Crushing on Sabrina Kyle

Indie wrestler meets retro badass zombie killer

Sabrina Kyle is an indie wrestler. This means she catapults off turnbuckles, high kicks people in the face, and performs flips and other gymnastic manoeuvres, all the while trying not to rip a carefully thought-out costume so that she can do it all over again. Kyle has found her calling in a sport that too often uses costume to trivialize its most talented female athletes. By sticking them in impractical (but sexy) outfits or with silly gimmicks, it can be nearly impossible for anyone but the smartest of marks to take them seriously.

Kyle started training six days a week when she was 15. She was the only girl at the time at the Living Legends Wrestling Academy, which was unfortunately common. The professional wrestling scene treats female wrestlers as a special attraction, most shows often featuring only one women’s match a night. Kyle is all too familiar with this reality, as she has had to constantly compete for attention among the ever-growing number of female wrestlers in North America, all of whom are trying to be noticed in a sea of blonde hair, pink bras, and glitter.

But after eight years in the game, Kyle has started to come into her own. She knows what makes her different and persistently changes her style to stay above the fray. Now she’s a fashion leader on the indie circuit as well as a household name in Southwestern Ontario and the Northern Midwestern US. Her gear is a significant part of her identity as a wrestler, along with her gritty personality and top-notch ability. WORN caught up with Kyle to ask her about her personal style and how she stays true to herself.

How would you describe your personal style?
Comfortable. I just wear whatever, I really do.

And how would you describe Sabrina Kyle’s style?
I would say retro, ’50s, zombie, horror. For a while I was doing the superhero thing, so everything was Harley Quinn or Batman-oriented. I used to wear these huge bell-bottoms. Now I’m doing more of a rockabilly thing, and my gimmick right now is like a little sailor outfit, and then I wear Frankenstein socks. I just try to bring a little bit of horror into it. I try to be unique—not like every other female wrestler out there.

Would you say your personal style affects Sabrina’s at all?
[Shakes her head and laughs.] Night and day.

Where does your gear come from?
I design my outfits. I’ll either be watching a TV show or reading a comic book, I’ll see an outfit and I’ll think, “Oh, I can turn that into wrestling gear!” So I will show my mom pictures of what I want. My mom’s a seamstress and she does all the sewing. She makes my pad covers, everything.

Does Mom have much input?
My mom’s very supportive of whatever I want to wear. Sometimes she will think that something will look better another way, and she’ll just go ahead and make the change. I’ll get my finished product and notice, “Okay there wasn’t supposed to be black there,” but it usually looks better.

Do you generally seek out fabrics or patterns you like, or does your mom take care of that?
My mom and I, we always go to Anne’s Fabric Store in Hamilton. Their entire attic is all lycra and spandex. They know me; there’s actually me and a couple other wrestlers that get our material there, and they give us discounts because they know we’re wrestlers and we always put their name out there to other people. My mom usually goes with me and helps me pick it out. I usually know what I’m looking for when I go in, but sometimes I find some material that’s totally crazy.

Is everything you wear made from scratch?
Once or twice I’ve bought spandex pants from Zellers or whatever and had them cut off or redone, and then had stuff added to them. But usually my Mom has patterns, and she just makes it.

Has she ever made you other clothes, or just your wrestling stuff?
Oh yeah, she’s made me outfits. She made me a Batman dress out of a Batman sheet for my birthday last year.

When you’re not making your costumes, are there any particular stores you like?
Value Village, Winners, Hot Topic. I have one outfit: it’s black spandex with army print netting, and it has bell bottoms. But I got made fun of a lot, so I don’t wear it anymore. People would rib me backstage at shows all the time.

Does that bug you?
When it’s guys in the back, I would say no, since I’ve known them all since I was 15. But I do get upset when people post pictures online critiquing the way I look. People have called me the most ridiculous names—I weighed 220 pounds for a while, and trust me, people let me know that I weighed 220 pounds. I mean, it doesn’t feel really nice when it happens all the time. But with the guys, I don’t care about them. Most of them look like they’re wearing diapers anyway.

Are there any fabrics or styles you avoid?
Vinyl or pleather. A lot of guys wear pleather, and it looks backyard. I would never wear basketball shorts—I wrestled in the US one time, and the girl I was wrestling showed up wearing basketball shorts and a Jeff Hardy t-shirt. I would never wear running shoes. If I absolutely had to, I would wear kick pads over top of them to make them look more legitimate.

