Evan Clayton returns home after an eight-hour day selling clothes at Topshop. He relaxes for a bit, then surveys the list on his wall and chooses his next task.
“I think I’m probably nuts for doing this, but I honestly, now that I’m doing it, I can’t picture myself doing anything else. I’ve never been happier than I am now designing.”
Clayton’s designs are avant-garde and dramatic compared to the mass-market, trendy styles that make Topshop a worldwide success.
He is one of about 50 designers showing off their work at Vancouver Fashion Week, March 20-24, using the occasion to practice their skills and show off their ideas to others in Vancouver’s small fashion world.
In order for Clayton to pursue his passion for design, he juggles multiples jobs to pay his rent. He is not alone in having to multi-task to make an appearance at this event.
It’s the first time Clayton is showing his collection of high-fashion garments. Since graduating from Blanche Macdonald Centre in 2011, he has continued to design and kept in touch with fashion-industry professionals he met at school.
Mel Watts is the fashion department career director at Blanche Macdonald. She says Clayton’s combination of talent and passion will help him find success in this tough industry. And it’s what is required.
“He’s really talented and he wants it…When it comes to design, you can’t not live and breathe it, or else you just won’t succeed.”
Dressing Lady Gaga
Clayton says he is “in a constant state of inspiration” and completely immersed in a life of fashion. His quaint South Granville apartment is strewn with sewing needles and mannequins wearing his couture. He tattooed a song title from his fashion icon, Lady Gaga, on his forearm, more evidence of his determination.
Watts says this focus paid off recently when one of Clayton’s designs made it to his dream client.
“He made a dress for Lady Gaga and he got it to her…that’s Evan. He’s just committed, 100 per cent of the time. He’ll work at Topshop, he’ll do his thing, but he then goes home and is working on his collection.”
Sleep has become a foreign concept for Clayton. Along with his job at Topshop, he also works part-time as a busboy in a downtown restaurant. But he manages to take advantage of every spare moment.
“These past couple weeks, I’ve been bringing a couple pieces to work with me. And just on my breaks I’ll be doing little detail things, like sewing on buttons, or sewing on hooks and eyes, or closing a lining or whatever.”
At fashion week, he has 15 minutes to make his mark with 14 distinct outfits. This has been a project months in the making. A show producer invited him to display his work, and he began the process of selecting a theme. ‘The Fall of Joan’ is Clayton’s take on the decay of the modern superstar. Putting his name on a clothing presentation sets the stage for what he hopes will be a successful career someday.
“I went through probably through three or four collection ideas, because my first show needs to be extra special. So, pretty much since September, I’ve been sewing my cute little butt off.”
This year, Clayton has a chance of having his work seen by more than the usual local crowd. Designers are descending on Vancouver from all over the world in much higher numbers than in previous years. Over half of the labels are based outside of Canada. Past shows featured up-and-coming local designers. Adding a global element this year means more competition. But also more people who understand the demands of trying to break in.
Israeli-born, London-based designer Gita Sidikman is one of those designers. She turned her sewing machine off long enough to describe the stress she faces, days before presenting her line, Gita Omri.
“You research other subjects for inspiration, but at the end, it’s something that’s coming personally from you. A lot of people say well it’s not personal. But when people don’t like it it’s very personal it’s like they don’t like you in a way…I believe anything you work hard on, is personal. Even business.”
Sidikman family’s fully supports her career in fashion. Her grandfather paid for her tuition at the Art Institute of New York. Now, as she works on designing, she is back at school studying fashion prints. Her apartment in London doubles as a classroom to help her pay her bills.
“I tutor fashion and design and pattern-making and painting, and whatever else you can think of, I teach. It’s hard. It’s not a lot of sleep and very long days.”
The path to success
Even established designers like Christopher Bates know a thing or two about long hours. He designs tailored menswear and showed his work at Vancouver Fashion Week in 2008. This year, he presented at Toronto Fashion Week alongside brands like Joe Fresh. Bates says the lead-up to his fashion shows is chaotic – something that Vancouver’s shows helped him train for.
“It’s frantic. You know, there’s really a million things to do with the collection and accessorizing, and your guest list, and you’re still running a business as well and dealing with all types of inquiries. As a small-business owner, you’re still doing accounting and production stuff. It’s just never really ending.”
Before studying fashion design in Milan, Bates earned a marketing degree from BCIT and put his business savvy to use building his company. Now, he works mainly on his namesake brand. He supplements his income with modeling, acting, and graphic design jobs.
Bates says the path to success for designers is a long one. It also means dealing with much more than design. Accounting, creating guest lists and marketing the brand are all part of the job.
“You really have to be hell-bent on being successful. I think that you have to believe in yourself and that you will be successful – and you have to know that its not an overnight type of thing.”
Bates is experiencing some success, but he’s not there yet. He’ll know he’s made it when his designs are consistently selling at the best retailers in the world.
Clayton, who is at the stage in his life that Bates was five years ago, is focused on getting his first show on the runway. He knows success is a long way off, and he has no interest in looking beyond it.
“I have no idea if anyone’s gonna be interested in purchasing the samples, but I do know for certain that I’ll be showing in other seasons…Vancouver to me is a stepping stone. I love the city but, ultimately, my goal is to branch out further than Vancouver and even Canada. I’d love to dip my feet into London or Paris.”
London is particularly significant for Clayton. He is inspired by designers like the late Alexander McQueen, who was renowned for making his clothes transcend fashion and stand alone as art. The label continues and Clayton hopes to one day get to his still-operational studio in London.
“The only design job that I ever wanted in school was to work at Alexander McQueen. And that’s still something I’m working towards. I won’t be happy until I’ve worked just one day there.”