Evan Clayton can remember the exact moment that he decided to become a Fashion Designer. Its memory is still the motivation behind every aspect of his design life.
“I was watching Fashion TV back when I was in high school,” he explains, “and they were profiling an Alexander McQueen show, ‘In Memory of Elizabeth Howe’, from Fall 2007, which was inspired by the Salem Witch Trials. Back then I was a little emo goth kid so I was instantly interested in witches and paganism. The day I saw that show I saw every other show of his I could on YouTube. As I started to learn more about Alexander McQueen and saw more of his shows, his work really spoke to me. A lot of people think fashion is something very superficial. But to me, fashion is a high art form. The designers I’ve come to admire and respect see it the same way and treat fashion as a narrative, which is what I like to do with my work too.”
Evan’s fine art approach to fashion is winning him fans around the world. The Blanche Macdonald Fashion Design graduate received a four-season sponsorship to show his collections at Vancouver Fashion Week, which in turn has led to appearances on the web sites of some of the world’s most prestigious fashion magazines, including Glamour and British Vogue, and an invitation to show a collection at Austria’s Vienna Fashion Week.
For the young man from the Kootenay region of the BC interior, it’s already been an incredible journey.
“I spent a lot of my teenage years in Fruitvale, which is the opposite of a fashion hub. But fashion was always part of me. I worked at Bootlegger there for five years. It was the only place in town that had anything to do with fashion. I would grab every copy of Vogue I could get my hands on and I took as many art courses as my tiny high school in Trail offered.”
Having been inspired by Alexander McQueen, after graduating from high school Evan’s only question was where he’d go for his fashion education.
“I looked at a lot of fashion schools, but there was something about Blanche Macdonald that stood out to me. My Admissions Director, Mary Hombrebueno, is a wonderful person. She put me at ease and showed me a path that I wanted to go down. The campus was beautiful, and meeting Peggy Morrison and finding out that she was from Trail was the cherry on the top.”
When Evan arrived at Canada’s #1 Fashion School he was only 18. But he had big ideas and, even more importantly, a willingness to push himself.
“I struggled with Pattern Drafting during the first semester,” he admits. “At the same time, I was used to grabbing every source of fashion I could growing up, so having Peggy’s Fashion Elements and Fashion Awareness classes hone that database was really enjoyable. I loved all her stories and the wonderful gifts she’d bring into class. It was incredible. After that I really got into the swing of the program.
“For the Graduate Fashion Show my collection was called Artemis and Apollo. It was a play on a traditional masculine figure – Apollo being a masculine figure who’s the god of music, and Artemis being a beautiful woman who’s the goddess of the hunt. I was interested in the gender juxtaposition. I really pushed myself to work with fabrics I’d never worked with before. I wanted to learn as much as I could. I did things with my grad collection that my sewing instructor, Brenda Swinglehurst, had never even seen before, like a whole dress made from moulded leather. The night of the show was wonderful. I loved it! It was a rush that I’d never had before. It was breathtaking.”
Evan didn’t have a design position to step into after he graduated. Crucially however, he kept working in the fashion industry. And he kept designing.
“I took a job at Holt Renfrew and started learning the business side of fashion. A few months later I saw photos from David Jack’s show, loved it and got in touch asking if he wanted an intern. He called me a month later and we did a couture gown together made of bathroom tissue for the White Cashmere Collection.
“My boyfriend works with Smashbox Cosmetics, and he got me a job coordinating the Makeup for Fashion Week. I guess they could see my drive and how hard I worked. Jamal Abdourahman who runs Vancouver Fashion Week saw my work, and on the strength of five or six sketches, he offered me a four-season sponsorship. I was totally blown away. If someone’s giving you a golden opportunity, you’re not going to half-ass it.”
Evan wanted to make a splash with his first Vancouver Fashion Week collection. He succeeded.
“My first collection was called The Fall of Joan and was inspired by a Lady Gaga song, ‘Princess Die,’ about the death of the modern superstar and her rebirth. I took that theme and applied it to the story of Joan of Arc. I read a lot and watched a lot of documentaries to learn what kind of woman she was and her change of moods leading up to her execution. There were 16 looks and about 43 pieces. I wanted to shock people. I wanted people to remember me. I had gas masks and fake blood coming out of the models’ mouths.”
Even though he’d graduated a year and a half earlier, Evan was still benefitting from the wisdom of the team at Blanche Macdonald.
“I still talk to Mel Watts all the time. I always show her the collection before it goes on the runway. She always steers me in the path that she thinks is best. And she’s always right. After my first season she told me to tone down the theatrics. I wanted blood and half-naked girls. She told me that I needed to show that I could design clothes. It was great advice.”
Evan took that advice and created a collection that’s been generating a buzz around the world.
“The collection was called Jenova. It was inspired by Yoshitaka Amano, an artist for the Final Fantasy series. I played Final Fantasy an embarrassing amount as a kid! Jenova is a character in the series who is both male and female. That masculine/feminine thing that something I play with a lot in my work. The collection was about unity through difference. I know people say I make theatrical, unwearable clothes. So I wanted to prove them wrong, and show that I’m not just a showman. I’m a designer too.
“That collection made me the first recipient of the Nancy Mak Award. She was a big part of launching Vancouver Fashion Week. The Vienna and the Vancouver Fashion Weeks are sending each other designers, and I was nominated to go over there. I was getting the girls together moments before the show, and with no warning I was told to go on stage to make a speech because I’d just won a sponsorship to show in Vienna. That was the first I knew about it. I cried for a few minutes, then got on stage, made a complete ass of myself, then did the show.”
On runways and on line around the world, Evan is following in the footsteps of his hero Alexander McQueen. There’s a long way to go, but he’s on the right path.
“I feel like I’m taking baby steps,” he smiles. “I’m just starting and I know I have more to offer as an artist and a designer. With these wonderful opportunities I’m going to take leaps and bounds. It’s not my time yet, but it’s coming soon.”
Photos provided by: Evan Clayton (@evan_clayton), Photographers Viranlly for Style Calling, Eugene Flores, Mike Phang and Yiheng Su for Vancouver Fashion Week, Victoria Radbourne, HUSH Magazine, Style by Fire, Style Nine to Five, and @otthobot.