The Art Institute of Vancouver - Jillian Gray

While there wasn't a lot of opportunity to develop creatively growing up - fashion definitely caught Jillian Gray's imagination at an early age. "I had an eye for detail and a passion for clothing - both my own and others - for as long as I can remember.  Fashion has always made an impression on me and as I got older it became clear that my love for clothing was more than just a shopping addiction.  I was meant to work in the industry."

Gray was born in the small town of Drayton Valley, Alberta.  As the youngest of four kids, she found herself more the follower than the leader. One favourite pastime was Ringette which she played for 13 years. Here fashion were not something you would normally think of as a career, but a friend studying Fashion Marketing opened her eyes to the possibilities. After carefully researching several schools, The Art Institute of Vancouver quickly became the school of choice. With her family's support and ultimately a final firm push from her mum, she packed her bags and headed off to Vancouver. But change was in the air.

Six months into the program a life-altering experience altered everything. Gray remembers the time clearly, "It wasn't until I began a textiles class with Julie Berg that I truly recognized my passion. I made a scarf for a final project and the excitement I felt was unexplainable. Taking the marketing program first was ultimately beneficial, but I realized that day my true interest was in Fashion Design. I was destined to create." She quickly switched areas of study.

The intense, challenging course work brought not only knowledge, but personal growth. Gray had to learn to trust her instincts and believe in her designs. It was exhilarating to dream up ideas and then figure out ways to bring them to life. As she excelled, a new confidence emerged. "I began to realize just how creative I was and started to notice all the elements that make my designs unique." Over time the process of creation became effortless.

Gray participated in two competitions during her time as a student.  The first was the school's Cool Vs Cruel Competition 2012. Art Institute students throughout North America were asked to creatively reinterpret and replace animal fur on runway designs by Marc Jacobs, J. Mendel, BCBGMAXAZRIA and Jean-Paul Gaultier.  Her entry was inspired by J.Mendels' F/W 2013 collection. To meet the challenge, she decided to recreate the alligator leather he had used in a few of the dresses, but didn't want to use store bought Pleather (plastic leather).

After much research and reaching deep, Gray came up with the idea of using a stamping technique.  "I carved a rubber stamp with an alligator pattern and, using donated fabric with the texture of a raincoat, I painted it with acrylic paint. Then I pressed my stamp into the paint while it was still wet." The end result was an alligator-textured fabric that she fashion into a dress.  Feathers to trim the hem were created from carefully combed and hair sprayed faux fur. The judges were impressed and she was awarded 3rd place in the Vancouver competition. It was a challenge that tested her to the limits and she loved the experience. "The Cool Vs. Cruel Competition made me realize just how much creativity I had in me."

Left - Cool Vs Cruel  2012             Right - Telio Competition 2013
Telio Fabrics also runs a competition each year for all Canadian design students that includes a theme and a selection of fabrics to be used. For 2013 the theme was Overexposed Glow and the 22 fabrics selected offered several white, ecru and beige shades along with a beautiful selection of pastel hues.  For this challenge she had to tightly channel her creativity in a way that honoured their choice of inspiration and fabrics. It was a great moment to learn that her design was selected as one of the top at her school and that it had been sent on to the judging panel in Montreal.

Gray's graduation collection was titled "Slave to the Rhythm" - a reference to the Grace Jones album with the same name.  
"Grace Jones was so iconic for her presence of an alter ego and I wanted to portray a similar contrast in my collection. The foundation came from my love of leather, but I didn't want to use it in a traditional sense and have it come off as too harsh. I wanted it to have a feminine feel."  To accomplish this the designer choose to balance the black leather lambswool with chiffon in three shades - champagne, soft pink and black. 

Her collection consisted of contrasts between the textured, colours and shapes.  The leather exudes power and confidence, the chiffon offered a softer feminine touch. Looks were comprised of versatile separates that could be mixed and matched to create a day outfit or a classier evening ensemble. Gray's personal favourite is the asymmetrical black chiffon dress over the leather ribbed bodysuit. "The look was exactly what I had in mind when I designed it.  It has all the elements I was trying to incorporate - edginess and femininity."

With graduation behind her, Gray is headed back to Alberta. Eventually she would like to travel internationally, but for now there is a lot to learn from other designers. What she has to offer them in return is strong skills, unbridled creativity, fresh ideas and a new perspective. In closing, Gray took a moment to mention those who encouraged her along the way, "Thank-you to my Mom and Dad for their faith, love supporting and making my dreams come true. Thanks to Brenda Wong for not only sharing her experience and expertise, but the encouragement and confidence she  gave me. To Sandra Scott - thank-you for the pressure, the patience and the knowledge. And a huge thanks to my instructors Shainin Hudda, Julie Berg and Valerie Pugh. Without you I would never have realized my full potential."

For more information or to contact Gray, please visit her website at  To check out the Fashion Design and Fashion Marketing programs at The Art Institute of Vancouver go to