British Columbia

Vogue, Gucci, Bergdorf: Vancouver self-portrait artist finds his place in high fashion

Lyle Reimer says he's always felt like an outsider growing up. Now that he's found his voice, he hopes his avant-garde art will help others feel like they are understood.

Lyle Reimer, also known as Lyle XOX, hopes his avant-garde art will help others feel like they belong

Lyle Reimer says once his makeup is on, he transforms into Lyle XOX. He's pictured here at a photo shoot with Vogue Japan. (Stuart Gillies/Random Is My Favourite Colour)

It's hard to believe that Vancouver artist Lyle Reimer grew up in a prairie community of about 150 people. His meticulously tidy Kitsilano-studio is marked with career highlights from a world away.

Pinned on the wall, a handwritten note from Britsh Vogue's editor-in-chief, Edward Enniful. Tucked into a cubby hole, blades from a portable fan.

"Oh that, that was from a shoot with Vogue Japan," says Reimer, 41, as he picks up the fan's blades.

Then there are photos from his campaigns with Gucci, Moschino's Jeremy Scott, and Viktor and Rolf.

Each of the looks Reimer dons takes days or sometimes even weeks to complete. (Stuart Gillies/Random Is My Favourite Colour)

A closer look at the mannequin heads lining his desk reveals the overwhelming number of bits and bobs used in Reimer's art: bottle caps, slivers of hair, old cardboard packaging.

"I have a love for recycled garbage and all of the random things that become part of our lives in one way or the other," he says.

The avant-garde artist and his work are the subject of a new documentary called Random Is My Favourite Colour, which airs on CBC Friday and Saturday. 

CBC News interviewed Reimer at his studio earlier this week. 

Watch the documentary below:

Standing out

Better known as Lyle XOX on Instagram, Reimer manipulates his collection of objects and glues them carefully to his face, turning himself into a living sculpture.

His family saved bones from Thanksgiving dinner so he could use them for the cover portrait of his book with famed publisher Rizzoli.

"I was like, do not throw anything out!" recalled the artist. "And they were like, 'Nope we've got it in bags for you.'" Doing things a little differently is a familiar feeling for Reimer.

He remembers standing out as a young boy, even when he was trying to fit in in his hometown of Wymark, Sask.

Reimer says he never felt like he really fit in until he moved to Vancouver and started makeup school, where he found his 'tribe.' (Phillipe Vogelenzang)

When his dad took him to buy his first bike, he knew it was a chance to be like one of the guys, but instead, he fell in love with a unicycle.

"I was so excited," he says.

Family as inspiration

It meant kids at school weren't always so nice to him but he found support at home. His mother, an artist who also used recyclables, recognized her son's talent early on. His aunt, a makeup artist, injected a love of culture and glamour from her travels around the world.

"It was those two worlds coming together that had really inspired me to do what I'm doing," he says.

Reimer says his family has been a constant source of support. (Stuart Gillies/Random Is My Favourite Colour)

It led Reimer to makeup school in Vancouver, then his first job at MAC cosmetics, where he was handed a uniform but deconstructed it into something completely his own.

"He had taken it and it was safety pinned, he had turned the neck into a sleeve ... we were all like, 'Oh my god, why can't we do that?'" recalls long-time friend Gina Hansen.

The windows at Bergdorf 

That relentless pursuit of self-expression culminated in a lifelong dream.

In March, with his mom by his side, the pair watched as luxury New York City retailer Bergdorf Goodman unveiled windows dedicated to his work.

Reimer wanted his mother to be with him when the windows of Bergdorf Goodman were unveiled with his work. (Stuart Gillies/Random Is My Favourite Colour)

A surreal moment that's still emotional for the artist.

"You have to take a moment to really process that."

For some, the fame can make an ego swell, but those who have watched him grow as a person and an artist insist he's remained the same humble and "beautiful human being."

"In fact, I think it's actually heightened  who he is because, I think, he took a chance on himself," says Hansen.

Despite his successes, Reimer says he still doesn't feel like he "belongs" but fitting in isn't so important to him anymore.

He hopes his story and his art will help anyone who's ever felt like an outsider to embrace their individuality.

"Then I feel like the mission is accomplished."