For Evan Clayton, the realm of possibility is truly endless when it comes to designing drag fashion for the world’s most celebrated and infamous drag superstars! On the first episode of the inaugural season of Canada’s Drag Race that aired on CraveTV, contestant Ilona Verley (fellow Blanche Graduate) sashayed into the workroom in a signature monochromatic pastel blue look designed by her long-time collaborator, Evan Clayton. This Blanche Macdonald Fashion Design graduate-turned-instructor holds the art-form of drag close to his heart and considers the drag performers that he’s worked with as not only his friends, but his most loyal clients. That loyal clientele includes Drag Race alumni Juice Boxx, Tynomi Banks, Naomi Smalls, Soju— along with local Vancouver drag heroes like Gia Metric and Kendall Gender. Evan’s client roster isn’t just exclusive to drag performers, his aesthetic which lends itself perfectly to stage costumes has led him to design for Pop Artists like Doja Cat, Allie-X, Kali Uchis and Jessie Reyez.
With a client roster that most independent designers could only dream of, Evan Clayton attributes his success to not waiting around for doors to open but to getting your foot through the door yourself. “It honestly comes down to just reaching out to people. A lot of the higher profile/celebrity clients that I’ve gotten, have come from me putting myself out there and doing research and finding out the stylist’s contact information and introducing myself.”
I’ve learned now that drag and fashion aren’t mutually exclusive, they can truly co-exist in the same realm.
RuPaul’s Drag Race has become a pop-culture phenomenon that has no signs of slowing down. With 12 seasons under their belt, multiple international variations, All-Stars seasons and Emmy wins—all eyes will continue to be on Drag Race queens and the fashion they wear on the runway. So expect to see Evan Clayton’s designs appear on the global Drag Race stage for seasons to come!
This is such a full circle moment to have you be joining our Fashion Design faculty in 2020 as our new Instructor! Can you talk to us about what this means to you?
I’m so excited to be joining the faculty of Design at Blanche Macdonald. I graduated from the program in 2011 and I know the skills that I’ve learned at Blanche has shaped me into the Designer that I am today and has allowed me to have the career that I’m so blessed to have. I cannot wait to impart my knowledge to a future generation of students entering the Fashion industry.
Let’s go back to your first experiences with drag fashion. What are your earliest memories of constructing and designing outfits for drag?
The first performer I ever made things for specifically was Jane Smoker, I think it was her or Kendall Gender. It all started because me and my friends would watch the early seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race while they were airing, and it would inspire us to get into drag. I’ve been dressing and working with drag queens since 2014 or 2015, and drag has become such a mainstream art form especially in the last 2 – 3 years. Drag fashion has always been a big part of my life, before Drag Race became the entity that it is today. It was just me and my friends making these silly costumes and walking down Davie Street. They weren’t meant to be long lasting or well-made necessarily, they were just fun. Now the difference is that they have to be well-made and long-lasting because these queens need it for touring and traveling around the world.
Who was the first RuPaul’s Drag Race cast-member that you ever designed for?
The first Drag Race contestant that I started working with was Soju from season 11. She actually went to UBC so she came here to visit shortly before the season 11 cast announcement. I followed her before and I was familiar with her work, I ran into her at Junction one night and I introduced myself and gave her my card. She came to visit me at my studio and we hung out. And she then revealed to me that she was cast on Drag Race and that she needed looks. So that’s how our relationship began. I’m really lucky to have done a lot of looks for her.
The skills that I’ve learned at Blanche has shaped me into the Designer that I am today and has allowed me to have the career that I’m so blessed to have.
How did your work land on Drag Race Alumni Naomi Smalls for her ad campaign for KimChi Chic Beauty? You must’ve been proud!
Naomi had done Vancouver Pride in 2019, and Kendall Gender was opening for her and invited me to come meet her. I thought it was a great opportunity to give Naomi something in hopes of opening the door to work with her in the future, so I whipped up this leopard print green mini dress and she wore it and loved it! She followed me on Instagram soon after and she messaged me and said, “I love your stuff and the last collection you did, would you be interested in sending me anything that I can wear on the road.” And I said absolutely so I sent her two pieces, I didn’t know it was going to be in the Kimchi campaign until I saw the images posted!
What’s the creative process like designing garments for a drag performer?
