Metro Vancouver, B.C. – Ivan Sayers is not your stereotypical fashionista.
For starters, he describes his style as conservative, an assertion reinforced by his grey chinos, white shirt and black oxfords. If it’s possible to scream “quiet dignity,” they do.
And secondly, except for underwear and socks, he eschews new clothes, opting instead for thrift store finds to fill his closet – and most every other room in his house.
“I buy recycled clothing as much as possible,” says Sayers, who has been acquiring clothing exhibits since high school. “It’s absolutely criminal to waste something because someone else used it first. As a collector, it’s also my livelihood.”
“Collector” is somewhat of an understatement. A fashion historian, Sayers has been amassing vintage women’s, men’s and children’s apparel for decades and now has one of the biggest privately held collections of vintage clothing in the country. He’s acquired hundreds of articles from thrift stores and many others have been gifted to him by people who are comforted knowing he will treat their pieces as the treasures they are.
Sayers views fashion as a remarkable reflection of society aesthetically, politically, economically, socially and technologically. It’s a subject worthy of significant study, and so Sayers has been sharing his insights with post-secondary students and members of the public through guest lectures, exhibits and collaborations with community groups and other organizations since the 1970s.
This dedication and Sayers’ special relationship with the Wilson School of Design at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) has earned him an honorary degree from the university. It will be presented next month at KPU's spring convocation.
“We are indebted to Ivan for the knowledge he’s passed on to hundreds of students from our Wilson School of Design,” noted KPU President and Vice-Chancellor Dr. Alan Davis. “He takes an anthropological approach to the history of fashion and uses clothing to tell a story. Our students are fortunate to benefit from his engaging teaching style and remarkable breadth of knowledge.”
Sayers is a well-known presenter and expert speaker (someone once stopped him on the street and said, “Hey, aren’t you that guy with all the dresses? I saw you on TV”) and he’s sometimes booked two and three years in advance. Still, he always makes time for KPU design students and for more than 30 years has developed lectures for students and faculty illuminating the elusive movement of trends impacted by the various socio-cultural events of each era.
Sayers continuously shares his private pieces with KPU to help illustrate apparel design, construction, marketing and historical research. Through his commitment to these lectures, students gain respect for and learn from history so as to plan for the sustainable global future of the apparel industry.
Students are riveted by Sayers’ assessment of clothing as the most personal of all artifacts that survive long after their owners have passed.
“Clothing can interpret the aesthetics of the moment and speculate on attitudes about women and morality,” says Sayers. “Clothing can also illustrate technological advances like the introduction of machinery – for example, you couldn’t make hoop skirts until you had spring steel.”
Sayers also explores clothing’s often global journey: designed in one country, sewn in another, purchased and worn new in another, and finally worn used in a Third World country until threadbare.
Every piece of clothing has something to say, but it’s the vintage items that have taken up most of the rooms in Sayers’ home, and those which he hopes to one day see in a museum of clothing and textiles. He has men’s clothing from 1730, women’s clothing from 1750 and children’s clothing from 1850. One of his most recent pieces – a Christmas gift from fellow collector Claus Jahnke – is a Coco Chanel navy blue wool suit, circa 1954.
Of his honorary degree, Sayers couldn’t be more thrilled with the distinction. He notes that Europeans value academic credentials quite highly, and he hopes to use his newly minted honorary degree from KPU to leverage himself an exhibit there by 2017.
“They are sticky about credentials there,” he smiles.
Sayers was curator of history for the Vancouver Museum between 1976 and 1990 and an honorary curator of the Society for the Museum of Original Costume. He currently works as a professional fashion historian consultant.
Honorary degrees are awarded to those honoris causa in recognition of dignified achievements or outstanding service to the public. Nominees are exceptionally distinguished scholars, creative artists, public servants, people prominent in the community and the professions, and others who have made significant contributions locally, nationally or globally. Last week, KPU announced honorary degrees to be given to the five founders of the Langley Community Music School.
Kwantlen Polytechnic University has been serving the Metro Vancouver region since 1981, and has opened doors to success for more than 250,000 people. Four campuses—Richmond, Surrey, Cloverdale and Langley—offer a comprehensive range of sought-after programs, including business, liberal arts, science, design, health, trades and technology, horticulture, and academic and career advancement. Over 19,000 students annually have a choice from over 124 programs, including bachelor’s degrees, associate degrees, diplomas, certificates citations and apprenticeships. Learn more at www.kpu.ca.
Photo caption: Ivan Sayers with a vintage Chanel suit he acquired at Christmas.