach it from more like a storytelling standpoint to figure out how to not make it just like another shoe (laughs). 

Did this also spark your interest in filmmaking? You said that you started to get more and more into story-telling.

Yeah, for sure. I guess a couple of things come to mind and the first is maybe the idea of autobiography. What makes autobiography and story-telling meaningful is that you really understand the experience because you had it. It’s not so much about me telling my story for the sake of hyping myself up but it’s an experience that I’m really familiar with and I think a lot of other people have had that. A version of that same experience. So for me, my super nostalgic meaningful childhood memories are going to the beach in Michigan and it’s very family and community-oriented and a little bit whimsical. There are all of these kinds of elements but it also allowed me to sort of go back and re-explore what all those elements are and then kind of convey it in hopefully a slightly more universal way. Obviously, there is a limitation to that universality just because I’m talking about Michigan and I’m talking about my childhood which is a specific experience but I think that this whole project has been a good sort of dipping my toes into the water of narrative story-telling. Still very abstract narrative story-telling but yeah…

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to actually do it because of time constraints but originally I imagined the whole collection to basically be a wardrobe for the short film that would be the campaign. So when we weren’t able to shoot the short film we basically absorbed a lot of these ideas into the music. The songs take the place of that. One of them is the “Pure Michigan” song. It’s eight minutes long and we integrated a lot of sound design and classical motives to make it sound very cinematic and to sort of facilitate the feeling a short film might normally give you. 

I could feel that. “Pure Michigan” has a very cinematic and dreamy feeling. I listened to it on the train, zoned out, and remembered a few things from my past. Does it have the same effect on you when you listen to it?

Yeah, I think so. There is also the other song “Pale Fire Sky”. That one is more like a “song song”. They serve different purposes a little bit.

I understand. Now we are here in Milan and I saw that you are always working in some way. When we are going from place to place, as we did in the last few days, can you enjoy the whole thing? Or do you have the feeling that you have to keep working and capture everything in a certain way?

Yeah, I guess what’s ironic is that… I mean even on this trip I still had to work but basically, the opportunity with any of the collaborations or with any of the projects is really to make something special. Usually what makes things special are the people you work with and the ones you collaborate with to make the things. You remember the experience of shooting a campaign or coming to Milan or whatever. I’ve been doing so much commercial work the past few years that I sort of forgot that when it’s my project I really have the opportunity to kind of turn it into an experience that I wanna have. I just forgot that I can do that and I think that’s really one of the amazing things about being an artist. People allow you to say “I have this crazy idea for this experience and I’m trying to tell this story” and they are like “Ok, cool”. They respect it for whatever reason. So in a weird way getting to come to Milan to do the shoe release and then go to have a really idyllic summer experience (laughs). Going up to Lake Como, climbing up the mountain, and then diving off the board. Even today the boys playing soccer. You know in a weird way it’s a different version of that same kind of nostalgic experience that the whole collection is about. For me, that has been the coolest part. Obviously, it’s insane that they actually filled the gallery up with sand (laughs) and made it into a beach and stuff, but also what feels kind of more exciting than that is just the opportunity to be able to work with these brands to sort of actually just make experiences. Both for myself but also for other people. 

That’s amazing. Finding your way through the working world and traveling to different places. It’s really similar to the growing up part. Maybe you look back and say “Wow, I did all this stuff” and you would again experience this nostalgic feeling. 

Yeah, a couple of things come to my mind, really. The first thing is that in the past year, past two years for the first time in my life I had people pass away which kind of made me more aware of how I want to be spending my time. It also sort of shifted the way that I approach everything which is with every project before I used to try to make it the absolute best thing I have ever done and very much like “This has to be the pinnacle. It has to be the best thing” versus right now, I just think of everything as practice. Even the experiences shooting footage or whatever. It’s just a step to the next thing and it kind of allows you way more freedom to be way more experimental and exploratory and to kind of have a bit of inner confidence or security or something in myself now. I kind of feel way freer. That’s sort of the first thing that comes to mind.

The other thing that comes to mind is… It’s kind of weird because I used to film and take photos of absolutely everything and then I kind of had to teach myself to not do that so that I could have an actual experience. So now I’m kind of shifting to that middle world of knowing when I wanna film something and when it’s better to just have the experience because obviously, the beautiful thing with filming everything is that then you have this amazing archive and you get all these pictures and you kind of get to like outsource your memories and make them into a thing that’s more shareable. But also when you do that all the time and especially… I mean this is kinda the thing when you get to do exactly what you love for work it’s way harder to find that line between doing it for pleasure or doing it for work. The two things melt together and so then it’s kind of normal to film all the time anyway, right? But then also when I get hired for a job I’m also filming all the time so then my whole life is just documenting my life rather than experiencing it. That’s been kind of a weird thing to figure out. How to find that balance. To answer your question a little more directly it would be super interesting to look back on my travel footage and stuff in like twenty years or really like forty years and try to kind of make a larger film or something out of it that means something. 

