[U]nlike most 10-year-olds, Wayne Clark knew what he wanted to do when he grew up. It came to the now Canadian fashion designer while watching television one night.
“I can remember [the television show] had something to do with the fashion industry. I can distinctly remember this one woman in what today would be Dolce & Gabbana because it was leopard, it had the pointy bra of the fifties, it was below the knee, it was tight, it was va-va-voom and she was blonde,” says Clark. “All of a sudden I knew there was such a thing as a fashion designer.”
More than 50 years later, Clark’s eyes still light up thinking about the night he discovered what he wanted to do. As the Calgary-native sits at his desk sipping his morning coffee, marking the beginning of Ryerson’s fall 2012 semester, he recalls telling his mother about his fashion dreams – the morning after the television program aired.
“I can remember my mother going ‘oh. My. God. Don’t you ever tell your father that,’” says Clark. “There I was, ten-years-old, and I’m going ‘okay, bad reaction to that. I guess we’ll keep that to ourselves.’”
But Clark is shy no more. His throaty laugh fills his office, lighting up the dimly lit room that he jokes resembles a fallout shelter (it is located within the grey, bare walls of Kerr Hall West after all). This will be his new home as Ryerson University’s first in-residence designer for the next year. Whether his term will expand beyond this year, or whether another designer will succeed him or not, is still up in the air.
But although the 63-year-old is just starting to settle in, the space is already equipped with mannequins, a sewing machine, and ironing board. “How the hell did I know I was going to do this and how did I get out of [Calgary] to get here, I don’t know,” says Clark. “But it happened. It was just something I knew I wanted to do.”
Following his dream, Clark attended the Alberta College of Art for three years after graduating high school. In his third year, Clark built up enough nerve to apply to design school, and received an acceptance telegram to the fashion design program at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ont., the first week of September. He remembers how people usually only received telegrams when somebody died or if a plane went down.
“I was accepted at Sheridan and I sat in my bedroom and bawled for three hours because I thought ‘how is this going to happen? I have no money,’” says Clark. “So my parents came through. Which is amazing because they did not get it, they did not understand their son wanting to be a fashion designer. I might as well have said ‘oh, it’s dance school, and I want to be a tap dancer for the rest of my life.’ It’s the equivalent.”
Now, after years of designing glamorous womenswear, Clark says he will bring knowledge and experience to his new position at Ryerson. After overcoming his own obstacles as a student to become the notable fashion designer he is today, he hopes to inspire the same desire in the fourth-year design students he will be mentoring.
“Hopefully working with me will be a new eye, a fresh conversation,” says Clark. “I’m not responsible for a mark, so hopefully they can come and talk, cry, be upset or anything that they want. And ask me what they think might be a stupid question and would never have enough nerve to ask an instructor.”
In addition to mentoring the students with their collections for Mass Exodus, an annual fashion show that showcases the fourth year fashion design students, Clark will also be available as a guest speaker for other classes. Clark says his best piece of advice for design students is that they should want this more than anything else in the world.
“You better want that because when everybody else is partying on Friday and Saturday night and you’re working, it’s a hard one to take. But if you want to be fabulous that’s what it takes,” says Clark. “If it was easy, everybody could do it.”
By the end of his year at Ryerson, Clark wants students to leave their mark as the university’s “best fashion design students,” and hopes every student is proud of what they achieve. For Clark, that feeling of pride will come when seeing the final 25 collections (five outfits each) at Mass Exodus. “Nothing would be nicer than 125 beautiful garments coming down the runway,” says Clark.
Until then, Clark is getting used to becoming a Ryerson Ram: he has already set up his RMail and familiarized himself with everything on campus. He keeps a mantra posted on one of the walls in his office, which reads: “May my arms be open to others, may my gifts be revealed to me so that I may return that which has been given.” True to the mantra, Clark’s success and determination will, hopefully, rub off on fashion design students achieve hoping to achieve his same lofty goals.
“A lot of people give up,” says Clark. “And then finally it’s you and the other two runner-ups, if you’ve got what it takes.”
“I wasn’t going to be a runner-up.”