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Wearable art: Papa Love Vintage & Illusive Artworks partner on Pride-themed clothing collection
Annalee Yerxa of Illusive Artworks and Kez Garber of Papa Love Vintage have collaborated on a handpainted vintage clothing collection in honour of Pride. Photo: Baiba Zandmanes courtesy Papa Love Vintage/Illusive Artworks

Wearable art: Papa Love Vintage & Illusive Artworks partner on Pride-themed clothing collection


A hand-painted vintage clothing collaboration explores themes of queerness and mental health

Pride is more than a month on the calendar — which is why a new clothing collaboration between a Toronto vintage shop owner and an Ottawa artist aims to celebrate queer identity and self-growth all year long.

Kez Garber of Papa Love Vintage and Annalee Yerxa of Illusive Artworks dropped their 18-piece Pride-inspired collection on June 19. Featured are vintage silk bomber jackets, cotton dresses, one-piece suits, T-shirts, and accessories, all sourced by Kez and hand-painted with designs by Annalee.

The intricate line work delves into themes of self-expression, identity, renewal and mental health, unified by the collection’s colour palette of pink, green, cream and blue — meant to signify a muted version of the rainbow flag and the growing season of spring.

Two people photographed from behind wearing shirts printed with leafy figures.
Annalee created complementary designs for the silk bomber jackets. Photo: Baiba Zandmanes courtesy Papa Love Vintage/Illusive Artworks

It’s a theme that’s personal to both Kez, whose shop is curated with what they call a “gender-free” inventory, and to Annalee.

“I believe that life becomes stagnant the moment a person stops growing or learning,” Annalee says. “I thought it could be especially interesting to explore this idea through a queer lens, as I myself came out as non-binary during the pandemic and found there was a great deal of learning and personal growth involved in just figuring out who I am.”

“The biggest part for me is the connection to mental health,” notes Kez. “It’s something I think everyone can relate to.”

A model wearing a plaid blazer and chain necklace laughs with a model wearing rainbow suspenders, graphic t-shirt, and black jeans.
“I’m still coming to understand who I am and where I belong in this beautiful community, and launching the collection during Pride felt like a way for me to affirm who I am, to emphasize the queer themes of the work, and to hopefully help others see how beautiful their journeys are as well, no matter where they might be in that journey,” says Annalee. Photo: Baiba Zandmanes courtesy Papa Love Vintage/Illusive Artworks

Clothing with a story

Each piece in the collection was designed with its own raison d’etre, which Annalee and Kez have highlighted in the product descriptions on the shop website. For a pair of 1980s dark blue silk pants, Annalee painted white-lined moths rising up from the knees, set against a starry sky.

“Moths remind me of the chrysalis process — the idea of allowing oneself to come completely undone, of re-evaluating core beliefs and ideas in order to re-emerge as a new, stronger version of yourself,” Annalee says. “I specifically chose moths and not butterflies as a reference to the freedom and expression found in queer nightlife. For some, especially historically, night was the only time they could safely ‘come out.’”

For a 1980s Japanese silk robe already sporting a flower pattern, Annalee colour-matched the green from the florals to their illustration of a reclined figure “in an effort to represent a strong connection to nature,” the artist explains in the product description, “while the pose and floating appearance are intended to emulate a sense of relief and freedom found in authenticity, in being our most genuine natural self.”

Closeup of a line drawing depicting floral elements and a human form.
“It's not one full freehand drawing; it had to be done very carefully,” says Kez of Annalee’s multi-step, layered line work. “Annalee did a really incredible job of actually looking at the piece and studying it for a while until the design came to them.” Photo: Baiba Zandmanes courtesy Papa Love Vintage/Illusive Artworks

The stories of the artwork layered with the histories of the vintage pieces are what make the collection so special, says Kez.

“Vintage itself has a lot of stories — when you get a piece, it's already had 100 stories before you've received it,” they say. With the pieces in the collection “you're going to add another story and pass it forward when you’re done with it.”

