“Menswear hasn’t changed much at all.”
Designer Harry Evans is throwing a spanner in the works of fashion. The 24 year old Knitwear graduate from Central Saint Martins is already pushing the boundaries of stagnant styles. In a game of tailoring versus streetwear, Evans is playing beyond any defined genre. His eclectic mix of jersey layers with deeply intricate knitwear completely contrast with the typical menswear of the past century.
Evans stands out in the MA studio, but not because he is attention-seeking or loud. His unique sense of style speaks volumes – more than his modest personality. He wears on his slim frame a red and white striped t-shirt and black leggings, layered with a dark green kilt. Cherub-like, curly brown hairs frame his face and dark eyes, which are painted with eighties-turquoise eyeshadow. Two gilt gold, drop-earrings hang from each lobe. He is elegant and scruffy all at the same time.
Clever contrasting is a trademark of Evans; his MA collection merges fantasy with reality, and wonderful with wearable. Ribbed and fleece leggings are worn under skirts and tunics, lurex and tinsel knits are pared down with simple black pieces, and billowing silhouettes are grounded with jersey fabrics. It bagged him the L’Oréal Professionnel Creative Award, and has been highly commended by both Dazed and Confused and Wonderland.
“The concept,” he tells me, “was always based on me, and men’s fashion, and trying to do something that is kind of believable and real.” And yet, while being believable, the clothes still push the boundaries of menswear. “What I’m doing now – it’s quite sort of feminine and inspired by womenswear. On a woman it would be a bit plain and quite safe, maybe even a bit old looking. On a man, it’s newer.” Evans’ disregard for cultural constructions of gender is not part of a trend, he is un-phased by the current predominance of androgynous fashion because it has always been ingrained in him. “It is something I’ve always felt. When I was younger I used to experiment with how I’d dress. I would buy stuff from Topshop or H&M in the girls bit. I never saw a boundary.”
It was the desire to be different that drove Evans to fashion design: When I was a teenager I just didn’t want to look like anyone else.” Inspiration for dressing came in the form of fashion magazines: “I would read i-D every month.” Following the careers of Vivienne Westwood and newly established Gareth Pugh brought the realisation that, “everyone I liked the look of had been to Central Saint Martins.” Evans would accept nothing less. “That was kind of it. I remember mentioning wanting to go there to my A-level textiles tutor, and her response was, ‘Oh well, I’m sure you’d like to go there, but they’re very selective…’ and I just remember thinking, ‘fuck you, I’m gonna go anyway.’ I applied for the Foundation and got accepted.” So, Evans made the small journey that made a big difference, from Surrey to London in 2009. The rest is bittersweet history. “It was amazing,” he remembers. “It was such a long time ago now, so I feel a bit nostalgic about it. I was eighteen…it was real freedom.”
From foundation he moved to BA Knitwear: “At first, I wasn’t so sure about it. But, when I finished, I thought, ‘ooh, it is nice to have a speciality that other people can’t do!’” This speciality landed Evans a placement and subsequently a freelance job in the summer after his BA, at British brand Meadham Kirchhoff (they dissolved last year). Most importantly, studying knitwear has exempted him from gender specifications, allowed him maximum creative flexibility. His BA collection was womenswear: a patchwork dream of knitted, Elizabethan silhouettes, padded with fur, edged with pie-crust frills, and embellished with pearls. There was the occasional exhibition of a bum-cheek, too: “I call it ‘Slutty Tudors,’” he laughs.
The most recent menswear collection aims to move away from “ridiculous costume,” into something more wearable and real. Inspiration was drawn from just about everywhere. Evans explains: “I am a hoarder, so I just find things I like, and mix them altogether! I looked mainly in old Italian fashion magazines, The Face and i-D all from about 1984 onwards, and at Albert Kahn’s photographs of people from all over the place [The Dawn of the Colour Photograph: Albert Kahn’s Archives of the Planet].”
