Kevan Jon is thinking back to a strapless green print maxi dress he designed back in 2010. “Now, what was she called?” he ponders, first to himself, and then to Rebecca, who manages production at his Halifax fashion design studio.
Kevan gives many of his dresses female names, some after customers who might originally have requested certain style details. These designs have become old friends. “People come up and go, I’ve got your dress, it’s like such and such, do you know what it was called? And I go yes, I remember that.”
Last October, as he prepared for his eponymous brand’s 30th birthday this month, Kevan posted a call-out on social media, asking clients past and present if they had any vintage Kevan Jon pieces. He has now created a gallery archive of them, which he displayed at a birthday party last week, worn by some showroom dummies he picked up from a sportswear outlet that had closed during the pandemic. Sprayed white, those dummies are also used here as the backdrop to his latest fashion shoot, showcasing some of those archive designs, as well as his Resort SS22 collection, due out in April.
“I started in the 1990s, when there was a big club scene, going to clubs in Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield,” he says. “I was young when that started and in the middle of it, listening to what girls wanted, creating the outfits to go to the clubs, and then slowly that has progressed and we have gone into promwear – that has become a huge cultural thing. As I have grown up with them, I have had to adapt what I do to what they need. So then it becomes a 21st dress, and then a 30th dress, and then a wedding dress…” And now, of course, special looks for modern mothers of the bride and groom.
Kevan was born in South Africa to British parents, who moved back to the UK in 1978. They owned a construction company in Huddersfield, where Kevan grew up. He took a graphic design youth training scheme, then studied Fashion Manufacturing at Batley College of Art & Design, then a degree at Epsom School of Art and Design, graduating in 1991.
He launched his label in 1992, offering glamorous but wearable dresses, always with that little twist of wow, a signature detail that has seen him become a turn-to designer of red carpet showstoppers, worn by TV stars including Ruth Langsford, Shobna Gulati, Jennie McAlpine and Lucy Pargeter.
Much has changed in 30 years, not least women’s dress sizes. Model Elizabeth, pictured here wearing both archive and new collection designs, is a modern UK size 8, but the dresses she is wearing from the mid-90s have size 12 on the label. “Then a size 12 was a 28in waist, now a size 12 is a 32,” Kevan says, adding: “Body shapes have changed and we are finding that a lot more women are more body confident and, with a little bit of help, underwear structured underneath, you can wear anything.”
Special occasion dressing is back with a bang, he says. “We have spent so much time not being able to see friends and go out and have gatherings and parties, for dinner, a day at the races, family party or grand weddings, so we use it as an excuse to dress up and feel glamorous again.”
When Kevan launched his Spring ’22 collection last August at Harrogate Fashion Week, he found new stockists across the UK, and they are already re-ordering. “We are trying to keep up with demand now,” he says.
Including Kevan, there is a team of four at the Halifax studio – Rebecca, plus Amy, the pattern cutter, and Jaki, the machinist. He also subcontracts manufacturing to two UK factories, in London and Scunthorpe.
During the pandemic, Kevan launched a sustainable organic collection of branded loungewear, using social media to reach new audiences. The most important lesson he has learned is to “listen to your customer, your heart and your gut”, he says. “Many things, I’ve thought, should I, shouldn’t I? If I go with my gut, generally, I like to think I’ve been right, hence being here 30 years later.”
Last week Kevan held a birthday evening in the Grand Salon in Halifax, attended by stockists, friends and family. He is clearly proud to have a brand rooted in Yorkshire. “A lot of TV programmes are being made in Yorkshire. In the last couple of weeks in Halifax, we have had Happy Valley, Gentleman Jack and Samuel L Jackson. It’s created a real buzz. Halifax has still got its Piece Hall, which I think is the last one standing in the UK, and Leeds is a massive city now with all different cultures.”
He is proud, too, to have dressed so many women over the past 30 years in his own label Kevan Jon standout occasionwear designs. “Not only have they worn it, but their daughters have worn it,” he says. “They are classics and they don’t date. And, when you get to a certain age, everything comes round again.”
See the Kevan Jon SS22 collections at www.kevanjon.com.