Julian Ganio

Text by
Paul Flynn
Photography by
Wolfgang Tillmans


I’m knocking at Julian’s front door above a pub in Vauxhall, London’s supergay enclave just south of the river. Julian opens the door looking as good as he always does, though he is nursing a cold and has a few nights out to get over. He’s wearing a rocking mix of baseball Americana and rockabilly denim. His close crop is growing out a little. He has a skip hat on and winks a greeting, from the eye that is split down the middle by a four-inch scar. Julian later tells me that he got his scar when he fell through a plate-glass window when he was 19. He laughs when he says this.

I’ve never met Julian properly before, but he comes littered with recommendations. I’ve seen him around loads. More than that: I’ve noticed him loads. Everybody does. He is what you once would have called a “night-club celebrity” before both concepts — night-clubs and celebrities — became so wildly debased. Now you might like to politely re-brand his status to “nightlife character”. To me, he is London’s poster-boy for everything that is still worth going out to and for. He recently won the “Butch Real Body” contest at Horse Meat Disco’s “Vogue Ball”, gay London’s brightest night on the calendar. He shines quietly at nights like these. I liked him just being a beautiful enigma with a clipboard and a smile or falling-down drunk on a dance floor, but now I want to know more about him, for many reasons.

Three and a half years ago, young Julian Ganio caused an international publicity ripple with his degree show from the London College of Fashion. At Graduate Fashion Week he sent a collection he had specifically designed for older, larger men down the runway, sported by eight ruddy-faced, pensionable, overweight, grumpy and bald men. His thinking was “why shouldn’t they have nice clothes, too?” Fair enough. A bit street, a bit preppy, in nice colours, plaids and stripes, but nothing too overly styled, the clothes took into account both the ages and weights of the men wearing them. It was designed with the rarest of fashion attributes: affection.

We take a nice, breezy walk through the detritus of Vauxhall, a place so obviously designed for the night, but one that I know little of. Julian tells me about everything in Vauxhall and I tell him that I know nothing about it, really. I don’t go there. There is a new gay sauna that we walk past and a fetish club with a dungeon door. Under every arch on the railway pass there is some form of weekend gay activity that springs to life as Friday turns to dusk and closes shop on Monday at midday, when the party must stop.
We stop for a coffee and Julian tells me a few little things about himself:
The first three bookmarks on his computer are eurowoof.com, Plusia lollipops and a site for wrestling headgear.
His favourite item of clothing is his burgundy Harrington jacket.
His favourite food is a roast dinner, particularly a roast beef dinner, but anything will do.
The first time he came was, he thinks, at around the age of ten, when he rubbed himself against a mattress and liked the feeling.
He says he’s refined his technique a bit since then.
He doesn’t have a hero as such, but he loves the photographs of Martin Parr.
He says that, yes, he probably does believe in God.
None of this really surprises me. One thing that usually surprises me about gay boys but doesn’t surprise me about Julian is that he is a football fan. He supports Chelsea. He started going to see them at the age of eleven with a friend from school. They would stand in the standing area called “the Shed” and he was just as interested in the men standing around him as in the game on the pitch. He was a season-ticket holder for a couple of years but doesn’t have one now because of work. The only newspaper he reads is The Sun , just for the football really. He says he wouldn’t like to speculate on why lots of gay men don’t like football, but maybe it’s that they can’t get past the footballers themselves to concentrate on the game. Because Julian doesn’t like younger men he can watch the game, but he does like the managers. He says the managers are “Mmmmm”. It’s a nice noise. He says that the pin-up he never lost was Bob Hoskins. He’s “Mmmmm”, too.

When we get back to his flat, Julian shows me a video of his fashion show. It is casually visionary. It’s a kind of men’s fashion I like: not about boys who might be girls or those “dSquared” lantern-jawed jocks, the young, dumb, full-of-cum Abercrombie fantasy. It’s about ordinary men, the demographic that fashion forgot.

