Kelly Framel is one of the fashion world's first Super Bloggers, having started sharing her taste online at a time when she still had to whisper about her "street-style" hobby so that her "proper" fashion job didn't find out.
As we know, social media went through growth at warp speed. Kelly quickly became one of New York's most sought-after influencers just a few short years later. Then, seemingly out of left field at the height of her success, Kelly moved to Oaxaca, Mexico, a place so remote that it took two days for the digital photograph for this story to reach me.
I had to ask...why?
For those who don't know you, tell us a little about yourself and your journey. Where did you grow up and what have you done?
It has been a strange and winding road, but here are the cliffs notes: I’m a classically trained painter; I grew up in Austin, Texas, got a degree in apparel design, and moved to New York City over 13 years ago, where I worked in fashion for a decade before transitioning into interior design and brand consulting for the last three. I relocated 6 months ago to a small town in Oaxaca, Mexico, to return to my first and one true love of art making!
Many people know you as your alter ego, The Glamourai, yet you seem to have shed that skin completely. Can you tell me about that?
The Glamourai was a blog I started in 2008. At the time, I was working as a fashion designer, creating demi-couture evening gowns with 5-figure price tags. The recession caused me to really question what I wanted to express in that world. The site gave me a way to return to the truth of what I initially loved about fashion, which is its potential for creative self expression. The Glamourai was one of the first-ever fashion blogs. Back then it was still considered dangerous to use your real name online. It was an exciting space to be in at the time, because there was only a handful of people doing anything similar. The scene was still super indie, and we all became friends and grew together.
I was always drawn to fashion as theater, and so became the first person to turn a personal blog into a platform for creating and publishing full-blown editorial shoots. This was totally uncharted territory, and for years I was begging designers to lend me clothes, begging locations to work with me, and begging agencies to trust me with their models. It was a hustle, and any money I made those first few years got poured straight back into shoot production. But those are the times I am the happiest — when I am building something out of nothing and doing so with my own hands.
It is still incredible to me how much the perception of fashion blogs transformed during my years in that space. The worst day of my career was the day my coworkers — at a fashion house! — found out about my site. I was mortified and thought my career was over! Now, 10 years later, bloggers are the kings and queens of the fashion world. It has been wild to sit in the center of that shift.
I’m grateful to have been a part of it all, but I never saw the site as being my life’s work. I never wanted it to be more than a chapter in my story. By 2015 I had really begun stepping away from it in a purposeful way; it was time for new challenges, dreams, lessons and experiences. I had made so many incredible contacts and had learned so much about how to tell authentic, branded stories through The Glamourai years, and was able to funnel those into a serious consulting business. I leaned into that pretty hard for almost 3 years, until finally I realized that giving my creative life to brands was actually a step back from self-publishing — and I was forced to face myself, and face the fact that all my life, all I have ever wanted to do is just make stuff. So I fired all my clients and moved to Mexico.
Do you feel freer as a woman? Is your current work more real, or just different?
I feel freer as a human! I feel I have found my way back to my own essence — I’ve spent the past year purposely and determinedly shedding years of cultural programming and establishing a safe space for the child inside me to come out and tell me what SHE wants to do with this life. It’s just bliss.
At the same time, I wouldn’t take back a single previous experience. I needed to live through all of it in order to arrive at the place I am today. Since I was a kid I have always wanted to make art. I began really intense classical training with a private painting tutor in the fourth grade, and basically did nothing else until the day I moved to New York. But in a way, all that training imprisoned me. I knew how to paint like the masters, but I didn’t know how to paint like ME. And from a young age I understood that there was a difference between being a painter and being an artist. So I chose to take a different track and play in fashion for a while, because I intuitively sensed that I needed to experience the world before I could really have anything meaningful to say. And now I have more to say than I know what do with!
So you didn't just transform your work as an artist; you totally changed your life?
This past year, my mantra has been, "Every obstacle pushes me deeper into the cosmic miracle." I remind myself of this any time I start to feel frustrated. The recession limited what I could do as a fashion designer, so it pushed me to start a site that allowed me to create much more freely. When that began to feel rote, I ventured to Miami to consult on a historic hotel project. When I wasn’t able to accomplish everything I had hoped to there, I started traveling to Mexico more. Basically, when it seems like things aren’t working, they actually are. Every obstacle in life has propelled me toward my unique inner truth, so now I really genuinely know that things are never not working; we just can’t ever see the full picture.
2017 was a tough year for the world, and I felt like the solutions being presented in NYC and on social media weren’t actually solutions at all; they were bandaids. I didn’t want a bandaid, I wanted an exorcism! I wanted to learn how to love the horrors of humanity, I wanted ancient wisdom, I wanted soul retrieval. Growing up in Texas, I’d always spent a lot of time in Mexico, so I had an affinity for the culture. Going back to it as an adult, I realized that the people here still remember things that we in the states have forgotten. They mix modern medicine with curandismo; Catholicism with paganism; artisanship with the internet. They worship the divine feminine. They make things with their own hands. Meanwhile, New York City is becoming one big Chase Bank. Mexico isn’t perfect either, but its traditions remain indigenous, and I knew there was much I could learn from it.
I got to the point where I felt like I would actually die if I went to one more party with a hashtag attached to it. So I got out. I made a commitment to myself to only do things that would feed my wild soul, and every day since I have felt the fire inside growing stronger.
Tell me about moving to Mexico - What that is like to leave the city behind? Does it feel odd or alienating to be in a non-traditional work environment? How does that affect your work?
I have always been a voracious reader, and grew up ravenously consuming stories of New York City in its heyday. But those days have passed, and life is blooming elsewhere.
I’m still adjusting to the rhythm of wildness. Honestly, it is strange to wake up in the morning and just decide in that moment how I would most enjoy spending the day. I have very few obligations and zero appointments. So instead of waking up and immediately reaching for my phone, I walk outside and put my feet in the grass. And then I make breakfast and start painting, or I drive to the village market, or I lay in the hammock and read a book. And yet I have never felt more productive or more fulfilled.
What would be your top tips be for a woman traveling to Oaxaca? What would your tips for a woman traveling alone in general be?
At an artisan market in a small town called Mitla, I stumbled upon 'The Ten Commandments For Travelers’ — written by a villager named Darla — and this feels like the appropriate place to share them. Numbers 6 and 10 are my favorites!
1. Thou shalt not expect to find things as thou hast them at home — for thou hast left thy home to find things different.
2. Thou shalt not take anything too seriously, for a carefree mind is the beginning of a fine adventure.
3. Thou shalt not let other travelers get on thy nerves — for thou came to have a good time.
4. Remember thou passport so thou knowest where it is at all times — for a woman without a passport is a woman without a country.
5. Remember to take only half the clothes thou thinkest thou needeth — and twice the money.
6. Remember, if thou hath been expected to stay in one place, thou wouldest have been created with roots.
7. Thou shalt not worry. Few things are fatal.
8. Thou shalt not judge the people of a country by the one person with whom thou hast had trouble.
9. Thou shalt not make thyself too obviously American. When in Mexico, do somewhat as the Mexicans do.
10. Remember thou art a guest in every land — and she that treateth her host with respect shall be treated as an honored guest.
Tell me your plans for your next adventure?
My only plan is to BE HERE NOW.