That would be great. I think I know exactly what you mean with filming all the time or rather only film the special moments. I had the same feeling today on the boat. We had to film you obviously and also Pete is always filming. I think it would have been nicer not to film all the time, trying to capture every moment and instead just experience the whole thing and be present. For example, you are here and you are filming but you always try to capture it at a certain angle that you have in your mind. I also felt bad for being on the phone all the time for the last few days because of doing the social media stuff but yeah it’s kind of a job sometimes. I like to capture stuff but I also like to have an experience. 

Yeah, I mean the other thing is just that with Instagram, it trained everybody to document everything so it’s way harder to step back and just be like… It’s gonna be way more special to just have the experience. I think that’s hard for everybody actually right now (laughs). 

That’s true. Another thing I wanted to ask is how did you experience the last days? Meeting people you have never seen before, let’s take Steffen aside, go somewhere, fully commit and just catch a wave. 

Honestly, super nice. Maybe it’s the timing in my life right now. I’m sure that the past two years of Covid had a ton to do with it but the thing I really crave the most right now is to just be around new people actually. Have new experiences and kind of actually go out and connect with people. A lot of that has to do with the fact that obviously everyone has been super isolated the past two years. I think that’s a really universal experience which is kind of rare but now the thing that I actually want the most is exactly what we just did. To kind of have the freedom to meet people and just go do something cool and experience it. Be much more open.

I think there’s something right now very in the zeitgeist or whatever that feels like everything is kind of opening up. I feel more open. I think most people feel more open and there’s a real sense of wanting to connect with people. So for me, that’s exactly what I wanna be doing right now which has been super nice to actually get to do it because it’s very easy to be at home in LA, working in my studio, editing a video being like “Oh man, I really wish I could go out to Europe and go on a cool trip or something”. To actually get to do that I’m like “Sick, that’s amazing”. 

That’s sick. The whole idea of our project was to bring people who can connect with you through different aspects. Julian through music and skating, Steffen through photography, and Pete and I through filming. The plan was to just go somewhere and have an experience. 

I mean I love it (laughs). 

It kind of worked out. I think we had a good time. 

Oh, for sure. I think the creative industry has become so commodified and I think that actually comes from a really genuine place. For example, I’m like “Oh I have creative ideas. How cool I can make a shoe. Let me go do that” or I get to make a book or a T-shirt with some brand or whatever. It’s really like that all the art becomes commodified like “Oh I just wanna make stuff and here’s someone else who wants to make stuff”. It’s the same for a magazine or something “Oh here’s something I care about. Let me make something so that I can share it with people” and really what that is all about is just like connecting with other people. It’s kind of being a lighthouse being like “Yo I’m into this. Are you guys into this?”. It comes from the most natural place but I also think there’s the sort of pressure from social media and the fast pace of life right now where everything feels sort of competitive to get your fifteen seconds of fame or something. It has sort of taken that and put this dark twist on it, where it feels like there’s pressure to do that rather than just doing it because you want to, right? The pressure of somebody posting an Instagram story that you need to re-share. Any of those things. That sort of bizarro version of something genuine. It becomes a little darker for whatever reason. It’s such a weird time to navigate that and again I actually think that the past two years made a lot of people reconsider that. Where’s now maybe almost a little bit less pressure or there’s the internal fortitude to make those decisions of how much you want to experience something versus how much you wanna be making something.

That’s interesting. Speaking of doing projects with people who are willing to create something, we at Place usually try to find creative people to work with, give them our platform and try to make new connections. Through that, we almost always got to know very interesting persons and all the people around them. The ones who influence them on a daily basis. It doesn’t always have to be the most famous ones who are telling the best stories. 

I think fame feels a little overrated right now. Being super hyped up feels really overrated (laughs). It’s more interesting to meet people that are just very genuine doing their thing outside of anything that’s clouded, you know? Maybe it’s just being in LA or something where things are very…I mean I think it’s everywhere tho. Things are just very clouded and about whom you know. Everything used to be very hyped up. I feel like the kind of veil has been pulled off a little bit where it’s like “Who gives a shit?”. It’s way more interesting to find just genuine people that do cool stuff regardless of how well-known or unknown you are. Kind of the actual democratization or something. 

Yeah for example getting to know Steffen (Grap) and doing stuff with him. He’s not crazy famous but he has a good vibe and he’s super fun to work with.