Methodical or not, this mix of references is what makes the collection so unique. “It is a mix of 80s haute couture and streetwear and traditional folk clothing, like Greek peasant dress.” The ‘couture’ can be seen in jackets reminiscent of signature Chanel suiting, and in knitwear woven intermittently with metallic thread; The ‘street’ is visible in raw hems, cut-outs, mesh inserts, and the holes in the leggings; Folk influences, meanwhile are in the tunics, and the beautiful draping of the white overskirt and the off-shoulder peplum top – these pieces also translate full circle, back to 80s silhouettes.
Jersey pieces in the collection were created with careful consideration of movement. “I’ll do lots of dressing up, just draping on myself initially, you get a much better feel on a moving body than a stand.” Lighter, draped pieces were put in to balance the heaviness in the collection – the statement knits. Evans has fully experimented within the bounds of his discipline, combining different textures to create more interesting structures than in typical knits. “I developed a technique where crochet is layered onto knitted and woven fabrics, and then hand-stitched together. The end result behaves uniquely, neither a knit nor a woven, which was the intent, to create something with the look of a knit that you can actually make into a tailored garment.”
The method is meticulous, adding a serious workload to the process. “It was incredibly time consuming,” he admits. “I think I sort of took it for granted as I was doing them, but when people starting asking me about the collection I realised it probably wasn’t obvious how these fabrics had been made. One of the reporters I spoke to backstage at the LFW show couldn’t believe I’d actually crocheted two entire suits myself.”
Ambition balances nicely with Evans’ level-headed mindset.“People keep telling me how organised I am. I don’t think I am as a person, but in my work? Yeah.” The collection hasn’t been without its challenges though. “There have been a few ‘end-of-the-world’ moments. You just have to constantly adapt things because you can’t always have things how you want. Maybe you’ve run out of fabric – that happens all the time.” Despite this, Evans lets very little get in the way of his vision. “I believe you can make whatever you want out of anything. In my first year I ended up not spending any money because I kept finding stuff.”
The MA collection has consumed, quite literally, all of his time. “I’ve barely had a social life for the past year.” Well, nearly. “We [the MA class] probably spend far too much time in the student bar. Actually, sometimes we go to this gross little gay bar, round the corner from here. They do karaoke on a Friday night – that’s a laugh. It’s really grim, but it’s good. There’s even a sex club downstairs!” Evans believe it is the tight-knit, and in turn open, atmosphere that has led to such diverse graduate collections. “It has made the collections so unique, everyone has their own style and nobody’s work really looks alike.”
In February, the MA class had the opportunity to showcase these collections at London Fashion Week Autumn/Winter 2016. Evans picked up the L’Oréal Professionnel Creative Award, which has been going for a decade, in recognition of new design talent. The cash prize was shared with the other winner, classmate John Alexander Skelton. “The prize!” he exclaims, “That was even weirder! When they announced it, I was just packing up my stuff. Everyone was shouting my name, then I was shoved out on stage to have a photo taken, but I was shaking so much.” His modesty is admirable, and genuine. “I really, really, really was not expecting it. The competition was so tough.”
Since then, Evans has flirted with the idea of setting up a label. “Maybe in a year I will see if I can try something or not, but it is a weird time to setup a brand. I can’t even think about doing another collection yet.” For now, he wants to get more industry experience: “And I want to make some money, and actually be able to live for a bit.” Practicality has to be a big factor for this year’s MA graduates, especially in London’s current climate, but Evans would prefer a job elsewhere; “I want to see some more of the world,” he enthuses.
The dream job? “Maybe Chanel – I have kind of got that thing going on with my fabrics.”
But, for now, the L’Oreal prize left him with nearly £3000 to splash. “I think I am gonna go away, I need a change of scenery.” The plan is to retreat to Japan for a short trip of two weeks or so. “I was a real ‘Japan-o-phile’ when I was younger,” he laughs.
After seven years at the college Evans is finally leaving. “Oh God, I’ve been here for so long,” he exclaims. “I’m institutionalised! It is a bit sad, but I really, really need to leave now,” he says. Evans grew from teen dreamer to designer at Central Saint Martins. He learnt some unique, but nonetheless valuable lessons on his journey: “I have learnt to stand on my own two feet, that you must never believe your own bullshit, and that if you don’t ask, you won’t get.”
Words by Abigail Southan