It’s In His Genes

A fashion designer’s Alberta roots inspire his latest collection.

Sid Neigum’s childhood in Drayton Valley helped him get to where he is today.

Photography by Greg Pacek

Leggings, dresses and even scrunchies – as a kid, Sid Neigum remembers his grandmother, Sophie, sewing head-to-toe floral ensembles for his little sister at her rural Alberta home. His grandmother never used patterns; just a little imagination.

“I loved how she could create something from nothing in a matter of minutes with a measuring tape and fabric,” the award-winning fashion designer, born and raised in Drayton Valley, Alta., says from a downtown Toronto coffee shop.

Neigum credits Sophie – a seamstress – for influencing him to enter the world of fashion. Now, the 25-year-old is one of Canada’s hottest up-and-coming designers with his high-fashion frocks sold in boutiques in Toronto, Montreal, Los Angeles, New York, Seoul and Hong Kong.

His creations landed him a $25,000 prize as part of the Toronto Fashion Incubator‘s New Labels Award in 2012. He also scored studio space in downtown Toronto, where he worked up to 16 hours a day for weeks to prepare about 50 garments for his winter 2014/2015 collection lookbook, released in March.

His latest offerings – white, black and red monochromatic outfits made of nylon, silk, leather and cashmere from Italy, France and Japan – are definitely not looks typically seen in his hometown.

Many of Neigum’s designs are reminiscent of the work of doll torturer Sid Phillips from Toy Story, his cartoon alter-ego, for their all-black, goth-like appearance with exposed seams and sterling silver staples.

“When I started creating clothing I felt like I brought the same sensibilities (as Toy Story‘s Sid) to the table,” Neigum says. “No rules. Deconstruct everything and build it back up. Deconstruction is still a theme that I reference season after season.”

Called Jonathon as he was growing up, Neigum says the Pixar antagonist was his inspiration to change his first name to something that better reflected his personality. “I think I was maybe a less morbid version of that Sid growing up,” the designer says. “I took apart everything, and created new things. Took apart remote control cars, made model rockets, built all sorts of things and blew some of them up.”

Neigum’s grandmother also provided inspiration for his fall 2013 collection. He took a break from his usual monochromatic looks and created floral dresses, puffy coats and pants with high-end digital jacquard fabric from Japan.

Neigum says he didn’t always see himself in the fashion industry. In high school, he volunteered at a hospital and had planned on going into medicine. After graduating, Neigum moved to Edmonton and took sciences at Grant MacEwan University for a year while working at High Grade Clothing in West Edmonton Mall. But he realized he enjoyed going to work more than school, and decided instead to take fashion design at Marvel College.

Initially, Neigum says his parents – who still live in Drayton Valley – were shocked. “My dad was like, ‘There is no way you’re going to do this,'” Neigum says of his father, Darrell, who owns an excavating business.

Their doubt just made Neigum work harder, he says. In the fall of 2009, Neigum won Western Canada Fashion Week‘s emerging designer contest, and it was then that his parents realized their son could potentially make a living in the cutthroat fashion industry.

But, despite the prizes and accolades, Neigum’s career hasn’t been without ups and downs. He applied to Ryerson University’s fashion design degree program, but was rejected by the Toronto school. “It’s kind of funny now that I get emails from their masters program asking if I can take interns,” Neigum says.

After that, he ended up attending what he calls a “more prestigious school” – FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) in New York.

Neigum has taken over sewing clothes for the family from his grandmother, now 82, and makes coats and leggings for his his mom, Marie, and his 22-year-old sister, Kailey.

Kailey goes to university in Edmonton, but Neigum hasn’t been there in more than two years. He laughs when asked which area he used to live in. “Clareview,” he says.

“I’ve lived in New York and Toronto. But Edmonton is the only place I’ve had a gun pulled on me.”

Six years ago, Neigum says he was on the Clareview LRT with his roommate and a few other girlfriends when a stranger pulled his shirt up to reveal a gun tucked in his jeans. But, aside from the gun ordeal, Neigum has fond memories of his time in Alberta. He met several of his best friends in Edmonton, who now live near him in Toronto.

In March, he debuted his fall collection at Toronto’s World MasterCard Fashion Week, while his proud parents looked on. Despite his parents’ initial shock, they haven’t missed one of Neigum’s fashion shows.

“He’s taken us all over. We have been to Vancouver and Toronto many times. And sometimes (his father) gets so busy, but he always takes the time,” says Marie.

Neigum sees his parents every Christmas in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, where his mom and dad live in the winter. But, even then, Marie says her son spends his downtime drawing designs while lounging by the pool.

“You want [your children] to be creative and you want them to be happy. And I think that’s what makes me happy – that he’s doing what he’s passionate about. It’s not like work.”

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