The fattest man on the runway had a 56” waist. Two of them were blind drunk. The youngest of the lot was 55. Another two had a minor spat backstage. One needed a walking stick. It’s clear that the men have no idea what they are doing by the end of the show, and as they lead each other off the runway, to a big fashion holler from an astonished crowd, you can just make out the silhouette of their puppet-master chuckling with gentle satisfaction in the background. On the afternoon of his show, Julian was interviewed for the CBS news network in America and beamed straight into prime-time homes in the Deep South with his ragbag selection of outsized un-models. They had decided to cover the story of the fashion graduate who wanted to design for plump daddies. The slick American reporter was naturally charmed by Julian, but looked confused as he interviewed the “models” in The Kings Arms, the London pub that has accidentally bridged the gap between the burly Bears and the fashion kids. I look at Julian momentarily all this time later and something strikes me about him. He looks like he’s exactly at the halfway point between these two crucial subsets of gay London. He has put on weight and his face is more mannish, less lean. I think he’d still look great on telly, but Julian says he doesn’t want to be famous. A bit of recognition would be nice, but not necessarily fame.

Julian was 21 at the time of his show. He was then the most ravishingly handsome boy in all of London’s nightlife. When he came to cast the collection he did it the easiest way he knew. He had slept with them all. These were not men he had found at bus stops or in supermarkets; they were the notches on his bedpost. None of them knew they shared Julian in common, apart from the two that had the little ruckus backstage, perhaps explaining why.

This is one of my favourite Julian stories, but there are many more. The story that everyone who knows Julian knows about Julian is even more dizzying. As a suburban schoolboy of 16, he first discovered the London gay pub for old men and their admirers. The pub is The Quebec, situated on a backstreet off Oxford Street between Marble Arch and Selfridges. The Quebec is a piece of London gay legend and has superseded all London’s gay fashion fads, because there have always been some young gay men that like older men and, obviously, the other way round. Everyone who drinks at The Quebec refers to it as “the Elephant’s Graveyard”. They are a funny bunch and there is an unsurprising undercurrent of rent going on in there. Some of the young men that drink in the Elephant’s Graveyard will introduce themselves as prostitutes; others just have an eye on old fellows’ wallets that might like their cocks sucked. Julian was neither. He was just interested in it after reading a listing in a gay magazine and something struck a chord with him regarding his own sexual make-up. The genius aspect of this trip into the pub is that when he first went in there, he was wearing a school uniform and carrying a skateboard. Julian met a couple of early boyfriends at the Elephant’s Graveyard, including Fred, the 60-plus man with whom he learnt about love as a late teenager.

Look, I don’t want to paint Julian as weird, because he isn’t. And I don’t want to point you in the direction of his particular perversion — only in-so-much as “gay” is a perversion, anyway — for old men for gratuitous reasons. Julian isn’t locked in some weird psychological crisis. When he talks about the old men that he is attracted to it isn’t something by which he appears to be compromised. When he first walked into the low-hung, decaying, blacked-out basement of the Elephant’s Graveyard with his skateboard, it was not just a metaphorical Christmas for the old men that sup their pints of bitter slumped against the bar, railing against the world with their noses stuck in the contact ads of the free gay sheets. It was Christmas for Julian, too. He’d found a little home for his predilections. Those predilections are only odd if you want them to be. He doesn’t. Julian’s biggest worry about liking old men is that one day he will find the love of his life and because of the difference in age between the two of them he will lose that love early and find himself prematurely lonely. If you are attracted to men aged 50 years and beyond, that seems like a reasonable enough worry to me. For this reason he is trying to train himself to find younger men attractive and recently had a little fling with someone in their early 40s, for practical reasons. It was the youngest man that he had ever invited into his bed. He quite liked it. He says that being attracted to older men is not about wanting to be adored as the young, pretty thing on someone’s arm. He hates the word “pretty” anyway. Quite the contrary, it is about him doing the adoring, or a mutual adoration thing going on. I like his explanations. He’s thought about this stuff a lot but he doesn’t need to justify it. It is what it is. There is a story about an old teacher at school, but how many men haven’t got one of those?

The thing that I find most remarkable about this is the thing that has come to mark Julian out as special amongst the characters hovering around the central vortex of London’s nightlife. And that thing is his unavailability. You could be the youngest, the prettiest, the skinniest, the buffest, the hottest, the best-hung, the wittiest or the most perfectly-sculpted man in the club and still Julian wouldn’t want you. It sets him apart. It makes him that rarest of things in a gay space filled with crafted beauty and peacock confidence. It makes him untouchable.

