Kirsten Coplans thinks small. She lives and works simply in a tiny, eclectic Uptown matchbox of a house furnished with retro furniture and blooming collections: Chinese jewelry boxes with miniature drawers, Asian dolls, vintage glass casseroles patterned in fruity colors. Her studio, where she creates Pearl Clothing, her local line of beautifully crafted upcycled sweaters, blouses and skirts, is little more than a snug niche in the dining room. But it suits her better than a big, empty rental studio, she found: "I decided to take it all home, scale down and simplify," she says. "This is a small space, but everything is at arm's reach." It's not hard to imagine Kirsten sitting there at the sewing machine in the afternoon, with a cup of tea and a project, another piece of used clothing to which she can apply her particular magic.
That magic usually involves any of the following: the cutting and rearranging of old shapes, appliqued embellishments, decorative buttons and whimsical trims. So her process of making something old new again begins with the raw materials: "My favorite thing to work with is a tight-knit wool sweater; the fabric cuts and sews beautifully. And I'll buy anything with stripes. I love stripes." And though she started out using a lot of color when she first began upcycling clothes, customer demand taught her that classic and subdued tones sell better and has therefore simplified her color palette.
The concept itself? It's not exactly a new one: Lots of people are reconfiguring thrift store finds to give clothing new life these days. But for Kirsten, it's sort of in her bones. "My whole life, I've always liked recycled and vintage clothes of nice quality," she explains. She comes from a fine art background, but felt uncomfortable with that upward battle of the business of art, which can be tough and treacherous. "I learned," she says, "that people are more apt to buy a sweater for $50 rather than buy a piece of art for $50." Before breaking into her current cottage industry, Kirsten owned a couple of artsy businesses -- a retro/vintage shop in San Francisco and the now-shuttered 17th Avenue boutique Sparrow in Denver, where she first started selling her own hand-knitted wares. Since then, Kirsten has never stopped learning. Recently, she started applying her upcycling techniques to jewelry and has a case-full up for sale at Moondance Botanicals, 601 Corona Street.
"I would've never pictured myself in this place," she says. "I'm not a fashion person at all. I'm a maker of things. It's kind of a surprise, but a happy one: It all ties together in some strange way."
Although she spends lots of time hitting the thrift and vintage shops looking for fresh materials, Kirsten's not really big on shopping for herself. She wears her own reconstructed creations, often mixed with clothing by the local seamstress/designer Jil Cappuccio, with whom she enjoys a working relationship that's more symbiosis than partnership. Kirsten and Jil trade clothing back and forth and share booths at gift and craft fairs, a system that allows Kirsten to bring face-to-face feedback back to the studio with her. Otherwise, she says, "I get no feedback. It's like being in a vacuum."
When she does work with the public as a vendor, Kirsten perfectly shows off how to wear her clothes or mix and match them with Jil's. But what she wears in those situations doesn't differ much from what she wears everyday. "I'm not a big shopper," she explains. "I like to dress comfortably. I'm an active person: I'm always out walking the dog, I'm sewing. I have no rules for clothes -- it all goes together for me. I dress like those Chinese ladies in San Francisco, the ones who wear anything, mixing patterns and colors. That really seeps in.
"And it's not just the clothes," Kirsten adds. "You have to ask yourself, 'What's the style I'm looking for?'"
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Today, her style is well displayed: She's wearing Jil's beautiful paneled vintage fabric wrap skirt, which she loves and seems perfectly cut for her long, lean figure. Paired with that, Kirsten dons striped Parisian tights and vintage boots (another love she shares with Jil, who carries them in her Ogden Street boutique), and around her neck dangle layered silver necklaces, including a series of heart lockets, a strand of small silver beads with an odd pearl by Christy Lea Payne and a swallow pendant. It's everything she says she is: eclectic, comfortable and personal.
Find Pearl Clothing at the Jil Cappuccio, One of a Kinds, Limited Lines; Mona Lucero Design Boutique; Fancy Tiger; Peppermint; YesPleaseMore and other discerning locations featuring local designers; or visit Kirsten's Etsy page.
You can also buy Kirsten's appliqued-flower eProject Stitch Embellishments tutorial online from the Interweave Store.