Say the last name Julian and many will associate it with Alexander Julian, the well-known designer who outfitted the basketball team and provides many of Coach Roy's ties.
But his Uncle Milton Julian, at 94 still lives here and has stayed consistently closer to his adopted hometown.
For more than 40 years he ran Milton's Clothing Cupboard, a fixture for classic Ivy League style men's clothes on Franklin Street where Franklin Street Pizza and Pasta is today.
For another 12 years after he closed the store at age 75, Milton continued as a more itinerant haberdasher working from his home, going to his clients' homes and places of business, doing mail order and doing whatever it took to keep his unique business going. Still at 94, with a low-key manner and dry wit, he still claims about a dozen clients, now doing all his sales via his unusual catalog selections.
Milton arrived in North Carolina from Massachusetts in 1935.
After spending a year at Salem College , he joined his older brother Maurice at UNC. The son of Russian Jewish immigrants, Milton had followed other relatives south. He had an uncle in Salisbury with a shoe store, cousins in Roanoake, Va., and another brother, Ira, in Winston-Salem.
When he began law school at UNC in 1939, thinking he'd follow in brother Ira's footsteps, he also launched a shoe store to help pay his way through school, going to class in the morning, selling shoes in the afternoon and studying at night.
World War II put a temporary end to law school and he gave his brother Maurice the shoe store lease.
At the war's end Milton returned, quit law school and went into business with Maurice at what became Julian's College Shop.
After a couple of years they parted company and Milton opened his own store on West Franklin.
In 1951 he moved east where he remained until 1992 selling suits, ties, shirts, shoes and keeping up with fashion changes while maintaining a classic American men's look. Both GQ and Esquire noted his shop and his brother's at the vanguard of men's fashion at the time.
Milton also created his own catalogs with unique prose styles to go along with the clothing that he either designed, sought out or had made.
A small sample from the 1963 catalog page 4 on "Old School Traditional Suits" reads "Natural shoulder suits are available almost anywhere, but it's virtually impossible to find all those important details that make a Milton's suit so outstanding. Total strangers struck up a conversation in Paris when one noticed an unusual pattern and the Old Well lining the other was wearing."
That lining was specially designed and made for Milton's, but unfortunately he didn't hold on to the licensing.
As a constant innovator Milton tried expanding into Charlotte, Greensboro, Dallas and Atlanta but after about five years but he found himself undercapitalized and overextended, so by the mid 1960s he'd retrenched to the one store in Chapel Hill.
He was legendary for his funny, unique and zany sales ideas. His son Shannon asked nearby record store merchant Kemp Nye for his best sales idea - the answer, midnight sales. Promptly Milton began his "Mad Nite Zonker" sales that would start at 9 p.m. by throwing some sample clothes off the roof to the throng waiting below for the store to open. The sale would continue until 2 a.m. with different items going on sale each hour and prices constantly changing.
Another famous sale was his periodic 'Frog Strangler,' named after Andy Griffith's term for the torrential rainstorms that periodically hit North Carolina. When Milton heard Griffith mention the term in a humorous monologue, he promptly adopted it. To this day, if you call Milton, his answering machine message makes reference to both the Mad Nite Zonker and the Frog Strangler.
The clothing arena was not the only place Milton Julian innovated. His former home on Ledge Lane in Chapel Hill was one of the first modernist houses in town and one of the very few designed by George Matsumoto, on the N.C. State architecture faculty in the late 50s. The former landowner sued the Julians concerning the home's design with its flat roof and nontraditional lines.
That fight ended up at the State Supreme Court where the Julian's won. They were so enamored of the architect they named one of their daughters "Kimi" after Matsumoto's wife.
Of Milton's six living children, his son Bruce has followed in his footsteps and has now operated Bruce Julian's Clothiers in Charlotte for 35 years, honoring his father by putting his image on the bags.
As Bruce told me, "I started working for Dad at 14. I had the choice of babysitting or working for Dad. Easy option ... I got to work with all the cool college guys and save for a car at 16. It was awesome spending my afternoons in uptown Chapel Hill. Dad was always supportive and kind, encouraging me to learn the business and teaching me. He is my mentor to this day, normally talking every morning on the phone about business."
Today you can find Milton mellowing out at his renovated 150-year-old cabin off Old N.C. 86 on land that he shares with another daughter, Jamie.
He maintains his wit, wisdom and is a font of great stories of his years dressing the men of Chapel Hill.