Evan Clayton is a rarity.
The Vancouver-based haute couture designer creates wearable art in a city of athleisure. He designs custom works for drag queens (many of whom have competed on Canada's Drag Race) and pop stars (Carly Rae Jepsen wore one of his dresses at the Bristol Pride Festival in the UK) that would be perfectly at home on the runways of Toronto, New York, LA, or Milan because the reality is, there aren't many people doing what he's doing here in the Pacific Northwest, home of Arc'teryx and Lululemon.
But that's exactly what makes his work so special and exciting. And for the first time since 2019, Clayton is showing a new collection in an iconic Vancouver space, the Vancouver Art Gallery.
"I'm very proud to be based in Vancouver," he tells V.I.A over the phone. "I know that a lot of people in the global industry of fashion don't take Canadian designers very seriously, but I have no intention of moving or leaving Canada anytime soon or Vancouver specifically because I do love living here. So to be able to show my work in a space that screams Vancouver is something that brings me a lot of joy."
Clayton originally intended to digitally release this latest collection, called Inferno, during the pandemic but the day the final photos arrived, so did the vaccine. He decided to wait it out and while he was waiting a large part of the collection was destroyed.
"I wasn't going to say anything publicly about this, but now I am." He shares that after he shot six looks for the Inferno collection back in 2021, a U.S. stylist reached out to pull looks for Nicki Minaj. The looks never got used and when Clayton asked for them back he was told they would be worn by rapper Koi Leray at the BET Awards, which they were. However, they were never returned.
Clayton says that after a lot of back and forth and a fair amount of ghosting his friend who happened to be in the U.S. was able to pick up the looks and bring them back to Vancouver. However, they were all completely ruined. "Just not salvageable, and a lot of it I just didn't get back at all," he laments.
However, Clayton says that in a way he can thank the stylist because "every time that I make something I learn. And part of sample-making is learning the most efficient way of making whatever it is you're making so that you can make it multiple times better and better each time...I think that the new pieces look way better than the old ones did."
Clayton had the idea for Inferno back in 2019 when one of his local drag queen muses, Jane Smoker, announced that she was quitting drag. He explains that the creative process of working on a collection for himself versus a collaborative custom piece is "massively different" because it's just him expressing himself. In the case of Inferno, he decided to write the final chapter of Jane's story through fashion.
"Whenever I was designing something, I'd always think 'would Jane think that this is cool?' and if the answer was no I wouldn't do it," he laughs. "I was really sad that she wasn't going to be doing drag anymore...and so that's how Inferno started, it was an immediate 'oh, well, you're quitting drag I need to create a collection about what is the fall of Jane?' 'What happened to Jane after she stopped doing drag?' and in my head, Jane went to hell and became the Queen of the Damned."
The collection has evolved a lot since its initial conception in 2019, Clayton admits it's a lot less literal now but the spirit still remains Jane going to hell.
Jane Smoker will be walking the runway at the Inferno fashion show on September 24 and there will be other local drag stars making appearances like Gia Metric and Kendall Gender. "You can expect a lot of drama from the overall ambiance, the space, and the venue," teases Clayton, "we are definitely taking the natural features of the art gallery and cranking them up to an 11."
Evan Clayton Presents: Inferno
When: Sep. 24, 7-10 p.m.
Where: Vancouver Art Gallery
Tickets: $54.06, buy here