Punk. Goth. Mod. You name it: Vancouver-based designer Wayne Elliott was all of those things and more back in London, England, during his hairdressing heyday in the ’80s. Which is why his clothing label Mitmunk is so heavily influenced by street culture. That said, don’t expect to find any ripped Union Jack Ts, safety-pin hardware, or bullet belts in his collections; his influences are a tad more subtle than that.
“When I was younger, I wanted to shock people,” recalls Elliott, who recently sat down with the Straight at a West Side café along with his business/life partner, Heather Joan Tam. “I wanted to say, ‘Hey, look at me and all my friends. We look so different—not from each other, but from everybody else.’ And I think the attention-seeking thing has never really left me. I’ve always been a bit of a…showoff, I suppose. But the older I’ve got, the more I’ve managed to control that and not be so overt about it.”
With those pared-down, edgy sensibilities in mind, the former hairdresser launched Mitmunk in early 2011 with a simple, yet wildly successful “East Van” T design featuring a black crow graphic.
“I was always a little bit embarrassed about starting off with T-shirts, just because it seemed like such a quick and easy way to get my designs out there,” says Elliott, whose clothing is carried at several local shops including Ayden Gallery (88 West Pender Street), Penelope’s (1009 Commercial Drive), and Forsya Boutique & Gallery (2206 Main Street). “But I had grander ideas, if you like. So I was really fortunate that one of my first designs sold massively well.”
Several months after his line of Ts ($25 each) took off, Elliott ventured into the wonderful world of leggings ($50 each). Again, his designs were very well received.
“I started to get panicky because our production levels are so small,” says Elliott, who hand-cuts every poly-spandex pair before sublimating his prints onto the fabric. “Usually we can do 25 leggings a month, but the demand has overtaken what we can actually produce.”
That’s probably because his patterns are so wildly unique, they require a double-take to figure out exactly what they are. His first design, for example, is based on an 18th-century woodcut of the human anatomy. But to look at it from afar, it just looks like a willowy navy print on a light grey background. For Elliott, out of all his designs, this pattern harks back to his punk-rock days the most.
“They kind of have the spirit of that period,” Elliott says. “When I first started selling them, a lot of people were like, ‘I love those. But I couldn’t wear them.’
“I think it’s because when you see them on their own and they’re isolated on a hanger,” he continues, “it’s like, ‘Whoa, that’s a bit weird—couldn’t pull that off.’ But you’d be surprised.”
He’s right. Don’t let the arteries and muscle tissue fool you—Tam rocked the leggings under dress shorts on the day of our interview, and they really are wearable and versatile. She looked cute as an indie-rock button.
Other highlights in the collection are the two Marbled Ink prints, which are based on various aqueous patterns found on vintage book endpapers—very arty, very cool. The most fashion-forward is the bright yellow Map of Paris design; as any trend forecaster will tell you, atlas-themed graphics are going to be all the rage in the near future.
As for Mitmunk’s future, Elliott—who plans on adding garments including dresses, jackets, and underwear—says, “The next stage for us is to increase production and expand the business.”