By Kathleen McGouran
Wayne Clark speaks slowly, pausing in between his statements to remember all the details of a Thursday night in June of 1981 — his first runway show.
That Thursday was busy for the then-21-year-old fashion designer. So busy, in fact, that he did not notice the crowd that had accumulated in the lobby of the Four Seasons hotel in Toronto.
“I kind of said to them, I’m not doing a show to a half-empty room,” says Clark, who was initially worried about the event’s low ticket sales.
“By the time the finale happened, people were dancing on tables. It was unbelievable.” After almost 40 years in the fashion industry, events like this are now far easier for Clark.
Today, he finds himself as the School of Fashion’s distinguished designer in-residence — a first for the institution and for Clark himself — acting as a mentor and confidante to fashion students for the 2012-2013 school year.
While this may be his first mentoring experience, Clark has had a desire to teach for the last 10 years.
“When you do something every day for 30 years, it gets a little dry. It gets a little stale,” Clark says. “[The position] is a really wonderful experiment.” Clark says he is inspired by being around the young energy and the freedom that comes with being in design school. He looks at the March 17, 1975 cover of Time Magazine sitting framed in his office featuring a young Cher wearing his favourite design — a barely-there, nude, floor-length gown with aptly-located beading and feathers on the sleeves by Bob Mackie — and recalls his own tenure at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ont.
Without the pressure of money, demand, or any real-life applicability, he says the designs he created in school were truly his own.
Clark will be working closely with the program’s fourth-year students as they create outfits for the perennial end-of-year showcase, Mass Exodus, as well as guest speaking and demoing for classes.
He stresses, though, that he wants to aid the students in creating the outfits they dream of and use his experience to help them understand the industry, learn the buzz words or even where to find the right fabric.
“I’m hoping that all this knowledge that I have that I so take for granted will be put on the table,” he said.
Robert Ott, chair of the School of Fashion, says Clark’s presence should offer a welcoming and different relationship in the learning process.
“[Students] have somebody from the industry who is not concerned with marks,” he says. “Somebody who… can give perhaps an unbiased opinion without consequences.” But what most excites Clark is the passion and determination he has observed in the classroom, because he knows that only with dedication comes success.
“Man, you’ve got to want this more than anything in the whole wide world, because that’s the only way you’re ever going to get it,” said Clark. “It’s not always the most talented.”