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J'AIME MARCH 2020

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  • Ensure
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  • Coldfield
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  • Gill
  • Sutton
Your local luxury lifestyle magazine

F E AT U R EEnduring

F E AT U R EEnduring styleSUTTON COLDFIELD FASHION DESIGNER AND ORIGINAL MOD GIRL GILL EVANSCATLING CHATS TO AMY NORBURY ABOUT HER SIX DECADES AS A PIONEER OF STYLEShe was the Original Mod Girl; a pioneer of theclassic 60s style which became synonymous withMod culture all around the world. And now, aftermore than six decades in the fashion industry, SuttonColdfield fashion designer Gill Evans Catling isproving she’s as relevant as ever.Last year, the vivacious 75-year-old was namedBirmingham Fashion Designer of the Year at theCorporate LiveWire Prestige Awards - an honourwhich cements her status as Birmingham’s very ownMary Quant.“It was a fantastic accolade, and lovely recognitionfor all the years I’ve been doing this,” said Gill whenwe caught up at her Little Aston home, which housesthe studio for her ModTogs and Gill Evan Designslabels.Fantastic as the accolade may be, it was one Gill verynearly missed out on; she ignored initial emails tellingher she’d been nominated and inviting her to send ina portfolio of her work for consideration.“Every day I look through emails for the business,and I saw that I’d been nominated for a corporateaward back in May last year,” she explains.“But sometimes you just don’t know if these thingsAN ICONIC SHOT OF GILLFROM THE 1960Sare real, so I ignored it.”The awards team tried contacting Gill again, andthen again, to no avail. And it was only when Gilland her husband Stuart decided to investigate furtherthat they discovered it was genuine.“They asked for details about the business, andI put a portfolio together of all my work over 50years. I sent it off to them and they said it was veryinteresting and they would be putting me forward tothe panel of judges,” Gill says.Happily, Gill’s efforts paid off and she was presentedwith the award at a ceremony in October, with Stuartby her side.Stylish and polished, Gill is a walking beacon of Modstyle and a true icon of the fashion industry. Withher trademark black bob and classic 1960s dress, sheremains as much a masterclass of the Mod look nowas she was 60 years ago.Mod fashion was creative and innovative, bold andbrash; an antithesis to the elegant and restrainedpost-war fashion of the late 1940s and 50s, as6

exemplified by Dior’s New Look. The 1960s usheredin an attitude of ‘anything goes’ and the shiftingpolitics of the day were reflected in the outlandishnew fashions, with jaw-dropping hemlines andcolorful prints making a serious statement.Mostly, the Mod look was iconically British; wherethe UK led, the rest of the world followed.And Gill was at the forefront of the revolution, oneof the original creators of the modernist style.Fashion has been a huge part of Gill’s life for as longas she can remember. Her mum was a designer anddressmaker, while her father ran a sewing machineshop in Birmingham, as had generations of thefamily before him. A Singer sewing machine tookpride of place on Gill’s bedroom floor.After winning a scholarship to art school in Moseleyin 1957 at the tender age of 13, Gill undertook athree year course where she studied Dress Designand Dressmaking, Pattern Cutting and the Historyof Costume.“In late 1958 I started to become very interested inthe Italian and French style of clothing, which wasvery simplistic and very stylish,” she says. “I starteddoing some designs, and by 1960 when I was leavingart school I’d put together this look, which I calledthe Continental look, and I put together a collectionof clothes which I designed and made up for myself.”Long before Twiggy broke onto the scene, Gill hadalready created the first mini dress in 1959. So shortthat stockings were completely out of the question,she also fashioned the first pair of tights by sewingthick black stockings to matching black knickers, athrowback to the doublet and hose of Elizabethantimes and a creation she dubbed “stockings-onknickers”.“I started wearing my designs and people used tothink I was really odd, because I was wearing clothesthat nobody else was wearing. People used to stopmy mum in the street and ask if I was all right in theGILL COLLECTING HERBIRMINGHAM FASHIONDESIGNER OF THE YEARAWARD WITH HUSBANDSTUARTSOME OF GILL’S ORIGINALDESIGN SKETCHEShead,” laughs Gill.“But I found it very exciting when people stared atmy outfits and passed remarks about them, even ifthey weren’t complimentary. I wasn’t bothered as I’vealways been very confident and believed my ideaswere right.”Shortly after leaving art school Gill met her firsthusband, Del Evans, hanging around in the jazzclubs and cafes of Birmingham, brought together bytheir mutual obsession with style and music.“Del was into that beatnik art student look, he wasvery stylish,” says Gill. “He’d come up with designsfor suits and I’d sketch them out so he could havethem made-to-measure in tailor’s shops.“For my own clothes, I’d always be cutting out thingsand making them up on the Singer hand machine.We became known as The Continentalists, beforethe term ‘Mod’ was ever coined, because we wereinterested in French and Italian styling.”It wasn’t long before Gill built up a following forher designs, first advertising with a card in thelocal newsagents, before designing and selling toboutiques.“On a Saturday Del and I would set out with bagsof clothes and just go and sell them all,” says Gill. “Ihad regular customers who owned these boutiques,and they’d often say, well we sold out everything so7

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