The second biggest fashion week in Canada, Vancouver Fashion Week draws designers from around the globe, but it also brings up-and-coming designers in its own backyard into the spotlight. One of the new local designers we were lucky enough to see on the runway this season was Kirsten Ley.
A new graduate from Blanche Macdonald’s Fashion Design program, Kirsten earned the school’s 2016 “overall achievement” award, and was given the opportunity to showcase her collection ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’ on the runway at Vancouver Fashion Week for the very first time.
The collection featured two main components: structurally bound leather and graceful silks. The leather craftsmanship was incredible, from the blazer with accentuated shoulders, to the seemingly flowing, molded bodices. We were fascinated to hear the story behind Kirsten’s work, which clearly had a story to tell. As it turns out, Kirsten’s collection has very much been a personal journey.
Diagnosed with scoliosis at the age of 13, Kirsten was put in a back brace for 22 hours a day, leaving only a few mere hours to do what she loved: dance, act and sing. Her collection became a way of expressing how she endured the confines of her disease (the bound leather), and how she would break free (the flowing silks) of it, shedding the structured brace; the juxtaposition of these fabrics was a metaphor for her daily life. Kirsten’s tireless work on the collection resulted in not only a meticulously crafted selection of fashion pieces, but was also a very cathartic experience for her.
A self-proclaimed nerd, Kirsten tells us she did a large amount of research while creating her collection, finding inspiration in vintage and modern anatomy diagrams. She found the visceral, grotesque nature of the diagrams particularly inspired the look of the leather featured in her pieces. To contrast this, however, Kirsten took inspiration from the ocean. Pearl-encrusted barnacles, flowing silks, and fabric contorted into “bubbles” make the second half of the garment look stunningly beautiful and liberated.
The one question that came to our minds as we watched Kirsten’s pieces on the runway though was “how does she make the leather do that?” According to Kirsten, ninety-five per cent of her collection is completely made by hand, even when it came to sewing stitches. For the bound bodices, she started with a giant piece of thick, raw vegetable-tanned leather, soaked it in a bathtub of hot water, before putting it over top of a body cast she had made of her own figure. Using elbows, knees and feet, she molded the leather, constantly wetting and heating spots to re-mold and dry it until after a week she had the shape she wanted. An incredible process, but one that paid off on the runway.
Her advice for other aspiring Canadian designers? Have a great work ethic. It doesn’t come easy in this industry, and Kirsten is up at 5am every morning to make her mark on it. She says the discipline is much easier, though, when you have the passion.
Stay tuned – Kirsten is also working on developing a ready-to-wear line!
Britta is the founder of VancouverVogue.com, a fashion and beauty blog based out of Vancouver, Canada. Britta is a prominent member of the Vancouver fashion and beauty community, and is also a luxury and lifestyle brand PR specialist with White Rabbit Communications.