One fashion designer’s elaborate, creative path through KC Fashion Week
It’s 9:43 p.m. on a Wednesday, and one of Kansas City’s youngest, most promising fashion designers, Audrey Lockwood, is sitting in her basement studio crafting an email to send out to the 17 models who will be representing her brand, Devil Doll, in the upcoming Kansas City Fashion Week.
Rack check is tomorrow and the two-time KCFW veteran has just under two weeks to finish her most ambitious collection yet, “Space Devil.” It’s a line she has been tinkering with for well over a year and one that has followed her through the pandemic saga and emerged on the other side as a western-inspired space-cowboy jaunt. The collection is inspired by the likes of Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Wanda Jackson, and Kacey Musgraves.
The excitement is palpable, but so too are the nerves. There is a lot to do, this project is but one of many in a busy millennial life, and sleep will be an essential component of a successful run.
“You can’t pour from the cup if it’s empty” Lockwood says. Reminding herself perhaps just as much as her three dogs. She clicks ‘send’.
In two weeks’ time, Lockwood will have had no choice but to have risen above these anxieties. Failure is not an option, nor is simply being ‘good enough.’ It takes much more than average to stand out as a designer in a Midwestern scene that can often be overlooked and underrated.
“You have to bring something different and unique to the table because it’s Midwestern and fashion really isn’t the focus here. The designers in Kansas City who can master functionality with pieces that are a statement, but also art—I think that those are the designers that really stand out here,” Lockwood says.
It’s been a long journey back to the forefront of this scene. In many ways, as is also true for many other artists, this collection represents Lockwood’s return to the public sphere after COVID threw a thousand or so wrenches into the creative process, personal, and professional lives of artists and creatives alike.
“It was really hard, after COVID, to get back into designing and really just to feel like I wanted to even do it again. Some people thrived creatively during the pandemic, and some people really did not thrive creatively,” says Lockwood. “I was one of the people who did not thrive creatively. There were points where I did not feel like I could create anymore. And it was a really hard time for me. So that was definitely the most difficult thing to overcome—actually getting back in front of a sewing machine.”
Now, from behind the taps, clinks, and ricochets of her sewing machine, Lockwood can see the finish line in sight, and her motivation grows quicker than any unwarranted self-doubts can weigh down.
“It’s what sets my heart on fire—to hear that people like what I’m doing. People want to wear my art, which is probably one of the biggest compliments I could ever receive in the world. Because wearing something is an extension of who you are as a person. And everything that you put, like everything that you want to tell the world about yourself,” Lockwood says.
Queen of the Hill
Now just two days out from her return to the runway, Lockwood is again in her studio sewing patches onto a corduroy jacket that represents one of her two menswear looks for Space Devil. Tastefully decorated with skull and rosebud patches, with matching corduroy pants, this look is without a doubt something Lil Nas X or Post Malone would (and should) rock.
Having done five large collections in her career—at or above 10 looks per line—Lockwood had never attempted any men’s looks until now. It was a creative choice she had made to continue to push herself past her previous comfort zone.
The challenge is twofold, with Space Devil being by far the largest and most expansive collection she has created and also the most diverse.
The pressure is somewhat alleviated by the sound of Hank Hill’s signature “wahhh,” coming from Lockwood’s laptop, as the Texan’s faithful truck is clearly on her last legs in Season 5, Episode 9: “Chasing Bobby.”
“That is totally my dad,” she says with a grin as she feeds another bit of fabric through her machine.
The jacket is now finished and looking sharp, and Lockwood hangs it on a mannequin to take some photos for social media.
“I would say Instagram is probably still number one, but I think there are so many different audiences on every platform that it’s kind of for me at least useful to utilize them all in some capacity. I actually would say Tik-Tok is a huge one right now—like, if you’re not jumping on the Tik-Tok train, you are missing a huge opportunity,” Lockwood says.
Lockwood goes on to explain how she’d decided to not participate in Kansas City Fashion Week’s digital-only format in 2020 after showing her work in both 2018 and 2019. In the spring of 2021, she decided to dip her toes back in the scene by introducing a prototype version of her Space Devil line in a virtual-only show called Unattended.
“At first, it felt like the pandemic just stopped fashion. But then it just made us innovate different ways of channeling it to the public,” she explains.
That innovation paid off, and the public has been highly receptive.
“More than anything, I think that it has made people consider innovative ways to show fashion that aren’t a runway show. Like, how do you show a runway show in an unconventional way that’s not in person? And then you have these really amazing films that were made throughout quarantine by Dior and others that couldn’t have fashion shows—so they got creative in other ways,” Lockwood says. “The results were fucking amazing, and I think that even outside of trends, it’s really changed the way that we do things, the way we sell things, the way the whole industry had to shift what its focus was on to stay relevant.”