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Precision painting

The collaborators met at an art night at Kez’s studio in 2021 when Annalee, a multimedia artist who has painted on fabric before, experimented with adding line work to one of Kez’s vintage silk dresses. The result was so impressive that they hatched the plan for a joint project.

Annalee paid special attention to the fit and movement of the garment as they mapped out where each final design would be placed.

“For example, the Pink Tartan dress has colour contrast (black on white) and lots of length and clean lines, so I created a design with exaggerated, long lines for the flower’s stems, and lots of contrast in the colour selection,” Annalee says.

Detail of white shirt painted with yellow and pink flowers and three hands reaching upwards.
“I truly couldn’t be more grateful for the experience and having gotten to work so closely with Kez,” says Annalee. “It opened my eyes to sustainable fashion and how I could play my part as an artist.” Photo: Baiba Zandmanes courtesy Papa Love Vintage/Illusive Artworks

For several pieces, Annalee projected a digital sketch of the anticipated final design onto the stretched-out garment and used chalk or pencil to draw in an outline before using a mix of acrylic paint and fabric medium for colour. Others were sketched freehand.

“I do have to be more precise than a regular painting due to my technique, which leaves as much fabric as possible exposed,” says Annalee. “Many clothing painters will block out an entire area and then paint on the primed area, which makes it easier to make adjustments or fix mistakes. But the method I use preserves more of the fabric’s feel and movement.”

While Kez almost always recommends dry cleaning vintage garments, all of the painted pieces are machine-washable using the delicate setting if their laundry care tags permit.

A model with bright orange hair leans over while wearing plastic chain-link earrings and a baggy white t-shirt with the slogan "we all fall apart sometimes".
“My goal is always to create artwork that can be felt, as well as seen, and I just hope people will feel that I put my heart and experiences out there in these pieces and find some positivity in them,” says Annalee. Photo: Baiba Zandmanes courtesy Papa Love Vintage/Illusive Artworks

Fashion show forthcoming

Kez and Annalee had planned an in-person launch event for the collection in June to coincide with Pride, but had to postpone due to a scheduling conflict for one of their performers. They plan to host a fashion show in the fall instead to build on the buzz for the collection.

After six months sourcing, designing and producing the collection, the photo shoot for the finished pieces was a rewarding experience, says Kez, who did the styling and creative direction. They recruited a diverse set of models to represent a range of body types and genders.

“The most emotional part of it was actually seeing it come together in person,” says Kez. “The model's reactions — it was very emotional how they received the pieces. I think it was really emotional for Annalee to see their artwork on people. And that inspired me to figure out how I wanted to style them.”

Detail of a denim skirt painted with white hummingbirds and flowers next to an arm holding a tan canvas tote bag.
“We've already started talking about what the next collection would look like — where we want to go with it and which pieces were marked most excited about,” shares Kez. Photo: Baiba Zandmanes courtesy Papa Love Vintage/Illusive Artworks

Kez sought variation in sizing for the collection, choosing large bomber jackets that can be worn to fit or oversized, an open-size robe, silk pants with an adjustable waistband, and tote bags that anyone can use. Prices range from $20 to $463 — while the pieces are one-of-a-kind original artworks, it was important to the team to offer some products such as the T-shirts, an art print and totes at more accessible price points.

“I hope that this collection will remind people to continually learn and grow and move forward and to be proud of every step in their personal journeys — whether that’s about queer identity or not,” says Annalee.

“I hope people feel the uniqueness of it and the work that’s gone into it,” says Kez. “It's more than a piece of clothing. It's an experience.”

Join The Vintage Seeker, Papa Love Vintage and Illusive Artworks in an Instagram Live Q&A about the Pride Collection on Thurs. Jul. 21 at 7 pm ET. Bring your questions! Find more information on our Instagram page.

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