Photography: Anna Bloda
“I identify a lot with my grandma—she really knew herself,” says 19-year-old Central Saint Martins student Julian DuFour about his late grandma Olga DuFour, who died this past May at 82 from Alzheimers. “She was the type of person to collect enough pieces of clothing to potentially match her every mood.”
Since her passing this spring in Long Beach, Julian has kept Olga’s spirit alive by wearing garments from her lifelong wardrobe, saying he feels like he’s pushed to be his best while in her clothes. “I hold these pieces like trophies,” he says. “[Her death] is a really recent thing and it’s hard for me to be away from her.”
Born in 1933, Olga was a “strong woman of Russian descent,” whose career went from teaching English to art collecting and finally advising homeowners on what to collect through her own company, Olga Select. She was a proud feminist and started a Susan B. Anthony club for the school she worked at, always eager to help her community become more aware of the surrounding world.
Julian says she’d constantly test his vocabulary and send him newspaper clippings in the mail to ensure he was aware of design trends, or something as simple as an amazing object. “She was known as an analytic person—a social critic of sorts,” he says. “I felt like I had to rise to the occasion whenever I would meet her. I’d dress better for her [because] the standard was set.”
Though she knew exactly what she liked and lived with high expectations, Olga was a woman everyone wanted to be around. Julian remembers her incredible cooking, noting the challah French toast she’d make with lemon—a recipe he used to “freak out” over. The two would often sit across from each other in restaurants sharing silence, because Olga didn’t need to make jokes for Julian to smile or laugh. She was just always being herself.
“There wasn’t a day when I was with her that someone didn’t say, ‘Who is that woman?'” Julian says. “She was the type of person to sit with a garment and feel its thread count quality before she would make a purchase. Olga’s staple brands were Eskandar from Bergdorf Goodman and Zoran, a Yugoslavian-born minimal designer. She really appreciated good design, good materials and loved the idea of innovating—obsessed with the idea of new [and was] hungry for life up until the last breath.”
Olga’s acute point-of-view helped inform Julian’s own at a young age, when he spent time experimenting with his sister’s wardrobe and rummaging through his mom’s makeup bag. Older women dressing themselves every day according to their unwavering personalized routine has always fascinated Julian, who calls this daily ritual an “event.” Putting on clothing has always been a means for Julian to escape—combining layers of “beautiful things” until he feels he’s filled a blank space within himself.
A native to New York’s Hudson Valley, Julian now lives between NYC and London, where he studies fashion communication at CSM. He’s been an apprentice of Erin Murphy, pattern maker to Proenza Schouler and Vera Wang, and most recently a visuals intern for Tom Ford—more interested in helping designers art direct their work than designing collections of his own.
“Looking to the past is necessary to look towards the future,” Julian says, citing image research as the backbone of his practice. “I think a lot of us feel we were born in the wrong era, but I do my best to look forward. The moments I latch onto most are instilled in photographs. This way I can stare at them for hours, rather than try to dissect a memory.”
Julian believes memories and a person’s essence remain in the fibers of their clothing. “In that way, I treat my grandmother’s clothes in a much better state than my own, which I throw on my floor routinely as I change,” he says. “Something I’ll [also] miss about my grandmother is her voice—she would sing various sentences to me in opera, ‘Oh Julian, Oh Julian, How I love you.'”