There’s something magical about markets, something theatrical about all the colours and the clanging, the flowers and the fruits, the haberdashery and socks and electricals, all side by side. Even on a quiet day, a market has a variety of fare and a vibrancy of spirit that our huge supermarkets cannot hope to match.
At the heart of Leeds, Kirkgate Market is one of the largest indoor markets in Europe, and famously the birthplace of Marks & Spencer. This year it became home and birthplace of a new hub of style and creativity known as Cutout Dolls, a fashion boutique that brings together clothes by local independent designers and offers a styling service to create outfits and looks for customers in search of something out of the ordinary.
The woman behind it all is Karen Angelina Kelly, who describes herself first and foremost as a stylist. “What that means is that I’m good at putting looks together for people and thinking about what really suits them,” she says.
“I also like to say I’m an influencer. I love looking at what can sell and what suits people, and then I can go to the designers and say ‘these looks are in for autumn/winter, can we do this?’ It’s like we’re all working together to create something.”
The customer is the final piece in this creative collaboration. “That’s why I love what I do so much. It’s just inspiring,” she says.
Designers who currently feature in Cutout Dolls include Jo Palmer, from Otley (her label is called Jojo One Chance); Jenny White from Sheffield, Rua Luja from Manchester; Dazarocks, from Horsforth; and Loula’s Boutique, from Goole.
Karen Angelina describes many of the designs she stocks as “quite Vivienne Westwood inspired”, with ruching, maybe slightly quirky, and the kind of styles that suit a variety of women. “I’m out there to try to cater different sizes, because there is a gap in the market,” she says. “A lot of people go to the high street and they can’t find things to fit them, because the sizing is all wrong.”
Cutout Dolls also provides a bespoke service with pieces made to measure.
The name comes from Karen Angelina’s childhood hobby, of making her own little cutout dolls and cutout outfits. “I used to love that transformation,” she says. “That’s why I love my name, because I think it really means something.”
Brought up in Bramley, in Leeds, after school Karen Angelina had a number of jobs, working in offices, and moved to Brighton in her 20s and worked in hotels and nightclubs. After returning to Leeds, she worked in a photography studio. “I didn’t realise what a stylist was,” she says, but soon found she began to understand what was needed to create looks for the camera. “I also liked doing the makeovers – a transformation, and that’s kind of what I’m doing now,” she says. “I’ve always had an eye, but I’ve never really known what to do with it. I didn’t have a lot of confidence when I was younger. I think that’s why I love to give other people confidence.”
She began organising fashion shows, including one at Leeds Kirkgate Market, earlier this year, showcasing new designers, and then decided to launch Cutout Dolls as a pop-up boutique, encouraged by Leeds Market’s focus on encouraging new creative enterprise. Next door to Cutout Dolls is Art House, an art and photography unit run by Karen Angelina’s friend Paul Heaney, who took the photos for the shoot featured here. The location was the former Victorian auction house which is now Iberica Spanish restaurant on East Parade in Leeds. “The interior is just out of this world,” says Karen Angelina.
Cutout Dolls will be at Leeds Market for at least another six months and quite possibly after that as well. Karen Angelina is going to start teatime sessions, so friends can meet there after work for a drink and a try on of designs that they won’t be able to find elsewhere. They might, for example, like a reversible Rua Luja jacket currently in stock. “You can have it frontways for at the office and then you can turn it round and have it with just a bra in the evening,” she says. “Apparently in London, that’s what they all do, because they don’t have time.”
There’s no website yet, although one will be coming. In any case, Cutout Dolls is all about personal service and discovering designers and makers in the flesh.
“I am totally passionate about working with talented designers and getting them noticed,” Karen Angelina says. “I understand the level of work that goes into each garment.”
* Cutout Dolls can be found near the Marks & Spencer heritage unit in the 1904 Hall of Leeds Kirkgate Market. There’s more Yorkshire fashion and beauty news here.