The Firebrand

In her paintings, 33-year-old artist Rajni Perera mixes surreal sci-fi tropes with stunning depictions of racialized female bodies. Her work has been applauded at exhibitions from Amsterdam to Sri Lanka. And her eclectic approach to getting dressed is just as impressive


WHAT SHE’S WEARING Vintage sheer top and skirt, Chandelier earrings and Haori jacket from Courage My Love; boots from Shoes on Spadina; scrunchie from NorBlack NorWhite. Photographed at Big Trouble

My first style icon
I’m a genetic replica of my mom. She was a newscaster in Sri Lanka when I was growing up, and I remember going to the station and watching her get her makeup done from time to time. How she got dressed was a ritual. She was very glamorous—big earrings, jewelled shoes. When she went out, she would get the hell dressed. My family in Sri Lanka are conservative Buddhists, so not flashy. But my mother’s flashy. I think that probably rubbed off on me.

My biggest pet peeve
I don’t like all this shit with buckles and buttons in funny places. I like to be comfy, and just want clothes I can put on and take off. No bunchy stuff; no ruching. That probably keeps my lines cleaner.

How I feel about fashion rules
I’m completely disrespectful of any fashion rules whatsoever. I just don’t know or care.

How Toronto influenced my style
I was born in Colombo, then we lived between Sydney and Melbourne for a couple of years. Then we came to New York state, and then Toronto. The magical thing about cities is the exposure to as much as possible. Coming to downtown Toronto when I was young and seeing the punk scene and bikers and ravers—that’s probably influenced my style more than any other city I’ve lived in.

My daily routine
I have a six-year-old, so sometimes I manage to wash my face! I normally dress quite utilitarian so I’m ready for an eight-to-10-hour studio day. I have studio wear—crappy clothes, comfy, loose fitting stuff so that I’m not sweating, in natural fabrics preferably. In the wintertime, I have several Dickies painters’ suits I’ll put on. If I’m woodworking, I have an apron.

My personal stylist
CeCe at Courage My Love is someone I always call if I’ve got an event coming up. She’s a great vintage buyer, and her store is beautiful. It’s around the corner from my house, so I’m in there three times a week. I also have a polyester lady in Chinatown who keeps an eye out and knows what I like. Right now, it’s flat colours, flowing, layered or lacy.

My favourite scents
No. 19 by Province Apothecary is my go-to for the summer, Thé Noir 29 by Le Labo for the winter, and occasionally, a Frédéric Malle scent that I’ll go through in about three weeks. I spray it on my neck and use my big hair as a diffuser.

My expanding sari collection
I probably have upwards of 20 saris. The way I wear them is like in the rice paddies, working-woman style. I don’t wear them business-style—my life isn’t travelling in a car from one air-conditioned building to another! I’ll tie it a little higher up, so you can see the ankle. When I wear it like that back home, everyone’s like, “Oh my god.” And I’m like, “I have things to do!”

My Instagram addiction
I spend way too much time on Instagram. The high that you get from it is like drugs and alcohol. I found a lot of the brands I really love on there: No Sesso! The Dreslyn? They do it up. Their shoes are unbelievable!

How I manage my love of shoes
I have a small problem—I have about 45 pairs of shoes, but I don’t have any that cost over $200. I like white runners in particular, which is a stupid thing to love, as an artist. I end up going to the studio, working and plop! It’s over for my Nikes, forever.

Why I became a teen mall rat
I grew up down the street from Pacific Mall, in Markham, which factored hugely into my style. I’m a really big fan of vintage Yoji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake—the kind of diaphanous, futurist cut of clothes, super visionary, very radical for the time. You see a lot of Yoji mirrored in the brands at the mall.

My DIY tendencies 
Sometimes, I’ll buy things I know are badly made and take them home and re-sew them so they keep a year longer than they otherwise would. I’ll also cut up dresses and sew shit on. I’ll be like, ‘This would be so good with a red fringe that goes down past my knees!’ So I’ll go to King Textile and get it. Right now, I’m wearing resoled Tevas! I can’t help myself!

My best makeup tip
I only have two actual makeup brushes. The rest are just paint brushes that I snip to the length I want. I’m not paying $26. Don’t let people rip you off. For Power Ball, I did a full surrealist painted face, inspired by a drag artist named Hungry. On my face, I had feather eyelashes from Dragon City Mall and flowers I cut up.


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