Top: Matilda Alice Powles, more commonly known by her drag stage name, Vesta Tilley. Tilley was one of the most famed English drag kings of the late Victorian era.
Bottom: Ella Wesner, likewise was also a highly influential drag king from New York during the same time as Tilley. Wesner was known for her scandalous female love affairs. She also requested to be buried in her male clothing upon her death.
Kaat Tilley comes from Brussels, has roots in Mechelen, and studied at the Antwerp Fashion Academy. She has been designing since 1983 in a highly personal style. Behind every Kaat Tilley garment there’s a complete story, that of every woman. She seeks to express symbolically every stage in a woman’s life, with all its ups and downs.
In 1989 she opened her own boutique in the prestigious Koningsgalerij in Brussels. Her unusual wedding and party dresses, with the name Black Lines, were the great eye-catchers. Her hazy, fairy-tale silhouettes fired the imagination. The original and specific mood of this collection is repeated in her ready-to-wear ladies’ collection Inner & Earthings.
Kaat Tilley designs have few straight lines; everything is soft and fluid. Her personal, complicated pattern studies result in almost unreal, irregular yet structured shapes. The dresses and skirts are always long, and consist of layer upon layer of light, fine knits, which produce slender outlines. Piping, embroidery, smocking and little pieces of knitwear at the wrists, elbows, hips, waist, shoulder curves, back panels and hems accentuate the curves. They emphasise the feminine shape, whilst making for a slender figure. Not that her clothes are intended for slim women only. The different layers, the asymmetry, the ribbons and the turn-ups achieve different silhouettes.
The Escape line is cheaper in execution and material, made mainly from jersey. It is easy to combine with the Inner & Earthings line. Kaat Tilley has also been making Frederiek — a collection for little girls — since 1994.
1997 was the first year in which she held a show during the Paris prêt-a-porter week.