BY JARED GRABOW
PHOTOGRAPHY WILLIAM LORDS
It’s a beautiful sunny mid-70’s spring day in Brooklyn with a cool breeze. The late-twenties version of a Viggo Mortenson-doppelganger, Evan OHara strolls into the studio with a smile and a mysterious edge, looking like he just got off a Harley. But there’s no helmet in sight. After a firm handshake and a few minutes of pleasantries, we sink into a leather couch for a relaxed chat – the kind you have with your buddies over a beer. Evan reaches into his bag and pulls out the secret weapon, and the reason why we are all here- a newly-minted designer alligator leather jacket that would be loved from Tom Ford to Harrison Ford. “It’s wearable luxury. It makes a bold statement, but you could still wear it into the bodega” he says. Well, at starting prices around $10,000, maybe a bodega in SoHo.
If it would be up to Evan, you’d know about Vereda, an up and coming NY-based womenswear fashion company, but you would have never heard of him. “I don’t want it to be about me”, Evan sits back in the sofa to explain. “I want it to be about the work”. And that’s a good starting place to understand Vereda’s charm. Evan crafts his responses to questions much in the same way he probably runs most things in his life – insightful, yet terse, with an equally balanced focus on efficiency and quality. But unlike Evan’s friendly yet quiet style, his jackets and accessories do plenty of the talking.
While growing up in Florida, Evan caught the “Big-Apple” bug early in life and always knew he wanted to move up to NYC – but the “why” part would come later. “I knew I just had to move here – I had a calling”, Evan remembers. “I never really set out to do fashion”, Evan explains. “Fashion found me”. Evan first started out doing odd jobs and various gigs to get by, including working as a DJ in some NYC’s top nightclubs. Then Evan hit his first big break – landing a design job with the illustrious Vera Wang. “It was my first ‘real’ job. She’s super intense, but it’s also probably where I learned the most”. Evan began honing his craft, learning and mastering the basics of design. He started out working in the ready-to-wear and bridal segments, but soon Evan rubbed shoulders with some of the designers in the fur division, and a new passion was born. “I became obsessed”, Evan confesses. Evan’s strong attention to detail in his design work in fur was well-received, and it soon brought him respect and acclaim. This success opened the door to other opportunities. Next he started designing leather jackets and garments, even working with exotic leathers like alligator and crocodile. To Evan, the alligators were especially appealing, tying him back to his Central Florida roots. But it also turned out to be perfect timing. At the turn of 2010, exotic leathers like alligator and crocodile were starting to make a huge comeback. After a few down years during the last recession (’06-’08), some analysts estimate the market for exotic leather skins has grown over two to three times in just the last five years. The heavyweight names in fashion are quickly positioning to play catch up to meet the growing demand. Last year, luxury-brand LVMH invested over $2.5 million to buy an Australian crocodile farm to ensure they could maintain a steady supply. And if you want the crocodile leather version of the Hermes “Birken” bag, good luck. It will run you $50,000 – and a 5-year wait.
Due to limited supply, the big luxury brands have long held a strong competitive advantage in the space, acting as a natural barrier-to-entry limiting would-be start-up designers from having a chance to break in. But don’t tell that to Evan. Just last year, passion and opportunity met, and Vereda was born. Named after the street he grew up in, Evan wanted to channel everything – his roots, passion, and expertise into the company. And unlike some of the other luxury brands that are racing just to get a product to the booming market, Vereda’s not in a hurry. The focus has always been on quality first. While working alongside various friends and partners in the past, Evan knew that to do it right, it had to be his. “I’m involved with every step of the process”, Evan says. “Not many designers can say they produce their own leather. I’m also doing a good portion of the tanning and skinning”. Many alligator leather manufacturers rely on farm-grown product. Evan prefers sourcing his own leather the old fashion way – he hunts the alligators in the wild. Building relationships with hunters spanning from Louisiana to Florida, Even frequently joins them on hunts. He then personally hand selects every skin, while taking extra care to make sure no part of the skin goes unused. The authenticity of sourcing the product sometimes comes with extra scars or marks in the leather, which brings credibility to the skins by demonstrating real life wear and tear that the animals had in the wild. “The alligator leather-making process really takes a while. And it’s an art”, Evan explains. “First, there is really only one month a year you can even hunt them. Then, I’m picky and only take the best. The leather production part – tanning, skinning – then takes another year”. This is just one of the reasons that if you’d like one of Evan’s products, it pays to be patient.
Perhaps the biggest reason a Vereda jacket commands a steep premium is you are buying something with Evan’s touch. He sums it up as only he can. “I’m stubborn”, He pauses. “I want to make beautiful things. I stick to my guns – and stick to what I know”.