Would you ever wear heels in the ring?
I wouldn’t. I was managing the Amazing Darkstone for a while when I was hurt. The promoter wanted me to wear heels and dresses to every show—do you know how hard it is to walk around a wrestling ring in high heels? It’s padding, right. I couldn’t do anything. If I had to do a spot, I would take my heels off before I got in the ring and wear flats. If I couldn’t wear flats, I wouldn’t do the spot, ’cause I knew I could break my ankle. I have a hard enough time walking in heels as it is.

What’s your favourite wrestling outfit?
Probably my Harley Quinn outfit. There are a lot of girls doing the comic book thing now though, so I don’t wear it anymore. I wrestled one girl at a show, and then the next time I saw her she had almost identical gear as me. There’s only a couple of us in Ontario… but I didn’t say anything, I just changed what I was doing.

Does your wrestling gear make you more confident?
Yeah! I feel like a badass zombie killer. Laughs. It boosts my confidence. When I put my gear on and get in the ring, it’s business time.

Costume is important to a wrestler’s personality. How does it contribute to a gimmick?
It depends what you’re doing, and if you’re even doing a gimmick. Most girls don’t actually do gimmicks; they just wear what they want to wear. One girl I wrestled would always wear bathing suit bottoms and a bathing suit top—but she didn’t have a gimmick, and it didn’t matter ’cause everyone knew her name. But if you’re doing a vampire gimmick, then you’re not going to wear bathing suit bottoms and a bathing suit top—you’re going to make yourself look gothic. If I was trying to get over as a punk rocker, and I came out in a white bra and underwear… it makes no sense.

Male or female, who is your wrestling fashion influence?
Well, my favourite wrestler is Gangrel from the Brood, during the Attitude era—he did a vampire gimmick. And Trish Stratus. I think every girl says that, though—at least every girl from Toronto; she’s the most influential diva ever. But no one in wrestling now influences my style. I was really confused for a while about what I wanted to do—I did a showgirl gimmick, in which I wore sapphires and sparkles all the time, I did the superhero thing for a long time. I was just so confused, and I wasn’t getting noticed. If you want to be a female wrestler and you want to go somewhere, you need to have a gimmick, a look. You need people to say, “I remember that girl. That’s the girl who wore that.” Someone told me to just think of things I like and incorporate them into my gimmick and style in the ring. I really like B-rate horror movies and rockabilly music, and as far as fashion, I love Bettie Page—I wish I could dress like her every day. So I incorporated all that, and that’s how I got where I am now.

What’s your dream costume?
That’s a hard one, because my mom already makes what I want her to make. For my next set of gear, I want to get a two-piece made. I’ve never worn a two-piece the entire time I’ve been wrestling. But I’d like a two-piece made with Gir from Invader Zim—like a zombie Gir, with a brain cup on the side.

Do you think going pro wrestling (WWE) changes the way girls dress in the ring?
Well, I don’t actually watch WWE that much anymore. But Natalya, she wears Hart Foundation gear. Ever since day one in the WWE, she’s worn gear. And Awesome Kong/Kharma, the gear that she wore in WWE, she’s always worn that—but they made her wear makeup. When she was working indies, she wouldn’t wear any—she was supposed to be mean, that was the gimmick. When they brought her into the WWE, that’s the gimmick they wanted her to do, but they made her over, made her look like a giant Barbie doll. Same with Beth Phoenix; she was supposed to be this powerhouse, but they had to make her look feminine. I like her gear, I liked her one-piece… but before she left, she was wearing a skirt. And they make women into jokes. Like they put Beth Phoenix with Santino for the longest time, and she wasn’t even doing anything. Don’t get me wrong, I like Santino, but why would you put your most dominant female with this person to make her look like a joke? And with Natalya, they did a gimmick with her where she was farting all the time. It was so stupid. And Mickie James, I really didn’t like that Laycool gimmick they were doing for a while, where they were calling her “Piggy James,” ’cause she was a little bit bigger. That was part of the reason I liked Mickie James, because she was thicker, but she looked good and she could wrestle. Yet they played off that, and made fun of her for it. No wonder she left.