By this point, Lockwood is finishing up a blue bralette, attaching silver stars to it and weighing whether or not she should include tassels on the bottom.
“It might be too much,” she says to herself, placing the proposed addition on and off of the garment like one might hold a pair of pants up in front of them to gauge the fit—though her eye for such matters is certainly much more astute than most.
In the end, she goes with her gut and omits the tassels from the look. That same intuition has never led Lockwood astray in the past, she reasons.
I ask her how much she considers other artist’s work in her own design process.
“It’s important to know the market and what other people are doing but I also think that it can be really harmful to one’s own self worth as a designer and artist to constantly compare yourself to others, so I do try to step away from that as much as possible,” says Lockwood. “It can be a struggle to find that perfect balance, but I think the hardest criticism at the end of the day is how we criticize ourselves.”
On the laptop screen a few feet away from Lockwood’s desk, Hank Hill and his son Bobby make amends as Hank test drives his new truck and, to his surprise, actually likes it. “Let’s go back and tell the salesman we hated it,” Hank tells Bobby. Despite the unforeseen hiccup, Hank is now back in his element and ready to return to what he does best—pimping out sweet lady propane.
Lockwood takes a deep breath and prepares to call it a night. There’s still a lot more that has to be done, but she has made leaps and bounds in her progress tonight. Like Hank, the 25-year old Kansas City native is back in her element and finally feeling the tension give way to optimism and excitement for what is to come.
These Boots Are Made For Walkin’
It’s Sept. 22, and Lockwood arrives at the venue, Oak Park Mall in Overland Park, at noon to meet her models and unpack each look. In the final 24-hours, Lockwood has finished seven more garments for the 17 looks her models will present on the runway that evening. The collection now includes 32 pieces total—all handmade and originally based on her own original, colorful hand-drawn sketches.
The next seven-plus hours will consist of her checking in with each model several times as they run through hair and makeup routines, making subtle adjustments as needed, and, inevitably, a little bit of damage control for the unforeseen snags that every artist has experienced at one point or another on game day.
“There’s just a time block of making little minor changes or perfecting things on the fly that I feel need to be fixed just because I’m a perfectionist,” Lockwood says.
A mere two days before this, Lockwood found out she would be the final artist to hit the runway that evening—the first of four runway shows presented at Kansas City Fashion Week in 2021. This news adds to the anticipation and serves as a reflection of just how ambitious Space Devil is as a project and the faith that KCFW organizers have in her work. It will be the largest collection of the six presented that evening, by far.
“I think as an overly ambitious person it’s easy for me to look at the things I fell short on, but when I look at it as a whole, I killed it. I think no artists’ vision turns out exactly the way they wanted it to, but I’m really, really happy and proud of this one and I’m excited to show it tonight,” Lockwood says.
The next two hours are the least stressful of any that preceded it, as Lockwood and her models are ready and getting in the zone by cranking music and going over their walks and poses for the end of the runway.
“We spend this time amping ourselves up, having a lot of fun, and just connecting with eachother. Just getting into the zone and enjoying those moments before we have to bring it,” she says.
In the end, the presentation of these looks Lockwood has spent hundreds of hours planning, developing, and ultimately crafting, will be a true team effort.
“I seem to have this ability to really just pick good models that end up being good people, too,” Lockwood says of her “little squad.”
While many of her models are new, there are also a couple of “OG Devil Dolls” that have lent some of their identity to each of Lockwood’s collections over the years. These mainstays also help the young artist stay grounded and consistent as the night goes on.
“There is always something that will always go wrong on the day of a fashion show, whether it’s minor or big, but my model, Kat, is always there to reassure me, ‘Audrey, on the day of the show, there’s always this magic that just happens.’ She’s always right about that—there is this magic where everything just comes together for me on the day of the show and everything seems to work out perfectly,” Lockwood says.
It’s showtime. Lockwood’s models strut out from behind the curtain to the infectious melody of Wanda Jackson’s “Let’s Have A Party,” and the energy is soaring for the final presentation of the evening.
The looks are full of glam, sparkle, and bright, defined blues, silvers, golds, cow print, and snake print patterns. One model has a black vest on with bold red lettering spelling out the acronym W.W.D.D (What Would Dolly Do) on the back.
Each model brings their own unique take on the look they were chosen to wear. In this regard, it is they who are putting the finishing touches on the concepts Lockwood has brought into the world.
The playlist is carefully cultivated to fit the image of each look, or series of looks, and includes gems like Loretta Lynn’s “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’,” Kacey Musgraves’ “High Horse,” and Parton’s “Baby I’m Burnin.’”
