One Ofs is the name of Bill Evans’ design company, denoting the “one-of”-a-kind items of clothing and furniture he creates. A former football player who got a business degree from Wake Forest, Evans learned to design furniture at Kewaunee Scientific Corp. in Statesville. He studied how to make clothing from tailors in London and Hong Kong, and sold Jaguar automobiles in Charlotte for 20 years, until retiring after heart surgery. Now he offers his wares at the Metrolina Antique & Vintage Market the first weekend of each month, and at the pop-up Vintage Charlotte.
Q. What did you wear in high school?
A. Navy blazers handed down from one of my uncles and gray slacks, rather than jeans and T-shirts.
Q. Did kids give you a hard time?
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A. Not really, because I was a football and basketball player, and president of the class, so I got more respect than ridicule.
Q. What’s the first thing you designed?
A. Shirts. I was still in college. If you study men’s shirts they have stiff collar and cuffs. I wanted shirts that were nothing but fabric. No lining in the collars, or in the cuffs.
Q. What’s the first significant piece of furniture you designed?
A. A three-piece grouping for Bloomingdale’s in New York City. It was 7-feet-by-3-feet cabinets, an entertainment center and a bar cabinet with a black lacquer acrylic finish, solid glass door fronts, special hinges made in Germany and knobs of custom-made marble by Walker Zanger out of Italy.
Q. How did furniture making morph into fashion?
A. My favorite subject in school was geometry. I saw a lot of things common to furniture and clothing. They both need to be the proper size, shape, angle, fit and finish for whatever body it is for.
Q. What do your furniture and clothing have in common?
A. The furniture I worked with was of boxes. A cabinet is a box. Probably the unique thing you can do in your kitchen is the hardware you put on your cabinets. That transferred to me in clothing. These buttons came from Mr. Tailor’s Button Shop in Soho in London.
Q. What do you look for in buttons?
A. Something vintage first. I try to find buttons that might pick up the colors in a fabric. The first place I started finding buttons was in New York City on East 62nd Street at Tender Buttons. They sell nothing but buttons, and they are cash and carry, no credit cards.
Q. What did you learn about style from selling Jaguars?
A. Any time you have a love of design you see things are a certain angle, a certain shape, the handwork and detail in the wood, and the colors they came up with, which are related to furniture and fashion. There is always a transference. Trends come from the runway, and the hot colors transfer into furniture fabrics and draperies and linens.
Q. How did you learn how to make clothing?
A. I met a bespoke tailor in England, William Craig, and he took me as an apprentice in the late ’80s. I’d spend a day Connock & Lockie and study fabrics – English woolens, Scottish tweeds, which were always my favorite – and studied how to cut the cloth, pattern making out of brown paper bag materials, stitching, sewing and linings.
Q. Did you study outside of London?
A. I took this trip to Hong Kong to find a perfect shirt maker and perfect suit maker and wound up with William Mo in Hong Kong and his associate Mr. Ho, who taught me how to make a pattern form that is common to Hong Kong and Shanghai. They had a standard pattern form for the jacket and trousers, and I’d adapt that by taking someone’s measurements and taking an existing garment that someone had that fit them fairly well. I worked one-on-one with clients. It was small-scale business.
Q. What inspired the riding cap you designed?
A. A lot of my inspiration comes from watching the black-and-white American movies from the ’50s. And I just love that period of English style from the ’30s and the ’40s. My favorite John Wayne movie is “A Quiet Man,” set in Ireland, and large as he is, John Wayne wears this big cap. So two ladies I met in Ireland made an oversize riding cap for me, and the designation is the Riding Cap.
Q. Describe one of your favorite bags.
A. It’s a black leather portfolio attaché that was custom made in Ireland, and I like it primarily because the brass clasp is the same clasp that Napoleon used on pistol holsters for his soldiers.
