Love, Kelly: A Look into Kelly Butts-Spirito’s Debut Collection at VFILES, New York

Kelly Butts-Spirito’s life has been anything but linear, something that comes alive through his fashion. But this was never a part of the plan. “I unintentionally stepped into clothing,” said Kelly. “It was always something that fascinated me, but I never thought that that’s what I wanted to do.” So, how is it that a small-town kid from Vermont opens his first runway show at the iconic VFILES shop in SOHO, New York? Through unrelenting confidence.

“You have to believe that you have something to offer,” said Kelly, “confidence is key.” This confidence is something that Kelly has been crafting for years with his brand Love, Kelly. What started as a medium for music videos has transformed into an umbrella brand for different avenues of entertainment. “For a while I was just making music videos for smaller artists,” said Kelly. “I was really close to one artist in particular, North Ave Jax.” Unknowingly, this connection would conceive Kelly’s first venture into fashion. Following the release of their first music video together, Kelly created merchandise to coincide with the visuals; it was a success.

When North Ave Jax’s career began to take off, so did Kelly’s. New doors opened, and the Love, Kelly brand grew. But Kelly never stopped learning. Kelly would bounce back and forth between Atlanta and Vermont, expanding upon his experiences and honing in on his creative endeavors. A journey that would bring Kelly to New York City, where he would eventually meet and intern under the founder of VFILES, Julie Anne Quay.

“I was in a position where it just made sense for me to make clothes,” said Kelly. “I had these creative ideas and phrases, and I was just like, what do I do to make these a real thing? So, I decided to put them on clothes.” This realization couldn’t have come at a better time. “I was already interning with VFILES, a company that has been a pioneer of high fashion meeting streetwear,” said Kelly, “so why don’t I just do a runway show there?”

As a rookie in fashion, this would be no easy feat. Kelly knew that he needed to stand out, but how? “I wanted to tell a story with my clothes,” said Kelly, “my story. But for my entire story, context is extremely important. The clothes are only a half picture, how do I fill it in?” That’s when it dawned on him: “Why don’t I incorporate this film experience that I have?”

And thus, the very first Love, Kelly fashion show was created. “It was crazy,” said Kelly, “we did 43 pieces in 40 days.” These pieces would be divided by theme under three short films; all of which were starring, directed and written by Kelly. “When I express my emotions and my story with words, it almost doesn’t make any sense,” said Kelly. “But when I put these things into the context of film and fashion, the reaction is really strong.”

By combining these mediums, Kelly painted a non-linear picture of his own identity. His first film, aptly titled “Dear, Love,” is a depiction of a heartbreak Kelly experienced. The film follows Kelly writing a love letter to love itself, and the accompanying clothing mirrored these sentiments. With stitched on words and phrases from the letter, Kelly used fashion to bring his emotions to life. “I wanted this collection to feel almost raw and naked,” said Kelly, “to me, that’s the feeling of heartache.” Kelly accomplished this by incorporating a simplistic and worn-down aesthetic with his clothing. “I feel like the biggest challenge for me with heartbreak is it feels so vulnerable and exposing,” said Kelly. “That’s what I wanted to convey with the fashion.”

Following, was Kelly’s next film entitled, “Take These Broken Wings and Learn to Fly.” Originally sang in The Beatles song, “Black Bird”, Kelly has made these lyrics his mantra. “It’s a really easy way for me to package up my experience of being sober at a young age,” said Kelly. “How do I explain that you never really move on from this, you just take it with you; this feeling and this addiction. With my film and my clothes, you can walk into the room and be like, now I get it.”

Finally, was Kelly’s film, “Home”, which served as a homage to his upbringings in Vermont. Struggling with addiction at a young age, Kelly’s experience was not always an easy one. But without these experiences, without Vermont, Kelly would not be where he is today. “I proved a lot of people wrong,” said Kelly, “But I also proved a lot of people right. There were kids who supported me so much when I had absolutely no motion. It gave me this extreme confidence to continue to do what I’m doing.” There is no Love, Kelly without Vermont, and this collection proves it. Taking on a more rural aesthetic, Kelly used clothing to take his audience back to his roots. “Plus,” said Kelly, “I feel like country style holds this hilarious opposition to high fashion.”

These three films and collections represent Kelly’s journey up until this point. Although fragmentary, they tell one story: the story of Love, Kelly. And as for what comes next, who’s to say. Maybe it will be a new fashion line, or maybe it will be a feature length film. For Kelly, there’s no telling where his journey might take him. “I want to chase that feeling of leaving it all out there,” said Kelly, “leaving my mark on the people.” This much appears to be all but certain.

About the writer
Clint Harris is a dynamic storyteller whose passion for journalism was ignited at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. With a keen eye for narratives, Clint takes a distinctive approach to his writing, weaving compelling tales that captivate readers. His journey as a wordsmith began in the world of freelancing, where he honed his craft and developed a unique voice. Beyond the world of words, Clint's heart beats to the rhythm of music. His deep passion for melodies and lyrics fuels his creativity, infusing his work with a unique energy and perspective. Currently, Clint bridges the gap between creativity and business with his role as a partnership manager at Long Island University’s Roc Nation School of Music, Sports & Entertainment.