If there’s a gene for style Billie-Jane Buell was born with it.
And her instinctual knack for fashion and décor has led this Charlottetown woman into the world of television and film where she has been a costume designer, wardrobe buyer and set designer on a myriad of shows. She has been a personal dresser to many famous celebrities such as Farrah Fawcett, Jessica Lange and others.
Now she has her own company, Buell Designs, through which she provides professional image consultation and wardrobe styling, closet analysis, personal shopping and more.
“I don’t wear high heels to work because my job can be gruelling . . . ,” laughs Buell, for whom serious shopping expeditions are part and parcel of her work as a wardrobe buyer, fashion stylist and image consultant.
Her career is the fulfilment of a lifelong interest in all things fashion.
“I liked to think outside the box, even as a little girl,” she says.
“I spent hours playing with my Fashion Plates (Design Activity Kit). It’s the best present I was ever given.”
She was keen to have the latest styles from all the magazines so her grandmother Elizabeth MacKay of Marie helped her create her own designs by teaching her how to alter patterns at a young age.
“So I could make very unique current stylish clothes — Billie-Jane creations — that were in style in New York and be able to wear them here on P.E.I.”
Buell also started making doll clothes and Barbie outfits and decorating family members’ birthday cakes, rearranging furniture and picking out paint colours.
“I was the mini Martha Stewart,” Buell laughs.
Her parents, Bill and Barb Buell, used to take her and her sisters, Tracy-Anne and Sarah, on annual excursions to Montreal, Que., for their back-to-school shopping.
“We would save up all our allowance and summer job money for this trip,” she remembers.
“It was good family fun! We’d each get the latest fashions that you couldn’t get in P.E.I. And then after the shopping spree back at the hotel we’d have a little fashion show and show off our new clothes.”
Buell studied environmental planning at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design from 1992 to 1994, followed by fashion design at Holland College in Charlottetown from which she graduated in 1996.
While still a student, Buell was selected to be a costume designer for a play, Maritime Star, at the Harbourfront Theatre in Summerside.
It was her first exposure to the behind-the-scenes world of theatre.
“That really gave me a taste. And then I did a couple of P.E.I. Tourism commercials and that’s what got me (interested). I was encouraged by the (Toronto-based) production company to consider getting into the film industry because you have to be the right kind of person to deal with the fast pace in the ever-changing creative work environment, and they noticed that I picked it up really quickly,” she says.
So in 1997 Buell packed up her backpack and headed off to Toronto where she began to make her way into the film and fashion industries.
“I was faxing resumes all the time and then I’d have to use a map to go and find the production company I wanted to introduce myself to. So you really had to get yourself out there. There’s so much competition in a big city,” she says.
Her first gig was as a set decorator for a detergent commercial for which she had to buy washers, dryers, clothes and more.
“As the production companies and commercial houses got to know me as a set decorator, I told them it was really wardrobe styling that was my specialty. So they started hiring me for wardrobe styling positions,” she says.
She found an agent to represent her, assisted a few stylists to learn the ropes and eventually became a head wardrobe stylist on various commercials and music videos.
Things really picked up after she joined a film union, which opened doors to television series, movies of the week and feature films.
In and around film gigs, she worked at fashion companies as an assistant designer, fashion buyer and visual merchandizer to keep the cash flow coming in.
She also took interior decorating courses at George Brown College.
“Between film contracts I would come back to P.E.I. I was back and forth all the time so I slowly start establishing clients here who wanted my services in my off time between movies,” Buell says.
“And then out of the blue I’d get a call to go back to Toronto to be a wardrobe buyer and personal dresser to Farrah Fawcett or off to Halifax to be Jessica Lange’s personal dresser and work with her. So you pretty much have to be really to go at all times. That’s what’s exciting for me. I do love when things are ever-changing.”
Buell was also set designer on two cooking shows for the Food Network: Chef at Home with chef Michael Smith of P.E.I. and French Food at Home with Laura Calder for many seasons, as well as other shows.
Her more recent work includes being the head wardrobe buyer for the entire cast of a Bollywood feature called Breakaway in 2011 which starred Rob Lowe, Russell Peters, Camille Belle and Vinay Virmani.
“It was a lot of traditional Indian attire. I studied all the beautiful fabrics and their traditional wear, such as how to tie a turban, and I learned how to source and where to buy Indian attire in Toronto. It was very interesting,” she says.
Another recent job was with the NBC series, The Firm.
“I got to buy beautiful high-end suits for (actors) Josh Lucas, cool shirts and blazers for Callum Keith-Rennie, as well as some beautiful dresses, skirts and blouses for Molly Parker. And then sometimes I am buying wardrobe for low budget films or series and picking out looks for cab drivers. I love the diversity of it all.”
Buell continues to work in the film industry and also on the expansion of Buell Designs, which is based in Charlottetown.
“I was helping people all the time in between movies. Actors were coming to me, saying, ‘Oh I have an awards ceremony or film festival to attend. Can you find me something unique to wear?’ Or friends were saying, ‘I lost weight. Can you help me get a wardrobe for my new body shape?’
“I was even having clients approaching me for home styling consultations because they knew of my set decorating experience. I started seeing that there was a need for my services,” she says.
“Fortunately, I get to use all of my creative skills now in Buell Designs. Everything kind of meshed together.”
AT A GLANCE
Billie-Jane Buell of Buell Designs in Charlottetown is a fashion stylist, image consultant and home stylist who has been freelancing in the fashion and film industry for the past 14 years.
She provides professional image consultation, wardrobe styling, wardrobe closet analysis, personal shopping, wedding styling, fashion show coordinating, home styling, special events planning and decorating services.
She was set designer on two cooking shows for the Food Network: Chef At Home and French Food at Home.
She has been a personal dresser to many famous celebrities such as Farrah Fawcett, Jessica Lange, Jennifer Beals, Peter Gallagher, Forest Whitaker, and chef Michael Smith.
For more information, visit www.buelldesigns.com.