Julian has a very particular type and that type isn’t just older. He likes his men big, hairy and grumpy, too. The grumpiness is the thing that I can’t quite reconcile with Julian’s own character, because he is a very cheerful sort. He is infectiously cheerful, in fact. The day I go to have a proper conversation with Julian for the first time in Vauxhall, I arrive in a really bad mood about something and I come away a few hours later feeling really lively and inspired. I hadn’t expected him to be moody, but like all nightlife characters I had expected him to be a little naturally jaded. But his energy is bursting. Given that he lives big chunks of his current life in relatively hard-bitten London night-clubs — where the fun comes laced with acid wit and an underlying sideline in one-upmanship — and surrounded by a brace of fashion people — likewise — who are his friends and fans, he is astoundingly uncynical. I think this is because he both knows what he likes and does something about it.

Julian’s bedroom is a riotous mix of gung-ho porn, super-male imagery, night-club ephemera like flyers and guest passes, Lucky Strike dimps in overflowing ashtrays and mountains upon mountains of fashion, split most equally between streetwear and thrift. There’s a big double bed in the middle with fraying sheets that he looks magic perched on the side of. He has a wallet full of press clippings from his time as a fashion student, when he peaked on the catwalk with his fat, grumpy, daddy lovers, and more recently from his time as a nightlife character, though these days straight-up fashion magazines seem to have forgotten that scenesters like Julian still exist and keep London ticking over with their undimmed pulse for the twilight.

Actually, that’s not strictly true. Julian was recently interviewed for i-D magazine in a loosely-themed “bear” piece. Julian hasn’t included the portrait portfolio from i-D in his press wallet yet, but there are two unopened issues of the magazine on a desk full of club and fashion rubble to the left of his bed. Julian says he finds it difficult to look at these photos, troublesome even. He had never seen himself look like that before he saw these photos and was slightly unnerved at how deep a photographer could see into his essence. The captivating and startlingly handsome images were passed around The Kings Arms to approving nods when the magazine reached the bears. On that day Julian became a pin-up. When I mention this, Julian looks embarrassed and pushes a hand in front of his face, laughing. He isn’t being coy, just amazed. You know those boys that just don’t know how hot they are? That’s Julian.

The “bear” thing is a bit confusing with Julian. He runs a bear night on a Friday called “Chunk” at the pub above which we are sitting and inaugurated a Bear Beauty Contest for a good run at Bistrotheque in East London last summer. There will be another Bear Beauty Contest this summer and someone will be crowned “Bear Beauty 2006”. His nights are always fun and they attract good people and he is a beaming front for them. But bears are laconic by nature and Julian is all energy, without any of the goofy associations that “enthusiasm” might incur. He ran the door at the Central London nightclub The Cock for a while and loved that while he did it. But I think his after-hours life is slowly, surely coming to a close, at least the one that positions him as a centre-piece of the nightlife. He has been going out for nearly ten years now and night-clubs will only take you so far. Julian has a wider reach than that, I think. He has started looking outside of it. He has started thinking about his education and about fashion again. It is no accident that he shows me the video of his menswear collection for his degree show. It sounds like a wistful recollection when he says that that was probably the happiest time of his life.

Julian has kept a finger in fashion despite his nocturnal activities. He has been involved with a couple of high-profile stylists for a while and did a spot of styling on tour with a major-league boy band. He has had other music clients and still twice yearly assists on the nominal menswear collection for Karl Lagerfeld in Paris. He likes Karl and says he speaks as he finds, which surprises me. He is excited about two jobs he has on the go at the moment: one styling for the new London designer Omar Kashoura and another for a Glasgow all-boy rock band called Parka, who Julian says are going to be fucking awesome. But what he wants most is to dress the men that he loves and for the men that he loves to love to be dressed by him. He will debut his own line in 2007. I think it’ll be a neat way for him to exit the night and enter the day. But the nightlife will miss Julian.

Originally published in BUTT 16