“I just had my bangs cut this morning,” Fiona tells me, “and my stylist said that I look like one of the Golden Girls.”
Purple hair? Check. Animal print? Check. Gaudy baubles? Check. By definition, Fiona Pepe does indeed look like she’s just stepped out of a pastel Miami Beach condo, but by definition only. In reality, her personal style is fabulously eclectic, and she describes it as everything from cabaret to mob wife.
Along with the Ballard Value Village and the antique mall above the Burlington Coat factory on Aurora, one of her favorite places to shop, in fact, is the Fremont Flea Market. She especially likes the set up in the parking garage. “I love that lady in the back with the huge trays of brooches,” she says, smiling.
A 24 year old Seattle native, Fiona Pepe is a dancer, fashion stylist, and up and coming photographer. She’s also very much a Sagittarius, a wanderer in spirit if not in practice. Sort of a pop-culture jill of all trades. Fiona has been dancing at Can Can for the past five years, three nights per week, spending the remainder of her time focused on her photography career. I ask if she’s making money as a photographer now.
“I’m working on only paid projects, for the most part,” she says. “I’ve also started working with Crafting Culture, a local blog and online shopping site, for free, but they’re just awesome people – artsy and great.”
She’s also been working for some local modeling agencies, she says. “I’m one of their go to photographers for new models, so I work with a lot of young models, people that don’t have a portfolio yet. It’s just me and them. I do their hair and makeup, and get them comfortable doing their first photo shoot ever.”
And that’s the thing with her. As a stylist and a photographer, she’s just as comfortable doing her model’s wardrobe, hair, and makeup as she is staging a shoot and taking the pictures. As a dancer and performer, she’s just as comfortable on the other side of the camera, as well. It’s this sort of combination that makes her work so personal. And really stand out.
“It’s fun to make someone else look beautiful,” she says of her art. “It’s fun to completely forget about myself and just do art, and make someone else look amazing.”
“It’s fun to completely forget about myself and just do art, and make someone else look amazing.”
Fiona’s talked before about moving to New York, or perhaps Europe, at some point in the future. It’s understandable. She’s a fashion photographer. She needs to go where the fashion is, and nobody’s really talking about Seattle designers. I ask her why she thinks that is.
“I don’t think the excitement is there,” she explains. “There’s a portion of the community that really really likes dressing up, but as far as being larger than life and really taking it there, the community is not as stoked on supporting it, or buying it, or going to see it.”
And a place like New York doesn’t display the same fashion malaise that can often be seen here in the Pacific Northwest.
“If you go to New York and people are chic, and they’re into being fashion forward, it’s a different energy,” agrees Fiona.
Hence the visible talent drain from Seattle to places like New York and San Francisco. I ask her what would inspire people to stay.
“If a core group really stayed and built more of a scene of people working and making money, I think it would grow,” she says. “I think that kind of pressure is good, in terms of making people reach those next levels. Here, there’s a couple people that stand out, but I think it’s possible. I think it’s a really cool idea, because I like Seattle. It is slightly discouraging to feel like there’s a ceiling that’s so close. I think everyone just needs to think outside the box a little bit more, because what’s outrageous here in fashion is so not outrageous.”
Her frustration is obvious, as is her love for this place. This love/hate relationship with Seattle is so, very Seattle.
One source of Fiona’s frustration could stem from how much her own personal style transcends the muted Seattle palette.
“I don’t like being toned down, and I’m horrible at buying functional,” she state. “I don’t have anything with a hood that’s practical. I can never buy workout clothes. For some reason I just can’t shop for practical things. I just don’t like looking boring. It’s not like it’s anything I need to prove to anyone. It’s just not me.”
When asked about her favorite designers, she drops the name Alexander McQueen without hesitation. I can see where she likes his work, but feel compelled to point out how his own personal style was pretty boring by comparison.
“Isn’t that interesting,” she says.
I follow up by asking about who’s personal style she really likes or is influenced by, and she confesses to being a total glitter queen, naming the likes of former Seattleites Stella Rose and Kindra Meyer, along with Yeah Yeah Yeahs singer Karen O.
“I would definitely say she’s a style icon for me,” Fiona admits, freely.