Sometimes promoters or other wrestlers will influence the choreography of a match. Do they ever dictate what you need to wear?
Now, a lot of the girls around here work hard to make themselves legitimate. Before it was all bras and panties or a bikini match. That’s what it often comes down to: sex appeal. Actually, a promoter once tried to book me and Kaitlin Diemond in a lingerie match at an indie show. I emailed him back and told him I wasn’t going to show up if that’s what he wanted us to do. I would have shown up in Batman boxers and a t-shirt anyway. I had a gig in the States where they made me do a cowgirl gimmick for a while—my name was Scarlett Rose and I was a cowgirl. I wore jean shorts, tied my shirt up and wore a cowboy hat and everything. I did that for two or three shows. But when I had had enough, I told him I was leaving. I left for a year, and then I came back on my own terms. I said, “This is the gimmick I’m doing now, I’m not changing my name.” He still wanted me to wear these little tiny outfits, because he thought it would get better ratings. But I’m not going to wear a bra and panties for a show that airs at 2:00 a.m. on Sunday mornings. Not to mention, if I go out there and do that, I’m going to get heat from the other girls who are legitimate wrestlers that I look up to, like Portia Perez and Sara Del Rey. Their outfits allow fans to focus on their wrestling ability, and not their looks. And that’s what we should be focusing on. I’m not Kelly Kelly. I’m Sabrina Kyle, and I’m going to wrestle the way I want to wrestle, and I’m going to wear what I want to wear.

photography // Laura Tuttle
artwork // Averill Smith

More is More

10 things about the Great Canadian Burlesque

Surrounded by suitcases bursting with incandescent crystal-laden braziers and fluttering ostrich-feather fans, trays of pasties, and women decked out in the best of pin-up vogue, it was like I had stepped into a different era. A warm era, with soft curls and hard eyeliner. I spoke with a handful of next-to-naked women of the Great Canadian Burlesque (GCB) troupe, getting ready to trade their bodies for applause and whistles that night at the Mod Club. I was dazzled by the flashy costumes, so delicate and intricate up close; and by the dancers themselves, who were stunning, with confidence and charisma any stage performer would aspire to have. I settled in to watch my first burlesque show, unsure of what was to come. By the end, I was cheering louder than anyone, completely caught up in the electrifying atmosphere and the sex that filled the air. However, I did manage to learn a thing (or 10) during my time with the talented ladies (and men) of the GCB.

1 // More is more
When it comes to burlesque costumes, you can never have too much of anything. Performers adhere to the three S’s like religion: sequins, shine, and shimmer. “The flashier the better,” says Fionna Flauntit, GCB performer, founder, and producer. Costumes are over the top, both in theme and application. There’s more Swarovski crystals at a burlesque show than a Michael Jackson impersonator convention (Miss Mitzy Cream’s Glamophone outfit has over 43,000 of them, trimmed with plenty of 18-ply ostrich feathers). “In any other application it would be cheesy as hell, but in the burlesque world, it’s perfect,” laughs Flauntit. But performers exaggerate the theme of their characters, too. Ms. Chaos Divine’s black widow costume, whose black nail polish was drying as we spoke, incorporates a spider web-cut leather corset and garter belt, a spider’s nest fascinator, complete with floralytes, a bouquet of roses I’m assuming for the funeral of her not-so-dearly departed (and digested) husband and a spider perched on top. Oh and spider-web pasties just for good measure.

2 // Face time
Makeup is an important part of every performer’s ensemble. It can contribute thematically to the character, like in Cherry Typhoon’s geisha routine, or simply enhance the drama of a performer’s look, like the seductive Sassy Ray. Performers sometimes paint themselves from head to… well, you can imagine… in which case makeup is one of the most prominent features of an act.

It gets heated onstage under the spotlights, so makeup needs to cover sheen, while amplifying facial features with fake eyelashes and gauche blush so even the audience at the back can see. Veteran Miss Mitzy does her own makeup meticulously in a little bathroom above the stage before the show (pantless, I might add), smudging foundation and powder onto her cheeks and forehead, and carefully applying dramatic eye makeup. Some performers like Miss Mitzy use their own products from home, while others have their makeup done professionally. Coco Framboise had her Cleopatra-inspired visage crafted by Stacey Laureyssens, a Toronto-based stage makeup artist and owner of theOriginalFace. The decision to use a makeup artist or DIY can depend on the complexity of the performer’s character, and how big a part the makeup plays during the performance. Hint: Flauntit’s Mystique costume is pretty heavy on the makeup.

