“I thought, I’m going to bring to makeup, anarchy,” says Julian Kynaston. “I’m going to bring disruption. And I’m gonna smash Mac, because they’re the biggest brand on the planet, and I don’t like big brands.”
Julian doesn’t just make these iconoclastic statements, he lives their consequences. After concluding it was makeup giving everybody at Whitby Goth Festival licence to explore new identities, and that he should take makeup back to its subcultural and theatrical roots, his brand Illamasqua has been fighting Mac, every single day.
“We market ourselves more like a band than a makeup company,” he says. “That feeling when you’ve bought the album, pulled the vinyl out, and it wasn’t black it was cheery pink; and you read the sleeve for three hours, and the fanzine dropped out and you could write to the band, and oh crikey there’s some stickers now. I think we’ve reminded a lot of people that we’ve lost that feeling, and I think that’s why we have a lot of nostalgia with Illamasqua, even though we’re a new company.
“It has been incredibly difficult, because every day now we fight L’Oréal and Lauder, and those are the two biggest superpowers that I have ever come up against. They could crush us tomorrow if they wanted to. We love that. We get excited about that. And we draw people to us who want to join that fight.”
Which returns us neatly to 1984, when the young Julian went to his first football game: Barnsley versus Leeds. “I suppose you would have put me in the goth/punk gang at school. I had no interest in the football at all. But one thing caught my eye.”
In among the dour donkey jackets of the Barnsley fans was a patch of pastel colours, teenagers in pink or blue or yellow jumpers, soft looking lads with flick haircuts and bleached jeans. Julian heard they were the Very Young Team, the youth wing of the Service Crew; the hooligan fringe of Leeds United.
“Then all of a sudden all hell broke loose,” and those seemingly harmless boys were fighting three hundred Barnsley miners in an outbreak of violence that, even while hooliganism was the norm, made headlines. “I’ve never seen anything quite as shocking, as profound, ever. And the truth was, I was drawn to it. I’d never been as moved by a visual scene in my life.”
Julian had never heard of Lacoste, never heard of Armani or Benetton, but he was fascinated by the effect the clothes had on their wearers; and on him, when he became absorbed by the football casual subculture; its pastel shades, and its bloody violence.
“An incredible fashion, an incredible subculture. I wanted in, and I wanted in big style. I thought superpowers came with the clothing. It just transformed us, and the better dressed we were, the more invincible we felt. A huge lesson for me, witnessed first hand, in the experience of branding.”
Branding became Julian’s career. He lost interest in the Service Crew when, in the early nineties, Leeds United became popular and the odds were no longer against them; he transferred his energy to Propaganda, a strategic brand consultancy that still loves to have the odds against them. When ghd, the Leeds-based brand that had created the UK market for hair straighteners, found that market becoming crowded and were looking for an exit, Propaganda took charge of their marketing and fought on their behalf, taking turnover from £5m to £85m in three years. And then, when banks took ghd over and began to look elsewhere for marketing, Julian told them, and their £2m a year of business, “to fuck off, and I resigned the contract.”
That led to Illamasqua; Propaganda needed new business, and Julian found it within the goth subculture he’d hung up in the wardrobe in 1984. Mac needed smashing, but Illamasqua wasn’t the only underdog Julian wanted to fight for.
“I’d written a line of copy,” says Julian. “I wanted Illamasqua to allow women to experiment and self express more with makeup than they ever have done, and for men to wear make up for the first time.” And then the TV news told Julian that Sophie Lancaster, who had been in a coma since she and her boyfriend, Rob Maltby, were attacked in a park for wearing gothic makeup in exactly those ways, had died.
“They were beaten to death for looking different. He lived; she died protecting his head from another blow. And I thought, here I am asking people to do what she’s just died for. And I felt an incredible sense of responsibility.”
Since then, Sophie’s mother Sylvia has been on Julian’s payroll, running the Sophie Lancaster Foundation and campaigning — successfully in Greater Manchester — to change the definition of hate crimes to include people from alternative subcultures.
“It’s something personal for me; time, effort, money, I’d rather do that than sponsor some A-lister,” says Julian; and we wonder if, on a personal level, it’s also a response to Julian’s hooligan past. But it doesn’t feel that way.
Julian doesn’t do regret; he does what feels like the right thing at the time, fearlessly, and he always moves forward. And he always fights against the odds. ••
Originally published in The City Talking: Fashion