In honour of Pride Month, we throw back to our story from 2009 about Canadian Fashion legend Wayne Clark, who discusses the struggles of aging in the youth-obsessed gay community.
I hate birthdays, they’re always disappointing. I mean, nobody gives me a Mercedes,” says Canadian fashion designer Wayne Clark, who turns 60 this year. “I want fur coats! I want jewelry! I want to be overwhelmed, and it never happens.”
While he kids about his wish list, Clark does admit being a little overwhelmed by a looming retirement. “My biggest fear is that I can’t earn a living — destitute and at the mercy of the world,” he says. “I have to face the reality that I may not be able to carry my groceries up the stairs one of these days, just like everybody else.”
Clark’s name is synonymous with the glamorous evening gowns that he has been whipping up for more than 30 years. Women as diverse as actor Jane Fonda and singing star Rihanna have all enjoyed the luxe elegance a Wayne Clark dress can bestow. Being part of the hit TV show Project Runway Canada helped introduce his work to a new generation of fashion followers and, like a lot of internationally successful designers, the client list is both long and loyal.
“I knew early on that fashion was the profession I wanted,” he says. “But growing up in Calgary, you might as well tell your parents you want to be a tap dancer.”
Luckily, his grandfather got him into the Alberta College of Art and Design, which led to fashion studies at Sheridan College just outside Toronto.
A stint with British fashion designer Hardy Amies followed in the 1970s — a man who knew a thing or two about how to grow old gracefully, as couturier-in-residence at Buckingham Palace for Queen Elizabeth II until his retirement in 2001. “He was either all in or all out, working really hard or not working at
all,” Clark says of his former mentor who died in 2003 at 93.
Fit and bright-eyed, Clark has enormous energy, epitomizing the young-as-you-feel attitude that eludes so many. But he has had his share of wars with the mirror. “You catch a glimpse of yourself and you’re shocked,” he says.
“There was this mirrored pillar out front of a store I had. One day, I thought, ‘Who’s that old man hanging around the lobby?’ and it was me! We are just not at all how we picture ourselves physically.”
Clark readily admits that the youth-obsessed gay community, generally so enthralled with image, may find it harder to get over the fact that it is getting long in the tooth.
But perhaps Clark’s 60th birthday won’t be too hard to take, armed, as he says, with a new retirement approach: to take better control of what is left of his life. But that Mercedes is likely a pipe dream. “I just want someone to give me a passport that says 1959 instead of 1949.”
A version of this article appeared in the September 2009 issue with the headline, “Thinking Pink,” p. 24.