Yeah (laughs). I think he is really someone who knows how to get the joy out of life. Obviously, he makes great work, right? His photos are really cool. The collages and the techniques he uses. He makes really good work but the work really feels like a byproduct of his life or something. It feels like he just lives and his work kinda flows very naturally out of his life. To me, he has it figured out. That’s kind of the dream a little bit. 

I would also say you are doing your work really naturally. After meeting you and seeing you doing your thing for the last three days I was like “Ah, he does it really effortlessly”. You seem to be really into it, using every second but you still spend your time with others. It goes hand in hand. 

Yeah but I also think that’s something I had to relearn because it’s really the fine line of being self-employed where the amount I work dictates my lively hood basically and I think every person who is self-employed kind of struggles to find that balance. I realized maybe two years ago that I was just working too much and it took me two years to slowly get closer to a balance of not making every experience into a work experience because then my natural inclination to make things hits overdrive where then I’m like “Oh, I can make something out of anything”. That’s exciting and again super genuine but I had to teach myself how to punch the breaks a little bit so I can balance a little better which again now everything is just practice.

That’s actually something I learned from Virgil (Abloh). After he passed away I kind of reflected on his whole process and the time I got to spend with him. We weren’t the closest by any means. There are definitely people who are worked with him more and who were closer but the relationship that I did have with him was always really inspiring to me. He found a way to just make the process work for him. His whole process was collaborating with people, having an idea, and being able to bring it to someone else to make them feel empowered. I think it’s similar to what Roland and Daniel are doing with Place or what Vans is doing by allowing me to design a collection. 

Yes, also Vans giving us the opportunity to do something with you.

Yeah, it’s kind of that. For the first time, I feel like I actually understand that. The purpose of getting to do all the cool things is really just about collaborating, empowering other people, and getting to share your ideas but also letting your ideas grow beyond you or something. I don’t know where I wanted to go with any of this (laughs) but…

That’s a good mindset.

Where I was going with it is just this idea or approach of “everything is practice” takes off this crazy pressure that life and especially social media life right now sort of imposes on everyone to make everything a big moment and that everything got to be perfect. Or everything has to be very cool. You go to a party and you only take a picture with the cool person. Shit like that all becomes totally irrelevant if you stop thinking of everything as that pinnacle moment. Time is just flowing and all life is of all these experiences. If you can make that the important thing then everything else just kind of becomes easier and actually flows way better. That’s the wave I’m on right now (laughs).

That makes sense. It probably takes a lot of stress away and lets you focus on more important things.

Yeah, I mean to that I would say it’s like you do wanna make something good, right? It’s really just prioritizing people because you want to make good work and you want to make good things but you want the experience of that to be good for everyone. When you have a shoe or a trip and the experience is really shitty even though you made a good campaign or good work or the photos of the trip look super dope. If the experience sucked that’s what everyone is going to remember. At least everyone who is involved. I feel like it’s about having the kind of awareness to not let the outcome be the priority. You can still focus on making really good work and doing cool things but kind of not rushing to just make everything meet that need. It’s more important to make the experience a little bit better. 

I get what you mean. My last question would be: If you had to describe the last few days with some words, which words would you choose?

I felt really alive (laughs). Really. I think it’s the combination of one I’m super jetlagged which makes all the experiences seem a bit more intense because the extremes are bigger. You are more tired and you are more awake. Drinking a bunch of espressi. But also the experience the past few days has been… I mean I will say this and again this is really hyper-specific to me but working so much in the so-called corporate fashion world I assimilated into such a specific experience. I started from this very genuine place of kinda filming, making skate videos, and then got to work with really amazing artists and bigger brands. It has been a very natural flow but the actual experience of that journey has also been obviously super privileged. Or maybe not obviously. It has been kind of a privileged experience where usually when it’s a big fashion company you get flown out, put in a nice hotel and I get the car service. All the bells and whistles. Which are amazing obviously (laughs) but it’s also that those things are more isolating versus taking the train and getting on the wrong train. It’s kind of that the commodity of time becomes different. You sort of afforded this luxury to just have everything be super direct. Straight from the airport into the nice car to the nice hotel to shoot the campaign and then you do it back. The commodity of time has been compressed into all of these little luxuries but within that and I mean it’s a great experience and I love that but when that’s the only experience then you forget the leisure and the beauty of having time to like walk to the train station, then you take the train, then you wait two hours for the bus, you take the bus down this crazy road, then you can’t find the place, then you hike up a mountain for two hours (laughs) and still can’t find it. That’s what I feel like living actually is. And so again, yeah, the last few days have been a lot of life for me. 

We’re glad to hear that. I think that’s a good end.

Yeah, it has been nice. Thanks, Place.

Thank you, Julian.