3 // Size/age is just a number
Perhaps in response to the rail-thin young white models that grace most of our runways and fashion spreads today, burlesque has joined the ranks of counter-culture, frequently offering up a diverse array of performers that vary in size, ethnicity, and age. From size 2′s to 24′s, GCB succeeds in showcasing women from all walks of life that defy conventional beauty: black, white, Asian and Latin women, PYTs to impressive legends Tiffany Carter (Miss Nude Universe 1975) and Tempest Storm (one of the most iconic women in the industry). I think Forrest Gump once said that burlesque is like a box of chocolates. And he was right.

4 // A pastie party

Pasties are pieces of material that performers use to cover their nipples. The tradition of wearing pasties is about as old as burlesque itself; troupes in the 1920s used them as a way to get around moral laws of the time (no nip, no foul, right?). They come in countless forms—like the traditional conical shape, hearts, stars, X’s, alpha letters, or just plain glitter—and can encompass various features, from dangling tassels that spin rhythmically with any slight upper body movement, to the flaming ones that Tanya Cheex courageously dons. Dancers can buy them online, or locally from women like Cheex or Patte Rosebank, who make them by hand and sell them on platters at events. They are attached securely to the breast using double-sided adhesive tape, or wig-tape, which occasionally can be painful to remove. But it’s better than having them fly off during a particularly intense twirl.

5 // To prop or not to prop
A giant gramophone complete with rotating platform. A feathered crown composed of removable fans. A classic stripper pole. Depending on the performer, acts can incorporate varying degrees of accessories. Some performances keep it simple, involving only a chair or an umbrella filled with rose petals, a choice that puts more focus on the dancer’s choreography. Others lean toward the more sublime of sets, like Divine’s subterranean lair, a world rife with jars full of creepy crawlies, baroque furniture, and gloomy drapery. Coco Framoise included some “sex slaves” as props in her Cleopatra routine, and Sauci Calla Horra used her male volunteer’s (ahem) props to juice some lemons.

Choosing to use props can depend on the context of the routine: they can get in the way of choreography-heavy performances like those of troupes (the Harlettes, Glamourpuss Burlesque), but they can add to the laughs in more comedic acts. I’m certain old Will Shakespeare would approve of the glitter shower Akynos (the Incredible Edible) gave herself on stage, or Miss Mitzy’s baby that poops and vomits crystals.

6 // The show must go on
What happens if a performer steps on her hem and her whole outfit unravels, or a pastie flies into the crowd? “You just roll with it and make it look like it was meant to be,” says Flauntit. It helps that burlesque is rooted in comedy, but having to stop to wrench open a zipper mid-act sort of kills the mood. Not many women have the issue of unfastening a zipper (it’s generally the opposite we struggle with, trying to fit into too tight jeans). But Divine has experienced that one. “I think the mark of a seasoned performer is one who can manage a costume mishap, because it’s going to happen,” she says. And there’s always wig tape and safety pins for quick fixes. Worst case scenario, a performer pulls a Janet and the audience gets an eyeful. But something tells me they wouldn’t mind.

7 // Howling at the moon(s)
Wolfman, like his time-honoured shark fin suit(?) that he purchased at Winners for Girlesque 6, is a mainstay within the GCB organization, though he came into his role almost by fate. Playing off a nickname bestowed upon him by bullies in his adolescence, Wolfman had pitched a song to the fledgling company to use on stage. Back then, GCB was spookier (Miss Mitzy “Scream” was a vampire, and founder/producer Chris Mysterion, a local mentalist, hosted the shows), and the werewolf thing kind of fit. Before long, Wolfman started hosting due to a chance double-booking, and the rest is history. Like many others in the industry, though maybe more appropriately, he moonlights at the burlesque shows, and graces the stage of many other events locally, emceeing everything from rock shows and magazine launches to animal rescue events and fundraisers. Awoo!

8 // The stuff characters are made of
A sexy song, an entertaining figure in the media, an especially inspirational fabric: burlesque performers’ characters are born in many ways. Flauntit found a particularly hideous dress in a thrift shop (crushed velvet, lime green, over $300 of crystals sewn on). But with some alterations, it was perfect for her Green Lady performance. Divine is occasionally motivated by chakras and energy, or deep emotions like heartbreak, but more often by the costume itself as she pieces it together. “The character usually develops as I start creating the costume and start rehearsing,” she explains. “It’s funny how I can feel myself changing into something else, and embodying whatever I’m doing after I put the costume on.” Sometimes the performance is entirely about the costume, like Miss Mitzy’s self-described look at my pretty outfit routine. But each performer has an extensive rotation of characters they can embody on any given night. Miss Mitzy has over 65 different acts, each with its own costume. You can imagine her closet!

