The first time I saw a collection by designer Drew William was at Vancouver Fashion Week. It was F/W '10 and only his second collection. Ethereal models walked the runway in intriguing, minimalistic garments to original music created specifically for this show. Patrick Goski's composition was inspired by Drew's sketches, and his music in turn inspired the designer as he completed this collection. The female models also had antique wooden naval ships anchored in their hair, a nod to his inspiration – the 19th century French Romantic period and paintings of artist Delacroix. I found myself speechless.
There really are two types of fashion designers. One is focused on finding a place in the industry. Their design talents are used to create unique garments that will hopefully become a recognizable brand and SELL. The second is an artist who has chosen fabric as a medium of expression. It is sculpted to create 3-D structures that are given life when showcased on a human body. Drew falls clearly in this second category. In VFW April 2011 Drew chose to step away from traditional runway and the standard collection. “It's definitely the most conceptual I've ever gone. This season wasn't about creating a wearable collection, it was about creating something closer to couture.”
April '11 VFW show - photos by Peter Jensen
Although held off-site, I was still expecting a fashion show, so was surprised when I entered The Access Gallery. Its walls had been painted with Drew's original artwork. His “collection” consisted of only 2 looks – one male and one female. “I wanted to bring in the biblical reference of Adam & Eve. The most logical way I could do that was to create two looks – one men's, one women's. People also kept asking how many looks I was doing and eventually I felt that people were loosing sight of what was important about my work. I would rather show a single garment that is amazing and exceeds peoples expectations rather than create a 50 look collection that is mediocre or conventional.”
Drew turned our focus from quantity to quality. These 2 looks took as many hours to create as what normally would have been devoted to producing an entire collection. Hand sewing, gold foiled leather appliques and labour intensive beading took hundred of hours. There were also unique laser-cut bracelets and an unbelievable “build-it-yourself” slotted wooden shoe. Drew shared, “The major difference about this collection from my others was the shift to a more couture sentiment. Ultimately, couture is a dying art and no longer relevant to mass market, because it is not affordable. The garments become more like art objects. I choose to present them in a gallery space in amongst my drawings to shift peoples perceptions of design and art and show more of a bridge between the two. How are they alike? How are they different?
The collection was also a merging of the natural world with technology. “It explores man's dual nature as a biological being in a digital world and contemporary notions of creation. Everything that you saw from the drawings, to the laser cut accessories, to the clothes and appliques were all reliant upon that duality.” Creation circled back and forth from intensive hand work to technical treatments. One example with be the appliques. Hand-drawings inspired by historical images were scanned into the computer and redrawn in Illustrator. Leather was foiled by hand, appliques cut by laser and then sewn onto the garments by hand. This theme was repeated throughout in a never-ending cycle.
What does the future hold? I suspect this artist will to continue to explore new directions. For me, the joy is that his willingness to share this journey means I will be challenged to grow and evolve as well. Drew William brings intelligence and a truly unique vision to the fashion world, and I can't wait to see what he will bring to the table next.