By Andréa Rojas
Although most of us look at an empty orange juice container as recycle-bin worthy, or last summer’s faded v-neck fit for the Salvation Army, Daryl White would rather think of your household trash as one step away from being resurrected into wearable art.
The Calgary designer is showing for the first time at Alberta Fashion Week. But while Calgary’s freshest class of designers is still waiting for the ink on their fashion school diplomas to dry, the 21-year-old White has snagged a spot on the AFW runways through an entirely different avenue. The journey has been two years in the making.
“I was trying to find a Peter Pan costume [for Halloween] and couldn’t find any that were available, so I decided to buy a sewing machine just to learn how to sew to make a costume,” explains White. “It just kind of progressed into taking apart my own clothes . . . that’s kind of where it really started branching off.”
It was one particular costume, however, designed for the August 2010 Lady Gaga concert, that garnered considerable acclaim for White. Photos of that outfit posted on Facebook prompted AFW to contact White this April.
“The word-of-mouth is what really got me going in that sense,” remarks White of the photos. “I didn’t have a website; I didn’t have business cards. I’d wear my stuff out to the club and people would be like, ‘Hey, where did you get your shirt?’ and I’d be like, ‘I made it!’”
White started preparing his current collection in mid-December. Since then, his creations have been fashioned from an interesting array of media — with an eco-friendly twist.
“I use shopping bag handles, I’ve used curtains, I use old buttons and it’s all stuff that was in my garbage,” says White. “It’s garbage that has been totally changed and transformed into something that is wearable . . . I think I’ve done a good job with using materials that are already out there. There’s enough material already in the world — why bother buying more? Just use what’s already there.”
White has a preference for a certain type of pre-existing textile.
“Denim is my favorite thing to work with. You can do so much with it. Whereas [with] other fabrics, personally, I feel kind of limited by them. Denim just has unlimited possibilities.”
Interestingly, the designer brings his pieces to fruition without the help of a traditional bust form, patterns or sketches.
“The first step is, I’m going to open up my closet [and] see what I can cut apart,” he says of his creative process. “It all comes out at the sewing machine, as I’m sewing . . . so sometimes halfway through, the stitching on one half of the garment is going to be different from the other half because I’ve changed it, but I think that’s also the creative look of the things I do. It’s not always perfect; it’s not symmetrical. It’s kind of edgy in that sense.”
White is not only aware of how unique his design process is, but also of how his industry experience differs from that of other AFW designers. He is the only designer showing at AFW not holding some type of post-secondary fashion accreditation. However, he sees his mere months of experience and lack of formal training not as hindrances, but as factors facilitating his creative process.
“I’ve taught myself everything I know,” says White. “So who knows, I could be doing everything wrong, but as long as it works and ends up with a product that works in the end, I don’t see the problem there.”
White has achieved opportunities through AFW that few other designers have been able to acquire, but his feelings regarding the event itself are a mix of both qualms and queries. “Am I ready to take the dive into essentially running a small business for myself?” he asks. White makes it clear that it’s difficult for an independent designer to absorb many of the costs of AFW, such as model contracting and registration fees, but he considers them “an investment in the future of D.W.”
When it comes to his 12-piece collection’s first showing, White will realize a visual transition from demure to edgy denim pieces, all of them one-of-a-kind.
“I’m showing two of the same skirts [in terms of pattern] in Fashion Week, but they look completely different . . . Everything I do will be different because it’s all out of the recycled materials. I’m not going to have the same amount or access to the same materials to make the same garment again.”
The magna opera of White’s collection include the “Gaga outfit,” as well as a variation on the same theme.
“If it wasn’t for [the Gaga outfit], I think I wouldn’t be here, so that’s why I’m ending with it,” he says.
The Gaga outfit will be accompanied by a piece that White describes as an “evolution from the Gaga jacket,” or a denim jacket designed for the frontwoman of Lipstick Party, a local pop-punk band.
Apart from his affinity for female singers and denim, White holds his own views concerning the broader relationship between his line and Calgary’s fashion industry as a whole.
“Calgary’s not really a fashion city . . . I do kind of feel limited by Calgary in the fashion sense, because I feel like, for parts of my collection, you couldn’t really get away with walking down the street wearing that,” he says. “But it seems like Calgary is evolving
. . . There’s starting to be some amazing things that are coming out of Calgary.”
Regardless of its status as a relatively new contender in the AFW arena, D.W. Fashion’s do-it-yourself suburban pop culture ensembles hold their own as environmentally friendly and cheekily kitschy all at once. Whether White’s creations of recycled denim, homemade studs and bottle caps will have what it takes to push Calgary fashion forward, however, will be decided only with time.