Once all 17 complete their walks and head backstage, the full collection parades back out to a spacey-dance remix of Parton’s “Jolene”—which drills inside one’s skull with reckless abandon. The audience doesn’t seem to mind, however.
This time, as is customary in fashion shows, Lockwood follows the group at the end—getting a moment to revel in all she has worked for in her return to this level of the game. To present the face behind Space Devil’s fun and empowering looks. This is her time to shine, and she absolutely crushes it.
“As soon as you walk out there and you have people embrace you. It is really the best feeling in the world,” Lockwood says afterward.
I caught one of Lockwood’s longtime models and OG Devil Doll, Kathryn Mock, in between posing for photos, after the show to ask her how she thought things went.
“One of many reasons why I love this line is I can just BRING IT. I feel really confident that I strutted my stuff, I owned it, I made a really great impression of what Devil Doll is about. I think the night went really well,” Mock says.
Mock has worked with Lockwood more times than she can count. An eight-year modeling veteran, Mock herself has been internationally published many times. She says Lockwood’s Devil Doll is by far one of her favorite brands to represent.
“What I love most about Audrey is just how genuine she is. I don’t feel like I have to form myself to fit anything that isn’t me. She’s super open, affirming, and inclusive,” says Mock. “The things that she designs help every single person that’s wearing it to feel really confident and the energy she provides everybody is just unmatched with any other designer or person I’ve ever worked with. She’s just full of life and love and makes sure everyone is comfortable and loving themselves. That’s just not something you find often in this industry. I could talk forever about how much I love her.”.
Mock has seen many Devil Dolls come and go over the years, and plans on being there to welcome many more aboard in future projects.
“I’m just really proud of her. She’s worked so hard to get where she is and she deserves so much. I’m just so grateful and honored to be by her side during her growth. I’m so stoked for her and hope to see her get bigger and bigger in the KC fashion scene,” Mock says.
The show was unique in many ways, particularly in that Lockwood was able to actually watch all of her models walk the runway rather than having to wait backstage with no vantage point of the action.
“This time, I actually was able to watch for the first time from behind the stage, which was really cool, because I never get to do that,” Lockwood says. “It kind of helps ease my anxiety to be able to watch it. Otherwise, traditionally I have just been standing there, just thinking about what’s going on out there because I can’t see it. It was great to be able to watch it unfold in real-time.”
The models and designer return to a room that can only be described as what is effectively a fashion bullpen. Lockwood’s intern and former model for her 2018 KCFW collection, Leah Williamson, is organizing and hanging up the garments and getting them ready to load back into Lockwood’s car.
Williamson gets to study under one of the best in KC, but also provides yet another supportive face and extra hand throughout the ordeal that is bringing a concept through to fruition on the runway.
“I made this jumpsuit romper and I also made one of the cow print dresses. I finished the design and patterned them. Also just by being here and helping prep all of the models, finishing garments. I’m just so grateful that I got to intern with Audrey,” Williamson says, adding that she may do her second and final internship with Lockwood again next season.
The day is finally done, but Space Devil is not. In a few days, Lockwood and some of her models will travel out to Marshall, MO, to take some post-show promo photos.
“I try to always shoot the collection before and after each show. I do in a studio, and then also on more editorial style photos, which is what we will do in Marshall. Fashion images are really important, especially in the days of social media. So I use those photos constantly to promote my brand,” Lockwood says.
These shoots are also crucial for an artist looking to expand their network in a growing but niche Kansas City fashion scene.
“I think the collaborative process of scheduling shoots is really important because I end up meeting a lot of people through that alone. I get to promote my brand, but also I think it’s just quintessential to me, to get to know other talented people who are creatives,” she adds.
What’s next for Devil Doll and Space Devil?
“I really want to work on developing a series of ‘ready to buy’ outfits. I want to work on selling garments through my site and doing a lot of custom work, but then also start to design my next fashion show. Also, I already have lots of photoshoots and collaboration ideas in mind,” Lockwood says.
For tonight, she’ll take some time off for a well-deserved rest. As Mock and Williamson help her pack up outfits in her car, they reflect on the show and the feedback they got from it.
“The feedback I got was phenomenal and it was really well received and I felt so embraced and I don’t know that I’ve ever felt so much like I’d hit the nail on the head after a show prior to this one,” Lockwood says. “I am overwhelmingly proud of myself and I’m just really thankful for all of the connections I have made and the opportunities I have gotten throughout this experience. I’m really extremely grateful for it, and there’s truly nothing else in the world like knowing there are people who are loving what you do.”
As Dolly would say, “find out who you are, and do it on purpose.”
The Nashville icon would be proud to see Lockwood doing just that.
For more of Lockwood’s work, or to purchase one of her creations, visit her website and follow her brand on Instagram.