It’s February

I’m sitting across from Dano McKinley Teruel in the Blackfoot Diner. She’s a veritable “Tesla coil” of irony in this place. The decor here is undoubtedly trying to mirror the homeliness of post-war suburbia, with its warm colours and kitsch Route 66-era bric-a-brac. McKinley Teruel, by contrast, is wearing what she describes as a “Matrix jacket,” a long black trench coat similar to those worn in the movie of the same name. This is further accentuated by a large black men’s turtleneck.

McKinley Teruel is a fashion designer from rural Alberta with international ambitions. Earlier this year her website “Dano Moon” went live, showcasing her eclectic custom designed pieces.

In a few weeks she will travel to Italy to apply at Florence’s Polimoda International Institute of Fashion Design & Marketing. If accepted, it’s apparent that McKinley Teruel could become an overseas representation of the often-overlooked creativity of Alberta’s independent designers.

Growing up in rural Alberta, the love of sewing was fostered in McKinley Teruel by her Abuela, or grandmother, who grew up in Spain during the second world war and sewed out of necessity. When she arrived in Canada she brought her love of sewing with her, spreading it to the rest of the family.

“I was always sewing with my mom and my grandma,” says McKinley Teruel.

“I was the little kid that wanted to wear my crazy Halloween costume dresses to the grocery store.

“My brother would wear a Batman suit, and I’d wear a big foofy princess dress.”

Her first-contact with high fashion came when she moved to Seattle at the age of 13, and started attending private school.

“We didn’t have that kind of money to get that stuff, but all the girls wore like Tory Burch shoes, the flats with the Tory Burch symbols on the front part,” she says.

“I would wear, I don’t know, I went through a lot of different phases, but that’s when I started becoming more fashion forward, and more aware of my own personal style.”

Unable to buy designer brands, McKinley Teruel developed unique ways within her means to express the high-fashion aesthetic, something that’s still reflected in her designs and her own personal style to this day. The Matrix-style outfit she’s wearing right now, for example, was put together from finds at thrift stores.

Although McKinley Teruel had aspirations to be a designer from a young age, this career path really began to cement itself once she started high school.

“I did my first couture piece when I was in grade 12, and prior to that I was messing around, kind of draping and making clothes, she says.

“I wore them sometimes, they’re pretty horrible looking at them now.”

It was at this time that McKinley Teruel began working with the late Ruby Ellen, an internationally acclaimed wedding dress designer from Calgary.

“I apprenticed with her, she taught me, she really got me going.”

After high school McKinley Teruel spent a year living in Spain, visiting family and taking the opportunity to hone her craft from a more fashion centred environment.

“Look at that piece of lemon-meringue pie,” exclaims McKinley Teruel, fascinated by the sudden appearance of a large slice of pie on an adjacent table.

This impassioned outburst is characteristic of her personality, a personality you’d expect from someone who lives in a forest. While some designers might rattle off a shopping list of definitive influences, McKinley Teruel displays an unwavering fascination with the fluidity of her surroundings, and this in turn presents itself in her work.

“I feel like I kind of get bored easily, which can be a good a trait,” she says.

“But, there’s so many things that I like and I want to try. It kind of started from like tomboy, to like teen queen, to I don’t even know, just figuring ‘I don’t know who I am’ in high school, to just whatever the fuck I want I guess.”

Fantasy and mysticism are pillars of McKinley Teruel’s own personal ethos, and have thus become interwoven into the persona she presents to the fashion world. They’ve also become her stylistic guide.

“I just go with whatever, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it,” she says.

“I think a lot of it stems from the fact that I like the mystical, I’m a mystic being.

“I think that’s just in my pieces, nature, magic, and spells and all that stuff. I kind of feed off of it. It’s fun.”

McKinley Teruel’s take on mysticism, like her designs, is one unbound by frameworks.

“It’s not even Wicca necessarily,” she says.

“It’s more of just like, I would say what I’m interested in mostly is you can take good things from each different occult practice and combine it into one, and use it towards healing yourself and other people.

“It’s white magic. It’s for the greater good, and yourself. You can do things to help yourself too.

“It’s kind of everywhere, it’s just around.

“I think it was just brought to me metaphysically. I think it came to me because I was ready for it.”

For her, finding ways to integrate this into new designs takes precedence over constantly watching what else is occurring in the fashion world, a practice she seldom indulges in.

“I don’t really find myself spending a lot of time looking at what other designers do, because it kind of makes me anxious,” she says.

“I feel like I should have a clear palette.

“Obviously you have to be coming up with things that are innovative, and your own, because there’s a lot of things out there that have been done a million times.

“I kind of like to keep a clear palette of that.

“My other inspiration, I feel like a lot of it came from the internet, growing up partially not with it, but partially with it.”

This is probably the one element of the styles exhibited on McKinley Teruel’s website that are the most immediately relatable – the undercurrent of “net-stalgia” currently prevalent in urban fashion.

Unlike definitive movements like “vaporwave” that use these aesthetics, McKinley Teruel has taken them in her own direction, once again separating herself from the pre-existing and concrete.

“I definitely like things that aren’t real.”

“That’s what I want to portray in my designs.

“I want it to be part of somebody’s fantasy.

“I want you to be like, you’re wearing this clothing that adds to the environment of whatever the fuck your fantasy wants it to be.

“A real moment, where it feels like that’s what it is, without trying.

“Kind of like the guys that are eating here now, they’re just part of this building.

“They’re part of this environment.”

It’s August.

Dano just returned from three months in Europe. She decided to set up camp in Barcelona, hoping to use the city’s energy to inspire her as she created her submission pieces.

The result was a collection called lilangelgirl, pieces inspired by 90’s rave culture, the online virtual-world of IMVU, and the song High Definition Emotion by Leno Lovecraft, interestingly released on Canadian Ryan Hemsworth’s Secret Songs label.

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“I find myself being inspired by one thing, but then there’s so many of one thing,” she says of the collection’s virtual reality theme.

After locking herself in her shared room for weeks to finish the collection, she headed to Florence for the final portfolio presentation.

She was granted admission on the spot.

Now she’s sitting across from me wearing a black and white striped shirt, mom jeans rolled up at the calves, and platform sandals with white socks. She’s excitedly going into detail about everything she hopes to accomplish once she makes the permanent move to Italy this fall.

McKinley Teruel is representative of a new generation of artists, artists that create in seclusion and simultaneous complete inclusion through the internet. Hailing from an area not typically known for its fashion scene, internet counterculture visibly shaped her designs. She then filled in the blanks with her own transient musings and whimsical inclinations.

If the results can be categorized, it’s a category that hasn’t been created yet, a property that calls to mind something she told me back in February.

“Really, this is what it is, I like things that aren’t from this world.”

So she decided to create a new one.

Words by Jonathan Crane
Feature image by Samuel Dyer

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