Indie

Kelsey Randall’s Ruffles And Rhinestones Turn Musicians Into Fairytale Rock Stars

In Kelsey Randall’s world, rockstars are princesses and the stage is a fairytale. The Brooklyn-based designer specializes in sequin bodysuits, whimsical ruffles, and tulle dresses that poof out like cupcakes, garments that could’ve been lovingly sewn by a team of mice in a Disney movie. Randall dresses artists that sell out arenas and bands that play at bars. Her maximalist fantasy is one-size-fits-all, luxury wear that blurs the line between superstars and rising icons.

Randall grew up poring over high fashion and bridal magazines in Atlanta, Georgia. She attended the Parsons School of Design in New York, where she went on to work in retail and intern for designers like Prabal Gurung before launching her own line in 2015. Over the last several years, she’s found a home for her sparkling clothes and accessories in the music industry. Randall’s bespoke garments — which have been spotted on the likes of Lorde and Lil Nas X — come alive at a concert, on a red carpet, or in the pages of a glossy editorial.

Uproxx spoke with her about designing looks for the stage and the quintessential Randall rockstar.

Can you talk about when and why you started working with musicians?

I’ve always been obsessed with rock stars. That’s really what drew me to fashion to begin with: seeing Elton John, Cher, and Little Richard in these amazing performance outfits. Growing up, I equated fashion with music. When I started designing my own line, I decided to design for the people I would dream about wearing my clothes. So I’ve always designed with the stage in mind. I take a 360 approach. How’s a garment going to look from all angles? How will it move? How will the light hit it?

I made some custom tour looks for Japanese Breakfast’s Michelle Zauner several years ago. I dressed Lorde when I was just starting to become known for working with rock stars. Eva [Hendricks] from Charly Bliss was one of the very first musicians I designed stage looks for, things she could jump around and play guitar in. I love making stuff with lots of ruffles and volume. Eva and I are definitely a match made in heaven. When we met I felt like, wow I have a muse now.

How did that relationship come about?

I was sitting in the backyard at Trophy Bar, saw her from across the bar, pointed her out to my friend and said, “Now she would be a great Kelsey Randall girl.” He was like, “I just saw her band open for Tokyo Police Club. She’s a rock star.” So I went over and gave her my card. A few months later, she emailed me asking for an outfit for their show at Music Hall of Williamsburg. I was styling her for probably a year before I started making her custom garments. In 2019, I did all custom looks for Charly Bliss’ world tour and styled their album cover and the “Capacity” music video.

How can an outfit change a performance?

We go to a concert for the full experience, and so much that is visual. For me, the outfits on stage play such a critical role in the performance. Having the right outfit helps sell the world. If you’re a true fan of a certain artist or band, you want to be in that world. It’s not just about the songs, it’s about the whole mood. I think the clothes help set the stage.

You can just tell when someone’s on stage in an outfit that they feel empowered in. The energy is totally different. We call them performers for a reason, right? They create these mythical personas on stage. When I talk with the girls I work with about how they feel wearing my garments on stage, they always talk about feeling very strong and powerful, like they’re able to channel the energy from the clothes into the performance. So it’s a tool for both the audience and the musicians.

Can you talk about the process of coming up with looks for artists?

I’ll normally talk with artists about their vision and mood. Do they want it to be sultry and ‘70s or really girly and upbeat? A lot of the time these musicians have a clear vision about how they want to see themselves. We’ll usually look at pictures of other rockstars or movie stills and I’ll put together mood boards with all these references and fabrics.

I make the garments and we do fittings, and there’s definitely a lot that goes into fitting someone that’s going to be up on stage. They’ll bring their guitars and we’ll talk about arm movement, things like that. We have to make sure they’re comfortable to rock out and happy to be wearing these garments over and over on tour. They have to be road-ready, so I spent a lot of time looking for fabrics that are going to hold up for back-to-back performances

It’s almost like you’re making athletic wear

It totally is. Underneath the sequin bodysuits, it’s all stretch spandex with everything built-in. They have to be comfortable jumping around for a couple hours, and it has to look good the whole time.

Can you describe the quintessential Kelsey Randall Girl?

When I first met Eva, I remember she was sitting with a group of people and clearly commanding the conversation. Everyone was laughing and she was the center of attention. I think in general, the girls that gravitate toward my clothes are people who command a room. Definitely not a wallflower.

What was your most memorable experience working with a musician?

I feel like this whole interview is going to end up being about Eva [laughs]. But the most memorable experience for me was last summer when Charly Bliss played Radio City. I made her custom outfit and got ready and I was backstage with her and the friend that introduced us.

It was at the end of their world tour, so just getting her ready for that show and then watching them play was so special. I know how hard they’ve worked and just to be able to witness such a huge step forward for them was just so exciting. It definitely makes me a little teary even thinking about it now.

Tell me about working with indie musicians versus more high profile mainstream talent.

The indie musicians I work with really want to look and feel like rock stars. I love working with girls that aren’t afraid to embrace their feminine side. And it’s so fun getting to work with A-list celebrities like Lizzo and Lil Nas X, but those are situations where you’re working mainly with the stylist rather than the talent. I’m really grateful for those relationships, but you don’t get to have those one-on-one conversations about the vision because you’re working through their team. Still, it’s definitely so exciting to see stars that I admire wearing my work. I have to pinch myself.

Who would be your dream to dress?

I want to dress Orville Peck, almost more than anyone else. I love country music and he’s my number one glam gay country cowboy. I love a rhinestone cowboy, so he’s top of my list to dress.

Beyonce has worn one of my hats before, which was already, like, you know, I’m sobbing. But I would love to make some head-to-toe looks for her. If you could tell like seventh grade Kelsey and all her Destiny’s Child posters that she would get to do a look for Beyonce, she’d be so thrilled.

I’m sure you loved Destiny’s Child’s iconic matchy looks.

Of course! I love to do a head-to-toe matchy-matchy ensemble, which I feel like was one of the best parts about the early 2000s girl group dressing.

What’s your favorite stage look throughout history?

Anything Bob Mackie did is instantly iconic for me. I think he probably has more of an influence on my aesthetic than any other designer. I also love Diana Ross and Jagger’s looks. They just always got it right.

Do you find that your local Brooklyn music scene influences your work?

I’ve always gone to see friends’ bands play, not always knowing how good the show was going to be or who else would be on the lineup. Some of the best bands I’ve ever seen were tiny names that no one knew at the time. It’s important for me to work with small artists that I really believe in. Every single artist that emails me about wanting to work together, I’ll always listen to their music.

How has your work been affected by the pandemic and the lack of live music?

The majority of the work I do is for musicians, and it’s been quiet on the custom work without them being on tour. During the first few months of the pandemic, all I did was make masks to donate. It was such a difficult, scary time for everyone, but I’m glad I was able to like do something. But as time went on, people started getting excited again and filming music videos and doing live streams. It’s been a quiet year sales-wise, but I’m anticipating that once everybody can get on stage, we’ll get rolling again.

How do you see your garments existing in a post-pandemic world?

The core collection that I made during the pandemic, which I made with lots of tiny toys, was very wistful and has this childlike nostalgia for innocent, happy times. I think once we’re able to get back out in the world again, especially for the performers, they’re going to want to exude a lot of joy and go big. There’s going to be such excitement with the return to the stage and I think we’re going to go even more over-the-top. After spending the better part of a year in sweatpants, people are going to be ready to get into some high glamor moments.

High fashion and music are both meant to be like escapes. After the pandemic, it’s going to be all about fantasy. Of course, there’s going to be a lot of sadness, but you go to a concert to celebrate.

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