"Elegance" is a word that keeps surfacing in conversations with fashion designer E. Willander Wells as we sit outside Broad Street bakery.
"I've always had an eye for clothing," he says softly, explaining what drew him to design. "I think it was my mother's influence—she's a cosmetician, and she's also a lady who's always dressed. Like in old, classic movies—back in those days, ladies really dressed. There was elegance."
The lifetime Jackson resident who grew up in the Georgetown area has been designing for 11 years. He began with men's wear, then quickly shifted to women's clothing. Evening gowns became his signature. "It's one-of-a-kind couture. Women love the romance of an evening gown."
Wells, who typically sketches his designs and sends them to a seamstress in Madison, introduces a new line of evening gowns each year. For his fashion shows, he says, "I'm always looking, all around town, for models who look unique. I'll approach someone and ask them to come see my gowns, check it out—I always tell them to bring other people, so they know I'm legitimate."
The E. Willander Wells collection evokes features dresses that experiment with length, shape, trains and often vibrant color. Past E. Willander Wells shows have taken place at the planetarium, the art museum and New Stage. On June 27, Wells' 2004 show, "An Evening of Elegance," will take place at Old Capitol Inn.
Pamela Junior, director of the Smith Robertson Museum and freelance fashion consultant, met Wells when she worked one of his shows. Trying to help Wells take it to the next level, working from his home base, Junior says: "Jackson has a tendency to let talent escape—it's a Mississippi thing. Mississippi is learning, though—we need to claim and support our own."
Throughout the region, Wells is beginning to get noticed. About his single gown in the 2004 Mississippi Spring Pilgrimage on the Coast, Wells says shyly, "It sort of stole the show; it was the only one that got a standing ovation." Wells, who will take his models and his gowns to San Antonio for a show next winter, plans a. boutique here in Mississippi.
The designer himself is behind the scenes, determined to make a name for himself, though initially quiet about his passion. But his soft-spoken manner won't hurt E. Willander Wells. His designs speak for themselves.
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