If you want to make a tutu you've got to grow a ruffle patch.
This is according to designer Kelsey Faery who—aside from being living proof that winged creatures of the forest exist—is widely known as “the tutu girl”. Kelsey's signature pieces—her circus-like tailcoats called Faery Tails, tiny top hats, ruffle leg-warmers and tutus—are becoming increasingly popular wardrobe staples for those travelling the West Coast summer festival circuit.
“Sewing” the seeds of creativity with a colour palette that puts a rainbow to shame, Kelsey is a DIY lifesaver of fashion, throwing a multi-coloured lifebuoy to the non-descript jeans and t-shirt automatons tangled up in the John-Doe-threads of mainstream trends.
She lives up to her name with her hue-phoric philosophy that life is more fun when you're rolling along with the colour wheel.
“The way I think of faeries are people who brighten people's day and lighten things up. They open people’s eyes to how much fun and good things there are in life.”
Her one-size-fits-all credo: the world needs more tutus.
Her mission is not a superficial one; wearing her costumes will lift you out of a funk and give the world a much needed rainbow paint job. Her productions are enough to make the colour-blind see. She even breaks down the barriers of colour discrimination and is careful not to express a favourite as it might offend the other colours.
Coming literally out of the woodwork—her first career was as a woodworker, she sold her first plywood creations to her parent's friends at 12—she started crafting while recovering from cutting part of her left ring finger off with a table saw while making a log picture frame when she was tired. Seven years ago, she made her first hat for the legendary 40,000-person Burning Man Festival in the Nevada desert. It was a basic pyramid structure covered with silk flowers and leaves. However, what launched her to underground circles of fame were her tutus that began as simple short affairs made out of a bit of crinoline and lace. She later developed longer elaborate tutus out of satin, lace, and organza which she named “Trutus” in homage to Judah Tru, the first boy she met who wore her tutus. She and six friends wandered around Burning Man camps in tutus for what became a regular tradition of celebrating Tutu Tuesdays. The celebration later became tea parties in Whistler and the legend grew from there.
It was shortly after her first “burn” that she hooked up with the Funginears, a trip hop band that wanted to borrow tutus from her collection for a beatboxing puppet show.
“They came up to Whistler to visit me [from the Sunshine Coast] and they saw my tutu collection. Not the ones I'd made but the ones I collected and they said, ‘I need to buy that one that one that one and that one’ and I was like, ‘Well, that's my tutu collection I can't sell them,’ and they were like, ‘You need to make tutus’.”
The head Funginear bought one of her costumes for his girlfriend and with the $600 she earned from the deal she planted what she affectionately refers to as her first ruffle patch.
Since 2007, Kelsey has been spending two months out of the year in a bungalow in Bali, outsourcing her line to a team of ruffle faeries who rustle up ruffles fast enough to feed her growing clientele. She then follows her shipping container back to North America where she weaves her way up and down the Canadian and American coastline from May to September. This year she'll trade in ski season on Whistler Mountain for her native Australia where she'll sell her “wears” on the circuit there , before making a stopover in Portugal for BOOMFest.
She uses recycled fabric, satin, lace and organza but the secret success of her ingredients is in the alchemy of how it all comes together: she adds time to make it timeless, a splash of majik dust, and lots of love.
“People look my work and say, ‘This is the most awesome thing I've ever seen. I've never seen so many ruffles.’ When people actually put them on and start moving around, it sort of swooshes people fall in love with it. It's pretty amazing. People are pretty awestruck. I think people don't realize that things like this can be created. They just expect clothing to be your everyday jeans and t-shirt and when they see something different that they can actually wear they are like, ‘I need some of this’.”
Kelsey insists that everyday wear should be a costume, that one doesn't need an excuse for over-the-top creative expression and shouldn't be shy about standing out.
“You could take that approach and say, ‘Oh you should wear it when you're out dancing on New Years' Eve or for Halloween,’ but what I say is, ‘Oh my sister has this tailcoat and she wears it to the grocery store and you should wear costume every day. Wear costume for no reason. If your feeling a bit glum, throw a tutu on and it'll give you a bit of juice for the day’.”
If this sounds opaque, one needs only to visit their studio—The Creation Station—at the Function Junction, Whistler's industrial warehouse park. She also welcomes those seeking creative asylum. Established seven years ago, Kelsey and her former partner, painter Chili Tom, moved to Whistler after leaving their basement studio, The Kitkat Ranch in Pemberton. Each wall in The Creation Station is painted a different colour and when you cast your eyes toward the ceiling of the 1500-square-foot warehouse you see nothing but the underside of tutus, suspended like man-made puffy sunset clouds.
Similar to how some might imagine the North Pole pre-Christmas, The Creation Station is a way for Kelsey to encourage people to craft.
“I guess what The Creation Station was about was having a place where people can come and make things and have someone there to inspire them and help them along with their projects.”
Not caught up in the tight-knit folds of the fashion elite, she is happy to go it alone, gladly stitching her unique style for a devout patchwork of followers without recognition.
“To tell you the truth I don't really aspire to be like any other designers. I admire a lot of the really amazing catwalk work where it's all really over-the-top elaborate pieces, but I really just enjoy doing my own work and I'm kind of already living my ideal life: people come to me with a chunk of money and say, ‘Make me something beautiful in this colour,’ and I do.”
Just as a faery would do.