I find that most of the time when I‘m doing custom work for drag queens, it’s for a very specific event, or theme in the case of designing for the Drag Race show. The queens themselves will have a general idea of what they want to wear or how they want to present themselves, and it’s up to me to put my own twist on that. Especially with the Canada’s Drag Race contestants, they’re coming to me for premiere parties and watch parties where they have to be that elevated Drag Race girl. I’m usually keeping in mind the event or the instance that they’re wearing the piece for. If I’m designing a piece for a drag queen to wear on the red carpet, it’s going to be constructed and designed very differently than a piece for a stage or performance. There’s a lot of liberties that have to be taken specifically with drag artists, because of the way they construct a new body with padding and Jesus! There’s a lot of thought that goes into every performer that I dress because I need to know how exactly they pad, do they wear a corset or a breast plate, do I need to be conscious of the many ways queens can tuck.
What are your thoughts on Canada’s Drag Race? Are you enjoying it so far?
I love it, I’m also biased because the Canadian drag scene is so small. So I was familiar with most of the Queens on the cast when they were announced. So for me it‘s like watching all my pals on TV which is a lot of fun! I’ve known Ilona (Canada’s Drag Race season 1 Cast Member & Blanche Makeup Graduate) specifically for a very long time, I’ve made a few costumes for her prior to the show. When she got cast on Drag Race, she got a studio right beside mine and we got to work on the pieces.
Can you tell me more about how you helped Ilona prepare for the first season of Canada’s Drag Race?
Ilona had a month to prepare the looks for the show, they cast her right around Fashion Week. So there was a solid chunk of time where I wasn’t available, because I was working on my collections. When she came and told me that she was going to be on Drag Race and how many looks she needed, I saw it as a really great opportunity because I was so known for working in the drag scene so I wasn’t going to say no even though I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare. I just knew I had to work twice as hard as any other designer.
How do you think Drag Race has impacted the Fashion industry?
Drag Race has birthed this sort of cottage industry for queer-makers in general in Fashion. Wigs and Grace become what it’s today because of Drag Race. It’s not just designers and queens, but everyone is benefitting from the show coming to Canada. I’m so excited to see that continue.
How has Drag Race impacted your career?
It has impacted my career so immensely in ways that I didn’t see coming to be completely honest. For me at the beginning, I was designing drag fashion just for fun it was never meant to be a business. I was always so focused on my own brand. I’ve learned now that drag and fashion aren’t mutually exclusive, they can truly co-exist in the same realm. I find that it has really impacted the way I design my label as well. There’s a lot of times where I want to do shows that are more introspective and a little more soft, but now I feel I can’t really do that as often because I don’t want to alienate people who have lifted me up so high in my career. But also that’s not saying I don’t have fun making these bombastic and wild collections because they’re a lot of fun to do. And It’s all honestly because of Drag Race. My best clients are on Drag Race!
Does your queer-identity influence your design process and aesthetic?
I think my queer identity is the driving force of my aesthetic because everything that I do and show in my collections comes from a very personal place. I hold my identity as a queer man very close to my heart, and it’s something that I’m really proud of. So if I can show that in my work, that’s always the goal.
Do you have any plans for what you want to do with your personal brand in the future?
I had 2020 very planned out in my head from the get-go. I knew it was going to be my year if I could put the work in and knock it out of the park every single time. Between Drag Race Canada and working on the American Drag Race girls, to cap it all off I was going to do a show at pride!
I’m not going to say too much about what the plan was because I still plan on doing the show in the future.
I hold my identity as a queer man very close to my heart, and it's something that I'm really proud of. So if I can show that in my work, that’s always the goal.
What advice would you have for aspiring designers that want to design for a celebrity clientele?
It honestly comes down to just reaching out to people. A lot of the higher profile/celebrity clients that I’ve gotten, have come from me putting myself out there and doing research and finding out the stylist’s contact information and introducing myself. I would say 80% of the time I get an email back. There is not a stylist in the world that’s sitting on their phone googling who is the next great designer from Vancouver. You have to go to them and put in the work yourself, otherwise you’re going to be sitting on your ass all day waiting for someone to contact you. I’ve received a couple of opportunities from people who have found me through Instagram, but most of the work I’ve received comes from me putting myself out there!