The fine-feathered Little Rock, Arkansas native, Laura Sessoms, is an actress, writer, and designer living in Astoria, New York. Since opening her Etsy shop, The Red Bird, she’s found great success selling several vintage pieces and her famous, feather creations. Killing two, ahem, birds with one stone, our Plaidy of the Week sat down with all plaidout for a Ten to One.
1. Write a haiku to describe The Red Bird.
tough times are still bright
so i said to my bright side
“spread your wings and fly”
2. Who is The Red Bird?
The Red Bird’s style falls on the playful, whimsical side of the spectrum. It takes personality and a fair bit of courage to adorn yourself with brilliant plumage, and the people responding to the line all have that sort of flair about them. The Red Bird is a little bit rock ‘n’ roll, too. She’s theatrical. She doesn’t want to blend in. All of the pieces, feathers or not, have a certain sense of humor, which plays up that side of my personality. You can’t take yourself or your situation too seriously, and the collection is a little nod to that notion.
3. Why feathers? Do you ever catch yourself sneezing?
Ever since playing dress-up as a little girl, feathers have always intrigued me. There’s just something so beautiful and unique about each one. They’re like snowflakes: you’ll never see two alike. I love that about them. They manage to be both incredibly simple and incredibly over the top – from Native American warrior to Can Can Dancer – and I appreciate the entire spectrum of possibilities. No sneezing yet, but, unlike you, I don’t have a bird allergy.
4. How do you source your materials?
They truly come from all over the place. I buy the majority of the feathers from various trim stores in Manhattan’s Garment District. I’m first drawn to color and then to texture. I very rarely make duplicates of any item, with the exception of the items in my bridal line, so I look for unique feathers that really stand out. The other materials are harder to pin down. I deconstruct a lot of vintage jewelry and found items, I pick up quirky vintage buttons whenever inspiration strikes, I’ll buy a few yards of interesting prints when they cross my path, and when I travel I tend to scour flea markets and antique fairs for unexpected items like skeleton keys, beaded handbags, and religious relics to incorporate in the designs. Honestly, the hunt for materials is half the fun!
5. How much time do you need to make a hair clip?
In a pinch, I can churn one out in about 3 minutes, but generally I spend at least half an hour with each one, trying different things until i come up with something I’m satisfied with. The other items actually take longer.
6. For the moment, I know your piece goods are vintage or vintage-inspired finds from your shopping trips around the country. Somewhere down the road, do you have plans to design and/or produce your own pieces for the collection?
As my skills improve, I hope to be able to produce more of my own pieces, especially for the jewelry line, but I’m sticking with refurbishing vintage elements and presenting them in a new way for now. I do have plans to include more hand knit and sewn items in coming collections.
7. At present, you offer a small line of women’s accessories. Do you aspire to expand beyond that? Might you offer a line of men’s accessories, a feathery pocket square à la Terron Schaefer? A feather in a cap? Clothes, footwear, or furniture?
Funny you should ask. I’ve been experimenting with a feathered pocket square for a little while now. And actually, I added the Red Bird touch, a plume of black and yellow striped feathers, to a simple black fedora which garnered lots of compliments on my recent trip to the inauguration. I’d like to incorporate my ideas into leather goods in the future. At this point, it’s all about experimentation for me. I am open to new ideas and suggestions.
8. There seem to be quite a few of you feather folk out there (Joanna Bean, ban.do). Why have feathers suddenly become so popular? What sets The Red Bird apart?
I have seen a great deal of feathers out there as well. It must have something to do with the flourishes of 1920s and ’30s showing up on runways and in stores today, not to mention that they’re a fairly inexpensive way to add a lot of character to any outfit. There’s something sexy and suggestive about them; playful. I’m really excited about where clothes are headed at the moment. People seem more willing to push the envelope than in recent memory, and feathers bring a bit of joy to that world. Whoa, that sounded like a Christmas carol!
9. Which feather in particular are you most obsessed with right now? Which feather do you find the ugliest or most difficult to incorporate into a design?
Hmm. I love working with pheasant almonds. They have this amazing blue-green color with sharply pointed chocolatey ends. I also love speckled guinea feathers, especially ones that have been dyed these shocking bursts of color. I’m finding goose biots to be interesting but a little more difficult to work with. They’re harder, edgier, almost like quills, but they still make for a unique effect.
Do you receive many requests for special orders? If I asked you to whip up something spectacular using the feathers of the ringneck pheasant, off the top of your head, what could you come up with?
Half of my sales are special orders. More often than not, if I’m out and wearing one of the pieces I end up with a few requests by the end of the night. My first instinct with those amazing pheasant feathers would be to pop them right onto a man’s hat, but for a woman I would probably use them in combination with black tulle to create a sort of cage veil to be worn over the face, obscuring one eye. Keep it mysterious.
10. Fill in the blank, and don’t say “feathers”: It is not only fine ______________ that make fine birds.
Everything but “feathers” sounds like “why didn’t you just say feathers?” I’ll say “EGGS!” Ha ha!
Very literal, Laura. Very… biological.
Photos by Belinda Rocco.
Don’t forget to check out The Red Bird!
Terron Schaefer’s pocket square is available at MoMA.