Style Q&A: Deitra Kalyn

If all the world is a stage, then, for Deitra Kalyn, the costumes we wear are the best part. A freelance costume designer for several local stage and TV productions, this small-town girl, raised on a farm just north of Edmonton, never thought a career in theatre was even possible. Her flare for design was evident, though, when, at the age of three, she began creating cardboard dolls and their clothing.

While attending art school at Grant MacEwan College, she dabbled in painting, textiles and a variety of other disciplines before moving to Calgary to complete her degree in painting at Alberta College of Art + Design. During her final year, Kalyn got a job at the Auburn Saloon to help pay her way through school. A hangout for Calgary’s theatre types, it was there she not only found new friends but also a career path that really clicked.

“Through meeting people at the Auburn, going for drinks and becoming part of that scene, I realized, these are my people!” says Kalyn. “So, basically, I just tricked my friends into hiring me, or I worked for free with my friends in small companies and started to build some momentum. I weaseled my way in.”

Today, Kalyn can be found bouncing between productions for Theatre Calgary, Lunchbox Theatre, Alberta Theatre Projects, Vertigo, Ground Zero and Stage West, as well as working on commercials for big brands like Toyota and TransAlta. When around town pulling looks for shows or commercial shoots, Kalyn often finds herself in front of the lens as a street-style photographer’s dream. Her thrift-store finds and unique look, complete with lace tattoos, cement her as one of Calgary’s leading fashionistas.


Military jacket from Theatre Calgary’s costume sale; jeans by Versace from a vintage store in Vancouver; nautical top from Winners; necklace from H&M; bird earrings from Old Gold in Montreal; gold fish scale belt from Value Village.

What do you take into consideration when designing costumes?

You have to approach it a few different ways. Sometimes, the costume already exists, and so you just pull it for the show, and sometimes you are designing it from scratch. Then, in those incidents, you have to look at who the character is, what the theme is, what the time period is and then any practical things the costume needs to do — does it need to come on or off quickly? Does it get wet? Does it get dirty? Then you think, “OK, how will that translate to the people way up in the second balcony in the back as well as someone in the second row?” It really flexes a lot of design muscles.

How did you feel when you designed your first show?

My personality is that I prefer to get thrown into the deep end of things and learn as I go, versus trying to learn all of the steps ahead of time and put them into practical use. So, my first gig was great because they threw me into it and said, “You’ve got seven characters, 1960s, one of the actresses is pregnant and going to get more pregnant as the show goes on, so good luck.” Although I was very scared, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way because that’s when I shine.

What appeals to you about theatre in general?

I like that it’s personal. You create an environment that involves all the senses, and then you invite people to come watch it, and you get a genuine emotion. I love film, too, and I think movies do a really great job of that, as well, but there’s definitely a separation between viewer and artist in a film. Yeah, Brad Pitt can make you swoon and cry in a movie, but he’s probably on a beach somewhere right now not caring if he’s making you swoon or cry.

Where does your inspiration come from?

Everywhere. I love the hunt. I love hunting for the particular parts of an outfit. I love figuring out unique ways of making things. I think I’m inspired by day-to-day humans I see around town, my friends and blogs I follow. Snippets of all those things invent an idea for me, and then I see that idea everywhere, and it sort of cements itself. I am a firm believer that there is no real, original thought. I think we are all just sharing all these really great ideas that are floating around. I think it’s cool we’re all on the same page.

Sea foam blue blouse from Forever 21; lace skirt was a gift purchased in Hawaii from a friend; shoes, pearl bracelet and bunting necklace, all from The Bay; belt and white hoop earrings, both from MCC Thrift Shop.

Describe your personal style.

I have a short attention span, so my personal style is so many different, distinct looks. I don’t have a favourite look or colour because I like them all the same. I’m the kind of person that would never say, “I don’t wear that colour,” because I think that there is a way that you can wear it. I really just like fashion and clothes, so I want to do it all. I like to mix a lot of weird things together. “Schizophrenic” would be a good way to describe it.

How has your style evolved over the years?

I think I don’t jump on the trend bandwagon as quickly as I would have done in the past. I now go for more classics as opposed to more on-trend things. I still like trendy things, though. I definitely buy less, but the things I buy now stay in my closet longer. When I was younger, it used to be about quantity, and now it’s about quality. Not so much about spending more dollar bills, but the pieces I do buy are more versatile or classic or more useful in my wardrobe.

What’s your go-to piece in your closet?

White V-neck T-shirts. I have about 12 in my wardrobe. If I’m ever having a bad day or feeling bummed or down, I will buy myself a crisp, white, V-neck T-shirt. There’s just something about it. When I am styling people and they ask me, “How will I ever wear this, Deitra?” I always say, “With a white V-neck T-shirt.” I do question myself and say, really? A white T-shirt again? But I just really love them.

Is comfort important when it comes to fashion?

I’m not a person who every once in a while wears a fancy little outfit and then the rest of the day wears running shoes. I never wear running shoes. They feel weird. I definitely feel that fashion is over function — to a fault, sometimes. I often will have an actor in a fitting who won’t like the way something is fitting because of the fabric, and my first instinct inside my head sometimes is “Suck it up, because it looks really great.” But then I think, “Well, you actually have to do stuff on stage and lift your arms, I guess.” My first instinct is to suffer through things for the fashion of it.


Blue floral blouse from a thrift shop in Invermere, B.C.; long printed skirt from Value Village; rhinestone earrings were a gift from a friend; Moroccan gold bracelet was a gift from a boyfriend; clear and orange bracelets are heirlooms from grandmother; orange beaded necklace from MCC Thrift Shop.

Do you have a favourite fashion find?

There are lots of things. Last summer, I found a $5 silk Yves Klein blue silk skirt at Value Village. It has pockets. I am obsessed with it, and I can’t wait for it to get a little warmer so I can start wearing it more. These boots that I got at Winners, too. I think because I find so many great things so often, I have a new favourite fashion find each month. I’m striving to be able to open my closet and have a deep emotional connection to every piece and think, “Oh, I remember when I got that on sale or when I found that.” I love the thrill of the find.

Why is fashion important to you?

I think, in 2013, we’re such a visual culture now. We’re all trying to assert our independence, assert our strengths and show we’re confident. So I think what you wear and how you present yourself shows the world what kind of person you are. I love that I still see 1980s punk rockers rocking legit mohawks with studded jackets, and I love goth kids, and I love the whole hipster generation. I think fashion is something you put on the outside of your body, and you can see other people that look like you. It’s a weirdly primal way to connect with people like you.

What does the future hold for you?

I’d like to just keep doing the same thing, but more. I want to do bigger shows, I want to travel more with it, and I want to see the world. I’d love to design big feature films or large stage productions. I’d love to do a travelling Broadway show, and I want to do more dance. There are so many disciplines that I haven’t tapped into yet. I can’t foresee myself doing anything else, and I don’t really want to. I will work until the day I die, and I plan on living to 104, so I have a lot of time to do a lot of things.

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