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Heavy metal clothier to produce ready-to-wear line

June 22, 2019
Kim Dylla, right, sews clothing for heavy metal groups and professional wrestlers worldwide in her Charlitsville store. (Zack Wajsgras/The Daily Progress via AP)

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — If you’ve wondered what Cradle of Filth, Slipknot, Rob Zombie or Alice Cooper are wearing this summer, the answer can be found in a small seamstress shop in a corner building on West Main Street.

From GWAR to Goatwhore, Journey to Taylor Swift’s band, the dark stars of metal and rock leather up at Charlottesville’s own Kylla Custom Rock Wear across from the Amtrak station.

Even the big dogs in World Wrestling Entertainment, including champion Braun Strowman, shop for custom togs attractive enough for the A-show and strong enough for a double-knee facebreaker.

Kylla Custom Rock Wear is a self-made gig by metal maven Kim Dylla, 36, whose clothing is crafted out of her love for the genre and the lure of a show. It wasn’t exactly the career the University of Virginia Echols Scholar with a bachelor’s degree focused in studio art and computer science had anticipated.

“I was working at UVa’s Institute of Advanced Technology in the Humanities on Rome Reborn, a large 3-D scholarly model of the entire city at its height,” said Dylla. “At the time, I was also making my own stage clothes for my band, This Means You, and we met some of the bigger metal bands at festivals. The drummer for Slipknot was the same size as me and borrowed my jacket. He told other bands at festivals about it and suddenly I had three months of orders.”

That was 2012. Dylla gave up restoring Rome. She went from ancient glory to modern gory, focusing her efforts on reconstructing recycled leather and denim from secondhand stores into post-apocalyptic fashion.

She and her minions, including seamstress Mal Stenson, assemble the pieces in-house using materials upcycled from shopping trips to thrift stores. The salvaged denim and leather are torn, tattered and tortured into obstreperous textures, then carefully pieced and stitched into aggressively haphazard schemes to spawn visceral expressions of visual anarchy.

Then they get bleached, painted, belt-sanded and maybe even run over by a 1976 Dodge Aspen R/T to get just the right look.

“We get to create it and then we try to destroy it!” Dylla chuckled.

Unlike other music and entertainment genres, metal bands tend to hang together regardless of popularity. That’s helped bring Kylla new customers.

“The big bands and smaller bands mix at festivals, and the metal world is really more about the energy and effort than the size of the band,” Stenson explained. “If you’re dedicated to your art form, you get respect. That’s true of the music and the fashion.”

“It’s really about: Does it rock? Can you bang your head to it? Do you have the chops?” Dylla agreed.

“I look at what the person I’m designing for is doing. If it’s for someone who’s going to do high kicks, you need it to be strong at the seams, but flexible. If it’s for a drummer who’s going to be sitting for three hours, you have to design it so that it’s comfortable,” she said.

“In creating the look, I listen to the music of the band I’m working with and imagine what they should look like while I’m listening to the album. I try to design what they look like in my mind,” she said.

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Dylla’s business has thrived, mostly by word-of-mouth and line-of-sight, attracting a dozen wrestling stars and several dozen bands, from Judas Priest to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

Now, with help and guidance from the Central Virginia Small Business Development Center and connections in the metal music community, Kylla Custom is offering a pret-a-porter design line to make it easier for bands and fans to dress for head-banging.

Designed by Dylla, the line will be made in a factory in Pakistan that specializes in cutting, sewing and working with both leather and denim, Kylla’s primary fabrics.

“Besides the custom shop, which can take months to design and make, I wanted to be able to offer a ready-to-wear line that we could keep in stock so there was no wait time,” Dylla said. “My original idea was to have it made in the U.S., but I literally could not find a factory that could do both leather and denim in the same location.”

“Kim is an absolute delight to work with. She has a good sense of business, even without formalized business training or knowing the everyday business vocabulary,” said Betty Hoge, of the CVSBDC and Dylla’s business advisor. “She has always been eager to learn and add to her ability to be a successful business woman, which also makes her a wonderful client to work with.”

Hoge said the goal of the development center is help navigate markets and industries and connect owners with research, trade association contacts and help create plans for both the business and marketing side.

Success, she said, is the goal.

“Kim has always looked for help for the long-term good of her business and her ability to manage it, and not just for a short-term fix,” Hoge said. “This is one of the reasons I believe she will continue to successfully grow her business.”

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Dylla’s product success is no accident. There’s a dark metal spot in her heart for the music and the unique community that has grown up around it. A classically trained operatic vocalist, she has lent her powerful growl to Richmond’s GWAR, creating and portraying the character of Vulvatron. Now she’s the vocalist for Charlottesville’s death groove metal band Fulton Ave.

Recently, she sang on stage with Nita Strauss, the lead guitarist for legend Alice Cooper.

She even wrestled for seven years as a hobby competitor with Richmond Lucha Libre and Ground Xero Wrestling.

Her interest began as a teenager when at 16 she developed Alopecia areata, a medical condition in which her immune system attacked her hair follicles.

The condition, which affects otherwise healthy people, resulted in hair loss.

“I always felt a little different and that made it more so,” she said.

Dylla started getting into the underground black metal scene. Having taken formal voice training and performed in plays and musicals, Dylla had a well-developed love of performance.

When she attended a show featuring Iron Maiden, Motorhead and Dio, she found her musical muse. Her muse also led her to learn to sew.

“As a bald chick who liked Goth in the 1990s, there weren’t too many places where you could buy that kind of clothing. We didn’t have the internet, so it’s not like you could go online to Amazon,” she recalled.

“So, I went to thrift stores and found good-quality leather and denim clothing I could get for cheap and I’d go home, tear it apart and reverse-engineer it,” she said. “My mom had taught me how to use a sewing machine and I learned more by pulling clothing apart and putting it back together the way I wanted it.”

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With seven years in business, a growing clientele and a breaking line of off-the-rack couture, Dylla’s Kylla custom clothing looks to be a success. But, she says, she didn’t do it alone. The Central Virginia Small Business Development Center helped with advice, forming a business plan and arranging small business loans for the new line.

“I’m a designer and an artist and performer, but this is a business. That’s why I worked with the CVSBDC,” she said. “It has been seriously helpful in terms of supplying the business knowledge. They have been totally instrumental in my learning how to do the business thing.”

Dylla said being a businesswoman was not her original plan, but she said people should watch for opportunities that arise.

“It’s not something I actually set out to do. Making costumes was just something that I did and I found out that people I knew needed it or wanted it,” she said.

“If someone’s looking to start a small business, I recommend looking at people you know. If there’s something they need or want and it’s something you can do, you know there’s a need for it.”

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Information from: The Daily Progress, http://www.dailyprogress.com

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