Walk into any ballet class and you're bound to see a row of dancers clad in leotards patterned with dainty flowers and lace. But nearly three years ago, American Ballet Theatre corps dancer Paulina Waski wore a very different kind of leotard to class—and her colleagues loved it. Now an average day at ABT includes any number of dancers in leotards featuring angry aliens, detached eyeballs and grinning monsters.
"My dad, John, is an artist, and he draws all these crazy creatures," Waski explains. "One year he did what he called his paper plate project; he drew a new creature onto a paper plate every single day for 365 days. I thought, 'he should put one on a leotard!' He screen printed one onto one of my old leotards himself, and when I wore it to class everyone was wowed." And so, Kreature Kulture was born.
The brand started with leotards, but hasn't ended there. The Waski duo tried to make inroads into the skate boarding community, thinking that the alternative nature of the designs would be appealing; but as demand from Paulina's fellow ABT dancers has grown, they've narrowed in on dancers as their prime consumer. Kreature Kulture now includes t-shirts for male dancers and leotards in a variety of colors, as well as crop tops and sweatshirts. "I think people are attracted to them because they're so unique," says Waski. "The goal is to be different from every other ballet apparel line." They're even selling custom-painted Converse sneakers. "The sneakers were my dad's idea," says Paulina. "I gave away an old pair of Converse, so he thought 'why don't I just paint on them?' And then [ABT soloist] Cassandra Trenary bought a pair, and everyone loved them."
Word has spread through ABT dancers with large social media followings such as Isabella Boylston, Devon Teuscher and James Whiteside. Now, there's a market for the new creatures that John thinks up. Though at first only circulated within ABT, the brand has expanded into other companies. San Francisco Ballet's Isabella Walsh and Boston Ballet's Lea Cirio can now be counted as customers, and Waski shared that an order just went out to dancers at Royal Winnipeg Ballet. "The reason why girls like to buy them is because it makes them feel different and unique," says Waski of the brand's success. "We're in leotards and pink tights and have our hair in a bun every day; wearing Kreature Kulture is kind of a breath of fresh air. A cooler vibe."
When asked where these darkly whimsical ideas come from, Waski seems somewhat at a loss. Her father, who's a package designer by day, has always drawn these creatures by night. "I have no idea where he comes up with these things. Sometimes he sees a stranger, and their personality inspires something."
What's next for this fledgling design team? They've been buying leotards in bulk to print on, but the Waski family is working to produce their own leotards as well. "My mom is an amazing sewer, and she's working on making her own leotards with two-tone colors to print on. It will make them even more unique."
The most popular design so far? "It's the design we call 'Pissed Off Alien.' It's a simple alien head with a little blurb filled with numbers and symbols. After a long day of rehearsal I think that really expresses how we feel in a way that words can't."