9 // Hand-made-ens
It’s rare that a performer can find exactly what she needs off the rack. There is a strong DIY culture in burlesque, as women often need to alter a fantastic thrift shop find to fit their measurements, or adorn it with crystals or bows. There are performers on a shoestring budget who you would never guess shopped at Dollarama, thanks to their darn-ed skills. Some performers are quite talented seamstresses, like Divine, who has been sewing and putting on fashion shows since she can remember. Most of her outfits have dual purposes, starting as one thing and then transforming into something else. “I like having versatility in the way I look,” she says, and like many performers, she would not wear something straight off the rack. Other performers may not have the skills themselves, and so employ others in the industry to create their costumes based on their direction. “I’m horrible at it, I’m hopeless at making costumes,” admits Miss Mitzy, whose glamaphone outfit was created by fellow performer and costume designer, Patte Rosebank. Alternatively, performers can shop at various specialty stores, like Danger Dame or Lip Service, and piece together an outfit like a puzzle.

10 // All the dance classes in the world…
When it comes down to it, a burlesque performance isn’t just about one thing. It’s about the way the costume, the makeup, the choreography, and the sex appeal all come together. “It’s the whole package, it’s about how you feel on stage and how you come off on stage to the audience,” says Flauntit. It takes guts to get up on stage in a room full of people and take your clothes off. It’s seemingly simple, but it’s hard to do well, in a way that makes the audience laugh, get turned on, and widen their eyes in awe at the same time. “You know, you have to have the charisma, and the audience loves to see when you’re enjoying yourself,” Flauntit emphasizes. “You could have the most elaborate costume, but if you don’t have stage presence and the personality… Personality is the one thing you can’t teach people.”

photography // Claire Ward-Beveridge

Très Click: Snozzberries and Zou Bisou Bisou

Field Notes on Fashion and Occupy (Part One)
Who says the fashion police don’t exist? (I’m sorry, I had to.) During the Occupy movement, protesters were targeted for what they wore. In moments of clash, clothing becomes political and as The New Inquiry puts it, “Fashion is endowed with the potential to inform a political reality.”

Podcast: Mad Men costume designer Janie Bryant on CBC Radio’s Q
Hanging corpses and Zou Bisou Bisou may have been the highlights of season five but seriously, can we talk about Trudy’s nightgowns and Sally’s gogo boots? Janie Bryant sits with radio host Jian Ghomeshi to talk Mad Men’s character style evolution. Heads up, those pretending to be hard at work—the link takes you directly to the podcast. Fast forward to 39:40.

Swimwear as a Fashion Over the Decades
Hey! You look kind of cute, in that polka dot bikini, girl. And in that one-piece. And that bathing gown. In any kind of swimwear really.

What Fashion’s “Ethnic” Prints Are Really Called
Ever come across an intriguing print you wanted to know more about, only to see it frustratingly labelled as “tribal”? Stop sweating. Refinery 29 breaks it down for you in this smart glossary.

Part of this world, part of another
Gene Wilder’s got more taste than a snozzberry. Letters of Note unearthed his correspondence to director Mel Stuart in which he recommends specific sartorial ideas for Willy Wonka’s wardrobe, from the hat “two inches shorter would make it more special” to the pants “slime green trousers are icky.”

Goodbye Eiko Ishioka

Eiko Ishioka, celebrated costume designer for film and theatre, passed away two weeks ago at the age of 73. Her success as a costume designer came toward the end of a long career including stints in graphic design and advertising. Ishioka won an Oscar for her costumes in Bram Stoker’s Dracula and became a frequent collaborator with film director Tarsem, designing for all four of his films: The Cell, The Fall, Immortals, and the upcoming Mirror Mirror.

Her surreal and elaborate designs added immeasurably to the look of the films she worked on, often taking place in fantasy worlds or the subconscious. She could create the stuff of nightmares or provide the perfect outfit for a daydream.

Her Oscar-winning work for Bram Stoker’s Dracula was also the only time she was nominated. Who can forget Gary Oldman’s double-bun?
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