Weather you think of James Dean on a motorcycle, your grandfather driving his Cadillac, or Lady Gaga wearing one without pants – the leather jacket has always been more than just a wardrobe staple. Whether you prefer black or brown, polished or patina, buckles or studs – a leather jacket has a voice, empowering its wearer with the subtle and strong attitude it brings to an outfit.
Recently, the household name of DANIER teamed up with Ryerson University and launched the Danier Design Challenge. This dynamic student competition is the result of an on-going collaboration between two iconic fashion institutions; the Danier Design challenge, was offered to third year Ryerson fashion design students in the hopes that it would serve as both a platform for showcasing new talent and a mentorship opportunity between DANIER leather experts and Ryerson students, who without this might not have been afforded the opportunity to work with this chic and timeless material.
The winner was announced last month by International fashion icon Jeanne Beker and DANIER CEO Jeffrey Wortsman: Vancouver Island’s very own John Hillifer! With cash prizing in the amount of $2,000 for the third place winner, $3,000 for second place and $5,000 for the first place winner, the top design will also be sold in select DANIER retail locations, awarding immeasurable exposure for the young designer to the fashion consumer market.
Each phase of the competition, from 65 initial sketches to completed leather garments by the top 15 contestants, was available to be viewed and voted upon by the public at www.danierdesignchallenge.com. Even the judges’ reactions to the final submissions were posted, creating a collaborative competition which involved the entire community and allowed you to follow your favorite design and designer from initial sketch to final garment.
Call west coast fashion what you will, but all top three finalists were from BC!!! Here is my chat with John Hillifer, the gentleman with the winning design.
SDTC: What was it like growing up on the Island? How did your background eventually lead you to fashion?
JH: I come from a very do-it-yourself design oriented family on Vancouver Island. There was always something with aesthetics and quality being built at our house, and that pragmatic craftsman lifestyle is still a big influence on me. Also, growing up skateboarding and now being heavily involved in surfing has given me an outlet for working with clothing, style, history and culture.
I have a background in architecture, but eventually decided that clothing design was a more natural fit and began to focus on making some products and getting educated.
SDTC: Had you worked with leather before?
JH: First time working with it.
SDTC: A leather jacket is an incredibly iconic piece of clothing. Did that effect the way you approached your design?
JH: Yes, in the sense of practicality. As much as I wanted it to look a bit different, an iconic jacket needs to get used too.
SDTC: Do you remember the first leather jacket you coveted?
JH: I remember seeing it but I don’t remember who designed it or anything. It was very minimal in this really high-end boutique in London almost 10 years ago.
SDTC: What was your experience like designing with DANIER in mind?
JH: In this case it actually inspired me to stick to my own guns. I wanted to do something more personal that was more a collaboration than anything else.
SDTC: Being from the West Coast, how do you think the approach to daily fashion changes from Vancouver to Toronto?
JH: I think Vancouver is more natural.
SDTC: When you’re in Vancouver, what are your spots?
JH: I visit the good people at Anti Social Skateboard Shop, Wings and Horns at Roden Gray and the NAAM.
SDTC: I can imagine a bazillion leather jackets… how did you formulate ‘the one’?
JH: Starting simple and lots of editing.
SDTC: If your jacket had a personality, what would it be… who do you see wearing your design?
JH: There are lots of answers to that question. I think it will work for lots of different demographics and personal styles.
SDTC: Have you blown your prize money yet?
JH: Well, on tuition.
SDTC: What do you think your reaction will be like to walk down the street and potentially see complete strangers wearing your winning jacket?
JH: Like taking a step in the right direction.
SDTC: Damn straight, anything else you’d like to tell me about this entire experience?
JH: It has been very positive working with Danier, they are very good at what they do and have shown me a lot. I would also like to thank all my friends and family for their support along the way.
So weather you’re rocking it over a hoodie, pairing with a tight mini, or choosing to go vintage over new – you’ll be timeless with the ever-enduring leather jacket