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Las Vegas designer creates fine, feathered fashion

Claire Vrainian was in her early 20s when she entered the film industry as a special makeup effects coordinator. She worked on such film sets as "Hellraiser," "Sleepy Hollow" and "Blade." After splitting from her boyfriend, who ran the company for which she worked, Vrainian realized she’d been living someone else’s dream for close to 20 years. It was time she found her own.

For her customers, Inspired by Claire Jane is a line of feather-embellished handbags, hair fascinators and "rock ‘n’ chic" tees. For Vrainian, it’s the dream she finally let herself have.

"As women, we get older and get to that point where we need to do our own thing," she says. "I woke up one morning and made my first handbag. … It was a very emotional time for me, when I started doing this. I was just growing up and not being afraid."

That’s where the feathers come in. Her handbags are covered in what she sees as symbols of her soaring into her own world. She calls them "strong" and "powerful," and, yes, "dramatic."

The 41-year-old is three years into her career as an accessories and T-shirt designer. She captured the attention of Zappos, which selected her as part of its Emerging Designers program. Her products are now sold on the Las Vegas-based site as well as her own, inspiredbyclairejane.com.

Her first handbag designs were cloth envelope clutches. She handmade the bags and then applied the embellishments. When the construction of the bag itself proved too time-consuming and cost-ineffective, she began scouring vintage boutiques all over the world for bags that now serve as her blank slates.

A bedroom inside the old Vegas home she shares with her husband, Christopher, serves as her studio. Shelves of vintage bags line the walls. Drawers with labels such as "fabric scraps," "zippers," "silk flowers" and "ribbons" stack to the ceiling. And, her "treasure," as she calls it, sits atop her work desk. It contains a trove of vintage earrings, brooches, pins and bracelets that fancy up the feathers that pretty up the purses.

She uses cocque and goose feathers, which she buys at crafting stores, for her handbags ($240 or $300, depending on the size). She finds peacock feathers online for her hair accessories and makes sure they’re cruelty-free and naturally molted. Each Inspired by Claire Jane item comes with special care instructions. So long as you "don’t pluck them," she jokes, the feathers are quite durable.

The fascinators, hair adornments that became a part of mainstream style consciousness after the royal wedding, are $99. These came about after a particular embellishment simply wasn’t working for one of her purse designs. Fiddling around with it in front of a mirror, Vrainian, who hails from Great Britain, set the glorified floral piece on her head. With a tip to the side, the proper way to wear a fascinator, she was officially a hair accessories designer.

Her fascinators can be clipped into hair or worn as a headband. American customers didn’t initially know what to make of the hair accessories. Since Kate Middleton wed her prince before an audience of millions in 2011, it all made sense. Vrainian was taking custom orders for that year’s Kentucky Derby.

Her T-shirt collection formed just as naturally. Vrainian’s husband is friends with Def Leppard lead singer Joe Elliott. Elliott asked Claire one day to put something together for an upcoming show. She designed a T-shirt bearing a Union Jack with a skull in its center. The famous musician liked it, wore it onstage and more orders followed.

She now has nine T-shirt styles ($30-$50), one carries special significance for Vrainian. It’s a pink peace sign flanked in a whimsical design. The words "peace," "love" and "courage" emblazon the peace sign.

"I want to inspire people to be creative," she says, "and have the courage to follow their dreams."

Contact Xazmin Garza at xgarza@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0477. Follow her on Twitter @startswithanx.

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