Halifax designer Kevan Jon talks to Stephanie Smith about his art-inspired collection of high-glamour occasion wear.
London’s all very well, but it’s not the only place to head for if you are in search of a designer who really knows how to make clothes... and really knows how to make a woman look special. Instead, head for Halifax, where Kevan Jon has his studio, right in the town centre. He wouldn’t be anywhere else (except perhaps nearby Huddersfield, which is where he lives).
Of his studio, he says: “It’s a lovely workplace with lots of big windows, so you can see daylight and life going by.”
Not that he confines himself to Halifax, Huddersfield or Yorkshire – far from it. “There’s inspiration everywhere,” he says. “My high summer and autumn/winter collections are based on travels in Spain, with a collection called Volver – it means return – plus flamenco-inspired floral prints using gunmetals and fuchsia with full skirts.”
Kevan specialises in glamorous but wearable special occasion fashion – always with a twist that gives every creation an edge. He is the turn-to designer for a host of well-dressed women who want to look anything but run of the mill. His creations regularly guest on the red carpets, with clients including Loose Woman presenter and former Coronation Street actress Shobna Gulati and Emmerdale’s Lucy Pargeter, plus lists of loyal, long-standing customers who rely on him to keep coming up with beautiful and striking new designs, season after season. “Our customers range from 20 to 70,” he says proudly. “I like to think they can wear them for anything from going shopping to garden parties.”
Born in South Africa and raised in Huddersfield, Kevan began his training at Batley College of Art & Design, then went to Epsom School of Art and Design in Surrey. After graduating in 1991, he launched his first collection at the London Show in September 1992. He designs all his clothes (with two others – “we’re a team,” he says) at his studio in an old mill building in Halifax, which also serves as his showroom. The clothes are made in North Wales and South Yorkshire, so all British, and Kevan says he would use British fabrics too, if there were any that suited his womenswear designs. “We just don’t have the factories there any more,” he says. He tends to use viscose silks and jerseys and prints, and jacquard-type fabrics, working closely with a manufacturer in Italy. “Our price points start at £69.99 and go up to around £500,” he says. “We’re that middle market, not cheap but not ridiculous.”
The Kevan Jon brand sells through boutiques across the UK and Ireland, including at Accent in Leeds, Chique at Armthorpe, near Doncaster, House of Elliot in Halifax and soon at a new boutique coming to Saltaire. “It’s really taken off in Ireland, from doing the trade shows. As a platform, it’s really worked,” he says, adding that he will be showing at Pure in London on February 8 for the third time.
Of course, it’s been tough during the recession, as it has for many designers and retailers, but Kevan is now celebrating his 23rd anniversary as a fashion designer – no mean feat. “It’s very hard out there,” he says. “We are quite specialised in what we do. People will still buy for events from weddings and the races to summer parties.”
His new collection is called Art Class. “It’s inspired by different artists – it’s a really cool story,” he says. It’s an immaculately cut blend of key season and timeless pieces, with dresses for both day and evening, soft tailoring and Kevan’s signature drapery (then there’s his all-important reputation for the perfect fit).
Prints include “Still Life”, inspired by contemporary artist Howard Hodgkin; “Op Art”, a wonderful multi-coloured print in the style of Neo Impressionism; and Kevan’s “Quill” design returns for spring in a new palette of blues reminiscent of the work of Georgia O’Keeffe.
Artists’ materials including tubes of gouache, oil and acrylic inspired the “Art Class Plain” designs, and there is a new woven twill in five colours including aqua tint and cadmium.
A designer through and through, Kevan Jon remains as inspired by and committed to fashion as he was when he first started his own label 23 years ago. As he says: “I love it. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”
• Find out more about Kevan Jon and see his new spring summer Art Class collection on www.kevanjon.com.