Kirsten Ley won more than the Award for Overall Achievement at Neon Dreams, this year’s Blanche Macdonald Fashion Design Graduate Show. She also received one of the all-time great complements from Executive Program Director Peggy Morrison (not someone known for distributing praise lavishly), who declared Kirsten, “the Student of the Decade.”
Since then Kirsten’s been busy preparing to conquer the world with her eponymous label. And it’ll be little surprise if Kirsten Ley becomes a household name in fashionable homes within the next five years. She’s practically Wonder Woman.
“I get up at 5am every morning and go to bed around 2am every night,” she explains. “When I was in the Fashion Design program at Blanche Macdonald I also had an internship and was teaching yoga every morning. I'm a night owl and a morning person. I find my relaxation and rest practicing yoga. I get enough rejuvenation from that to compliment my sleeping schedule, or lack of one!”
Channelling her endless energy directly from the universe (rather than the traditional method of sleep we mortals use), Kirsten’s intellectual approach to creativity knows few bounds either. Her brilliant graduate collection juxtaposed concepts by matching the constriction of leather body casts with the free-spirited escapism of billowing silks.
“One of the ideas that sparked this collection was my own personal experience,” continues Kirsten. “I was diagnosed with scoliosis when I was 13 and was put in a back brace for 22 hours a day. I was an actress, dancer and opera singer and the only time I was out of the brace was when I would dance, sing or perform. The dichotomy of the bound leather garments with the flowing silks is like breaking free of the confines I grew up with, which is one reason why I called my collection ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being.’ That’s one of my favourite novels too. Milan Kundera took Nietzsche’s idea of eternal return, which I think is relevant to the cyclical nature of fashion.
“I’m also intrigued by the way the Victorians drew their anatomy diagrams. These diagrams were not just medical but extremely artistic and beautiful in a grotesque way. I was drawn to them in my own collection. The predominant colour in my collection is oxblood, and I jokingly refer to my leather bodice as a ‘skin suit’ because it reminds me of these Victorian Illustrations and the peeling back of layers of skin to reveal what lies beneath.”
Physical and creative super powers are helpful, but Kirsten insists she couldn’t have scaled her award-winning heights without the assistance of the Team at Canada’s top Fashion School.
“I loved my time at Blanche. I would do the program over and over again. I loved everything that the faculty continue to offer. I hear a lot of grads say that you get out of this what you put into it. That’s absolutely true. I wanted to work my butt off and make something of my time here. The faculty and staff have gone above and beyond helping me at school and after graduation.
“Tyler Udall, from our first meeting, completely understood me. He has the ability to see the final picture and to visualize it on the runway before a needle has been brought to fabric. His illustrious experience in the industry warrants complete respect and he helped elevate my garments to a professional level. I have the utmost respect for him and I’m honoured by his belief in me.”
“Peggy Morrison is an incredible woman with a massive wealth of knowledge about every designer you could possibly imagine. Picking her brain opens up a Pandora’s Box into the insides of the world of fashion. Her classes amplified my designs through learning different details from the past. Her approval and support truly meant that I was doing something right because she doesn't sugar coat anything. She’s been a pillar of inspiration.
“Sara Armstrong’s ability to see things differently and from an artistic perspective helped me eternally with my drafting and construction process. Most of my pieces aren’t traditional and Sara helped me achieve what was in my head in a non-traditional way. I’m forever grateful that we had the gift of Sara as our teacher because she allowed me to experiment in my own way. She gave me the confidence to trust my own gut instinct.
“Mel Watts has been absolutely incredible. She was a ray of sunshine when the world seemed to be crumbling down around me. She keeps the wheels running and she has a work ethic to be envied and admired. I have massive respect for Mel and her support for me has been incredibly humbling.”
Kirsten’s kind words reflect her deep affection for her year at Fashion School. Now she’s showing the same levels of enthusiasm and passion as she looks to the future and focuses her considerable talents on her own label. She’s off to an incredible start, having been invited to show her first collection in the ‘Emerging Designer Series’ at this year’s Vancouver Fashion Week.
“I get to completely curate my show. I’m provided with hair and makeup artists, models and a sound engineer. It’s a dream come true so soon after graduation. Things have started to move at a faster pace than I initially expected them to, but that’s how I like it. It’s exciting to have a very attainable goal in the near future.
“I designed four entirely new looks which weren’t in my original portfolio. I feel that I’ve already evolved as a designer; so sticking with my designs from six months ago didn’t fit where I wanted to go. The inspiration is still the same. This is a continuation of the same collection, but it’s the evolution.”
The garments Kirsten sends down the runway at Vancouver Fashion Week represent far more than her fashion sensibilities. They’re the next step on a deeply personal creative journey. And even she doesn’t know where that will lead her.
“I wouldn’t be completely happy if I didn’t give this a shot. I know it’s tough out there to start your own label, but I feel that I couldn’t ignore this urge to explore. I need to purge these designs and I feel that the world could benefit from my perspective. I hope that people enjoy my work and more importantly, that my designs make them feel beautiful and powerful. I want to offer a strong perspective of female empowerment and statement pieces.
“People want their individual voices heard. How you dress has a lot to do with that. We all know that when you feel beautiful, you become more confident. I simply want to help my clients get to that point of self-love. The future is bright and my work ethic, determination and optimistic spirit will drive me through to greener pastures. You have to work hard to get what you want. I'm not stopping until I get there!”