Nearly a decade ago after graduating Blanche Macdonald, I was thrown into the world of runway shows and models when I attended my very first fashion week. While every night became a blur of couture, some local stars emerged as designers to watch. Even then, tickets to an Evan Clayton show were a hot commodity and, in the past few years, he has made big strides, featuring his work in glossy magazines and on some of the world’s most famous drag queens. On the cusp of his first show in several years, at the Vancouver Art Gallery, I was able to pick his brain and learn about all things Inferno, a collection by Evan Clayton. —Vicki Duong
This is your first collection since 2019! Tell us about what you’ve been up to in the past few years, pandemic and all.
I’m so excited to get back to the runway! I’ve grown so much during the pandemic, but the one thing that I kept missing in my career was the runway shows. When the pandemic hit I was sort of sent into a spiral not knowing how to move my brand in a direction that would keep me going through the pandemic. I know a lot of creators felt that same spiral, and I feel very lucky to have landed in the place that I did. I shifted focus from fashion to costume, and since the start of 2020 I’ve costume designed for six different seasons of Drag Race, an opera at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, and dozens of touring acts across North America!
How has your brand and style evolved since your last collection?
I think that pre-pandemic Evan Clayton cared a little too much about the commerciality of his garments! I always felt that I had to slog my way through the saleable pieces to do the showstoppers that really meant a lot to me and told the bulk of the story I was trying to tell with each collection. Post pandemic Evan Clayton doesn’t give two shits about commerciality. I design what feels good in my heart.
Let’s talk about Inferno; what can we expect from this new collection?
I had a friend ask me how I would describe Inferno the other day and my answer went something like, Inferno is what would happen if I costume designed for a mainline Final Fantasy title starring The Muppets. I’m definitely not going for subtlety with this collection. If I’ve learned anything from my time working on Drag Race it’s that subtlety is often lost on an audience. I’m a showman at heart, and as much as I love and respect subtlety and nuance in design, it’s not something I’m striving for in this collection.
You say Inferno is a foray into storytelling, can you elaborate on what this means?
I think that fashion and style is a very honest medium for storytelling. I find wording my thoughts and feelings to be very difficult in the moment, but I can tell someone exactly how I feel through clothing; especially in regards to my runway shows! I approached designing this collection the same way I designed the opera Orfeo ed Euridice; there are characters, set pieces, story arcs told through clothing. I’ve been designing and working on this collection since 2019, it’s gone through many iterations! At one point I wanted it to be a very literal stage production, however as the pandemic went on the clothes became the focal point of the storytelling and I shifted focus back onto the runway.
How does it feel to be showcasing your collection at the Vancouver Art Gallery?
I am truly blown away that I was able to get such an iconic venue. I’ve shown work in the šxʷƛ̓ənəq Xwtl’e7énk Square before, but never inside the actual gallery. It’s such a beautiful space, and a great canvas for what I have planned in the show. I’m working with Aire Designers on the set for the runway, and they’ve really taken the natural beauty of the Art Gallery and ran with it!
You’ve been working with drag queens since 2014 and since then, fashion and drag have evolved tremendously. What, in your opinion, is the future of drag and fashion as industries that work so well together?
I think we’ll continue to see a more seamless melding of drag and fashion. I’m spotlighting and celebrating the drag talent in my show because I find drag so inspiring, but I also love to be watching a runway and unexpectedly seeing Aquaria or Miss Fame pop up on the catwalk! I think that as drag has evolved to be much more inclusive, fashion has some catching up to do! I’m very proud of the trans talent that I have in this show and I think that fashion could do more to uplift the communities that inspire designers like myself so much.
What does the future hold for Evan Clayton as a brand after Inferno?
I think the immediate future for Evan Clayton post Inferno will involve a lovely nap! However, I don’t have anything concrete planned for the long term post Inferno. Before the pandemic I was so used to my yearly schedule of two runway shows per year but to be honest I don’t think it’s a system I would like to return to. Towards the end I felt a bit like a hamster in a wheel. The beauty of Inferno is that it’s a collection that I want to release and I’m releasing it the way I want to release it. I think you’ll see more of that from me in the future; I’ll say what I need to say when I need to say it.