Paul Frank Creator on the Evolution of Pop Culture Accessorizing With Loungefly
The ‘90s and Y2K icon resurgence has celebrated originators across a variety of brands, whether it’s Looney Tunes streetwear, Barbie fashion moments, Lisa Frank stationary, and more.
Loungefly has worked with a number of pop culture accessory companies that helped define the era, and continues to curate collections—including a new collaboration between the mini-backpack kingdom and Paul Frank. That’s right, Julius and friends are now on a Loungefly line that captures the company’s California-coast cool vibes. io9 recently talked to Paul Frank Sunich, creator of Julius, whose face on wallets and tees became ubiquitous as Paul Frank’s signature character.
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Sabina Graves, io9: I grew up in SoCal in the ‘90s when the brand really popped off. One of the big reasons I wanted to chat about the Loungefly collaboration is because we’re currently living in this wave of pop culture and fandom in fashion that’s kind of elevating, with more universes of accessories and clothes collections. I think Paul Frank and Julius were some of the originators and the blueprint for that sort of thing. I’m curious to know, what are your thoughts on that evolution since then?
Paul Frank Sunich: Well, I guess to me it never went away, or mostly because I would always do our shows and still meet the fans who still have the bags. But then I guess if you think about it, most of our business went to Asia for licensing. It’s pretty big over there, but it was nice to see people here again liking what we do. And this Y2K resurgence has really helped bring more interest to the brand.
io9: I totally agree. I’ve seen a lot of the art releases and limited edition collabs throughout the years, and it’s great that we’re getting a lot of pop culture film and animation representation on accessories through Loungefly. How did your collaboration come about?
Suncich: The designers at Loungefly contacted me a little over a year ago and asked if I’d be interested in collaborating with them. I said, “Of course!’”Loungefly makes nice quality accessories, so I was more than happy to join in on the fun.
io9: Cool. Definitely. Some of my favorite creations are Julius, and the characters in genre motifs—like in the space suit or the Elvis stuff. What were some of your early inspirations for the character?
Sunich: Julius sort of came about from a sock monkey that my grandma made. So that’s one thing—then I was inspired by Gumby and Pokey and Christmas specials like Rankin-Bass. It just made me want to make figures where they were cut out, you know? Little kids always have little applique shirts with a patch or an embroidered elephant or something—that’s what inspired me. Then at the time, if you want to think about this, you probably remember, there was a Sesame Street store, a Warner Brothers store, and a Disney store. I had friends who were in their late teens, early twenties, who were who were rocking Ernie and Bert Wallets. At the time I had a girlfriend and we would go to Sanrio all the time so I would look at, like, Keroppi wallets. And I thought, “Well, why don’t I make wallets?”
io9: Wow! Yeah.
Sunich: It wasn’t just for kids. It wasn’t just for girls. It was for everybody. You could get a Hello Kitty wallet or maybe for your boyfriend, you could buy a Keroppi wallet. So I saw that it was for everybody and I got inspired by that movement.
io9: You just, like, took me back. I remember not just the Sanrio and Warner Brothers stores, but also just those Japanese stationary stores that would be everywhere. I miss that.
Sunich: Yeah. What happened to those?
io9: I actually went into one in the Santa Anita mall recently. They have one called Kinokuniya USA where they have all of the pens, the stickers, collectibles, magazines, the tape, and notebooks. Oh, my gosh. It felt like a wonderland that really took me back.
Sunich: I want to go. I miss those places. You know, coincidentally, in the early days of of wanting to be a designer, I would go buy the Japanese magazines at a place where they sold Japanese stationery and magazines. So I would get those stickers and buy magazines that had all the cool stuff from Harajuku, and that definitely inspired what we do.
io9: Let’s talk about some of those collabs. Which ones have been your favorite? And you shared there’s a bigger presence in Asia, I really want to go to the cafe over there.
Sunich: Oh, yeah. Isn’t that crazy? There’s the Julius Café with a Julius waffle where you could decorate his hair with chocolate and his lips with raspberry and you could put whipped cream and sprinkles and stuff. And there’s there’s also a Paul Frank hot dog restaurant where they brown the buns with Julius’ face.
Sunich: And there’s also an airplane, a real jumbo jet with Julius and his friends all over it. There’s all kinds of fun stuff happening in Asia also. I love that I was inspired by Japanese and Asian souvenirs and fashion. And then [Paul Frank] became really big in Asia. So I always kind of laughed because I was just a kid, you know? Well, not a kid, but early 20s guy in Huntington Beach in my bedroom making stuff. I had no idea people in Asia would want it.
io9: That’s so cool. You mentioned Gumby and Rankin-Bass being some of those early touchstones for the inspiration. I want to know, what were your first pop culture loves? Like from your early days as a kid that informed your style, as well as how you went about creating your own characters.
Sunich: Oh, it was definitely Gumby and Pokey, Felix the Cat, Bullwinkle, and like I said, Rankin-Bass and Legos. You know, Peanuts a little bit here and there. But just growing up, having those kind of toys and watching those those specials influenced a lot of what I do. Also the colors from those days in the early ‘70s, it was it was a groovy time, right? They had Brady Bunch episodes and reruns [where] I got to see like an orange and avocado green [color scheme in their] kitchen. And a lot of those colors became the Paul Frank colors.
Look at Julius’ main pose, it’s just like Gumby’s main pose, with one arm up and his bellbottom legs. You know what? Julius’s boots, those are inspired by Prince’s boots. Remember Prince had those cool little boots? That’s where I got Julius’ boots from. I only steal from the best.
io9: I didn’t notice that detail. Now I’m going to look out for it. What can you share about what’s coming up next?
Sunich: I actually design all the style guides for the global licensing program for Paul Frank. So I work all year on different seasons. For example, we’re working on the Lunar New Year packet for 2024, which is the Year of the Dragon. And we’ve done the Year of the Rabbit. We’ve done camping guides, and a Halloween sort of thing. We did the 25th anniversary not too long ago and now we’re going to start planning for our 30th anniversary coming up in two years. It’s coming up really soon—2025, actually. That’s going to be our 30th anniversary. Isn’t that crazy? It’s great to be working, and great that people still have an interest in our brand, and great to keep creating new art and new ways the characters can have fun. I just love that it’s relatable to people, and they still love this. They still want our stuff.
Find the Loungefly x Paul Frank collaboration online.
Want more io9 news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel, Star Wars, and Star Trek releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about the future of Doctor Who.
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