Q. Describe one you’ve designed.
A. It’s an oversized doctor’s bag that’s big enough to be a carry-on travel bag. I bought a very durable shiny pebble-grained leather made by Jutta Neumann in New York City, who did a lot of leather goods for Barneys.
Q. What does style mean to you?
A. To me style is a means to one’s own personal identification. Mine is eccentric but classic, attention-getting, but in a slightly avant-garde way.
Q. What would surprise people about your style choices?
A. That I’ve got enough confidence to wear them. Especially the trousers. They’ve been a trademark, especially starting at Jaguar, and the reason for a nickname that I’ve had for many years. The nickname is “Pockets” for two reasons.
Q. What are they?
A. My one style is high-waisted with deep pleats and cut up high in the back, and that would designate “high pockets.” But I also don’t like pockets, so I have high waisted pants with no pockets. It’s an old English style that goes back to formalwear when you wore a waistcoat over your trousers and didn’t want to have your shirt be seen.
Q. How has your English heritage influenced your style?
A. My grandfather came over from England at the age of 13 and again at 16, and he brought sheep over. He stayed to manage animal husbandry for the Lybrook farm near Winston-Salem. My grandfather used to shear sheep and later had a large dairy farm. He’d wear a three-piece English suit, so that’s been an engrained memory. The way things turned out, I do things with redesigned vintage tweed.
Q. Where do you find that?
A. From shops in New York and London to scrounging thrift shops. I took a trip to Amsterdam three weeks ago and found a collection of Harris tweed jackets, and I bought eight. It’s a registered fabric woven in the Outer Hebrides. They use a lot of natural plant colors. One is my size, and I changed it from single breasted to double breasted and put unusual horned buttons on it.
Q. What’s challenging about designing for women?
A. Designing to the shape. I’ve done jackets, trousers and shirts and hats. Going back to geometry, men, even if they are heavier, there still seems to be a straight line to deal with, and women have curves in a top and bottom direction.
Q. Do you have a favorite designer?
A. I’ve admired Ralph Lauren because he identifies with older British fashion, and if you look at his use of fabrics and the workmanship it is something I admire and identify with.
Q. How do you make a pair of shoes last?
A. On my mother’s side of my family, my grandfather was a dirt-farm tobacco farmer, and every Sunday he’d get up and polish and shine his shoes to go to church. He taught me how to shine shoes, and since I’ve been in high school any morning I go anywhere, one of my routines is to touch up or shine my shoes.
Q. Does what you drive make a statement about you?
A. I have classic Jaguars that I’ve loved and treasured for a long time. I needed an SUV-type vehicle, so what I’m enjoying driving now is a 2007 Chevrolet HHR, a small compact SUV that has a great seating position and great gas mileage and is reliable. The design takes me back to a wood-grained Chevrolet station wagon I used to drive in high school.
Q. I always splurge on …
A. My treat used to be to buy a really nice necktie when I travel, but I’ve matured enough now that I don’t splurge anymore. I have everything that I need and more ties than I can wear.
Q. Tell me about a prized possession.
A. It’s a stool, made of barn wood, well over 100 years old, made by my great-grandfather. It’s the stool my grandmother used to sit on to tie tobacco leaves onto oak sticks. It was refinished a couple of times by my grandfather and at least twice by my dad. I use it now as a magazine rack.
Q. What statement does a suit designed by you make?
A. Maybe I think of that along the lines of Jaguar cars. They are one of the cars that, each time you see one, you look at it twice. I like to think that the fashion pieces I design and wear bring about a double-take impression.
Q. What motivates your design?
A. To create something that stands out, and maybe gives a look that no one else has, as well as to be timeless and classic, something that you can easily wear 20 years from now as well as today. I don’t think the really skinny suits will be in 20 years from today.
Q. What are you most proud of?
A. My daughter Hilary. She was born with a really rare birth defect called gastroschisis, with no hope to live, but survived surgery, intensive care, and always wanted to be a vet. Now she’s an emergency medical veterinarian in Charleston.