Fashion as Protection and Liberation: Julius Miller on Race, Fashion and the Future

In Beardsley 101, Julius Miller ‘18 greets us smiling from cheek to cheek. Raised in Arizona, Miller is a senior double majoring in Engineering and Economics. Through the stories of Iron Man and other comic book heroes, Miller first realized his penchant for problem solving and creative thinking. Tony Stark and the Avengers took on the world’s greatest threats, dramatically saving humanity from decimation by fictional villains in thousands of plot lines.

 Photo by 김동규 (Kim Dong-gyu), instagram: @klroid, taken for Seoul Fashion Week

Photo by 김동규 (Kim Dong-gyu), instagram: @klroid, taken for Seoul Fashion Week

However, the antagonists in Julius’s life were human, endowed with no supernatural qualities.

“I come from a working class, African-American family,” Miller shares. “When I first moved to Scottsdale when I was nine, ten years old, I remember there being a police car parked right outside of our house for a week. My father was so fed up with the officer that he decided to actually confront him to see what was going on and the officer asked him, ‘Do you live here?’ He was like, ‘Yes, sir, this is my house,’ and he was like, ‘Oh. Okay, have a nice day.’ And then no sooner after he said that, he left.”

A storyline as old as the existence of black people in this country: the wealthy, predominantly white world of Scottsdale saw Julius as alien to their home. In loud words, it projected to the Miller family, you do not belong here. This was one of many events that led to Julius crafting himself into his own hero.

“My mom figured that I would have a hard time in school,” Miller said. “She figured we’re not rich, but we can at least look rich.” Notions of race and class converged at the early age of eleven to inform Miller what was necessary for him to be accepted.  Fashion was an “armor,” a tool of assimilation used to hide Miller’s blackness in a physical shroud of white suburban uniformity: Polo shirts and jeans.

Yet with time and new environments came Miller’s personal transformation from using fashion as protection, to fashion as liberation. During a summer study abroad trip to Mozambique, Miller began to craft the fashion style he has today. “To put it quite mildly, [my friend] was like, ‘If you are going to hang out with me, you are going to have to bump up your style.”

Miller’s experiences in Mozambique allowed him to begin feeling comfortable with taking risks. This adventurousness can be seen in his inspirations such as Young Thug, A$AP Rocky, and Tyler, the Creator.

“[Young Thug] does whatever he wants to do,” Miller says. “Sometimes when he paints his nails, he’ll add a crystal to the top of the nail just to be extra because he can just do that. I like Young Thug just for the risks he’s willing to take, especially in a very patriarchal society that America is currently, and him being the rapper, the huge musical sensation that he is, him taking those risks just inspires me to keep pushing my own style.” Miller exhibits the intentionality of his fashion, constantly keeping social consciousness in mind. Mentions of the patriarchy and homophobia are frequent in the description of his work.

An engineer and a fashion stylist simultaneously, Miller has begun designing his own SuperSuits. “Recently, I have found myself designing my own hoodies, bracelets, bomber jackets,” Miller says. “I feel like now I’ve been doing engineering, I can still combine engineering and fashion to create smart clothes… I can still combine the things I’m good at - engineering - with my love for fashion.”

His interests and academic pursuits coexist in all aspects of his life. He approaches the world from both a technical and an artistic lens. This clarity drives his desires for the future. “I want to get a job in the world of technology, designing sensors or clothes. Long-term, five years down the line, I hope I have my own smart streetwear clothing brand, a first of its kind. Ten years down the line, I want to see myself as a mogul in the fashion world, with a business, my streetwear brand, and fashion house.”

But, this is not the entire breadth of his fashion curiosity; Miller is a model. Very hesitant at first to admit it, he describes the experience as, “capturing a moment in time. I like to think of it in the way an actor delivers lines from a script. What am I trying to say and where my body is positioned conveys the feeling of the clothing. I'm trying to work on balancing the ‘angry, edgy look’ with a soft/tender one since I feel that there's a lot of real depth and genuine feeling that comes from the intersection of both.” So far, his dedication and focus has paid off.

Miller took another study abroad trip to South Korea last year. The theme of the trip centered around his passion for economics, where he took classes in real estate. Serendipitously, this trip turned into a chance to walk in Seoul Fashion Week, “One of my friends messaged me saying that I made it on to the Best Streetwear Fashion section for Fall's Seoul Fashion Week and I literally fell out of bed just dumbfounded. Later, one of the designers approached me to inspect my face and asked me in Korean, "Why aren't you a model?" At that point I realized that I could make that into a legitimate career for myself and I hope to pursue it in some fashion - pun intended - after graduation.”

On his mission to conquer industries that don’t even exist yet and define his life by the creativity of his imagination, Miller reflects on a few things he wishes he could have told himself.

“I would have told my younger self to just go for it, not to listen to my mom and dad as much, first of all. Second of all, I would have told my younger self to start practicing drawing more,” Miller shares. “Had I had the same interest in modeling, I would have told my younger self to start pursuing modeling earlier on, especially people keep thinking I’m 15, 16 years old so I can use that to my advantage anyway. I would have also told my younger self to take chances and to stay away from toxic people--that’s important, too.”

Editor’s note: Magda Werkmeister ‘22 contributed to this article.

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