Meet The Guy Who Dresses Rock Royalty In Junk
WORDS: Chris Krovatin
HEADER: Scott Lewis by Bryan Kirks, Vince Neil by Scott Harrison.
Whether you know it or not, you’ve seen Tod Junker’s work. The clothing and costume designer’s distinct products, involving a worn-down sense of ruggedness that gives off a vibe of apocalyptic royalty, have been notably worn by musicians including Marilyn Manson, Aerosmith, Dimmu Borgir, and Carnifex, as well as public figures like illusionist Criss Angel. When you see an outfit that looks as though it was cobbled together by biker out of remnants of an exploded punk venue, there’s a good chance Tod is behind it.
What makes the clothing created by Tod’s own Junker Designs so unique is that much of Tod’s earliest items were actually made of repurposed materials, found objects, and straight up junk. Of course, as Tod’s client list has grown, so has his ambition, and these days he’s experiments with elaborate cast-plastic armor and special effects built right into his outfits — but it all stems from that same ethos of taking other people’s refuse and turning it into the royal robes of lowbrow nobility.
“The first time I saw a Mötley Crüe concert and saw them wearing my stuff, I was like, ‘Woah, this is officially crazy,’” says Tod. “I remember being in high school listening to Kiss, and someone brought in Mötley Crüe’s Shout At The Devil, and that changed everything. I was also a drummer at the time, and I especially loved Motley Crue’s drumming. So, fast forward twenty years, I’m watching them live in an outdoor venue, with Vince Neil on the Jumbotron in clothing I made, and I thought, ‘Man, this is insane.’”
Mötley Crüe’s Vince Neil in a Tod Junker coat. Photo by Scott Harrison.
When did your love of fashion design, and your habit of repurposing refuse clothing, start?
It started when I was a kid — my mom would get mad and steal my pajamas and throw ‘em out, because I always wanted to wear the really old, raggedy ones. It was in high school that I officially started drawing all over my clothing, or cutting my pants legs off and making them sleeves, or sewing two different jackets together. I think I moved to LA around 2001, and it was then that I made my first pair of leather pants, and the dude from Godsmack bought those.
Who was your first big rock star client?
The first time I sold some stuff was to Lenny Kravitz. At the time, I didn’t even have a sewing machine — I was working out of a friend’s house, and she was a famous designer. She told me, ‘Lenny’s over here, he wants to buy X, Y, and Z, and I told him it was this much.’ At the time, that was about four months of rent. I was working at a shitty screen-printing place for a guy who almost never paid me on time, so when that happened, I was like, ‘Fuck, I should try and do this, because I’m making real money.’
Sketches and progress on a trenchcoat made for Dimmu Borgir. Art and photo by Tod Junker.
What’s the hardest project or piece of costuming you’ve ever worked on?
I’ve been working with Criss Angel, and I needed to make him a superhero outfit. It was like armor, like Wolverine or Iron Man. And that was the biggest learning curve headache run-into-a-field shoot-yourself-in-the-face job I’ve ever done in my life. It was difficult because I had people sculpting, making molds, and doing a lot of 3D computer sculptures, and then I was working with the electronics guys who were working on the lights and smoke machines that were in the costume. It was just a nightmare — a money pit job where you’re learning as you go. They had to function specifically, and you can’t have wires hanging everywhere. But at least now I know what I’m getting into.
That’s hardcore! Have you ever had to scrap an outfit for a band because it got too elaborate or dangerous?
There was something I wanted to make for a Carnifex video recently, and it taught me that you can only put so many deer antlers on something. You don’t think that deer antlers weigh that much until you put tons of them on something. So that idea had to get trashed. The only way to make that would would be plastic, and I didn’t want to do that.
You’ve done several elaborate stage costumes for black metyallers Dimmu Borgir with natural elements to them — fur, feathers, horns. Where those organic materials, or sculpted pieces?
For Dimmu in particular, that was mostly real stuff from the neck down. All the fur and the feathers were real. As for the helmets, we had to do cast plastic, because horns are incredibly heavy to wear for an entire show. Everything was sculpted out of clay for the helmets and everything, and then cast out of plastic. From the neck down, it was all real — we used fur, and feathers, and even a little alligator.
Do you try to research the music of the bands you’re working with? Do you sit and listen to a lot of Manson or Dimmu Borgir when planning out an outfit for them?
A guy like Marilyn Manson was a totally different deal — he just saw some stuff I did and bought it. With Dimmu, I had no idea what they were, and so went to their videos and did research. Same with Carnifex — Scott had gotten in touch with me, but I didn’t know the difference between symphonic metal and death metal at the time. You listen to the music as much as you can, and try to figure out what those guys want. With a band like Carnifex, it’s easy, because that’s all denim. For Dimmu, there were jackets that weighed, like, thirty pounds or so. They’re usually stupid heavy — it’s hard to get away from it.
Scott Lewis of Carnifex. Photo by Bryan Kirks.
Have you ever seen anyone wearing your clothing and thought, ‘YOU? YOU like my stuff?’
I saw recently these country stars wearing my jackets. It was crazy. This guy Jason Aldean purchased one of them, and another dude who won the Country Music Awards wore the denim version of that jacket Manson has, and there’s a big creepy skull on the back. I remember thinking, ‘Woah, that’s weird.’
Is there a rock star or band you’re dying to work with?
I think Behemoth, probably. There was a brief time when we were talking about doing some stuff. I don’t really remember what happened, but it just seems like they’re always kind of pushing the limit — the look and the stage show. A dream job would be working with a band where I’m designing the clothes and the stage show together — the props, the costumes, the drum risers, the lights, and how they’re all going to link up. So I think if anyone would do it, it would be them.
Designs for a trenchcoat for Dimmu Borgir.
Any advice to young fashion or costume designers in the heavy metal scene, who might want to make this their lives?
The most important bit of advice that I had to learn the hard way is, take some time and figure out what your time is worth. Once people start liking your shit, everyone’s going to come at you with a different angle, the end of which will always be that they want free shit from you. Know what you’re worth, and don’t be afraid to stand your ground. When I first started in Hollywood, I was making clothes for all the pop stars like Britney Spears and Pink, and everyone always had some weird angle. Oh, this’ll be great promotion! People’ll see it! Blah blah blah. Unless the singers stops mid-video to announce my company, name and website, no one’s going to know, and no one’s going to care. Once you give it away for free, that’s all you are to them — a guy who gives away free shit.
Let’s say I want to make my clothing look worn and fucked up and rugged like yours. Without showing your whole hand, what are some basic tips you can give me?
Most of it is, ‘Paint and sandpaper. Acrylic paints, because you can water ‘em down. You can do layers and layers, and the clothes’ll start to look stained. Then you can sand them down, get even more colors, and just keep doing layers and layers. With those three things — paint, sandpaper, and time — then you can make shit look super fucked up, It just takes practice. The cool thing about acrylic paint is that you can mix weird stuff in. Mix dirt into that and and grind that into your clothes.