So you want my arts job: Cosplayer

Kirilee Cosplay has been in the field of cosplaying for nearly a decade, representing Australia in international competitions and championing cosplay for all.
Kirilee Cosplay. Photo: Supplied. A cutout portrait of a Caucasian woman dressed up with a frilly dress and hair accessories. The portrait is black and white on a purple background, with the words ‘so you want my arts job?’

Cosplay, i.e. “costume and role play”, is a multilayered practice that allows the cosplayer to become their favourite fictional characters. Seasoned cosplayers are often involved in every step of the costume and prop-making process, and while some embody a theatrical element to not only look like the character they are portraying, but behave like one, cosplayers are not bound to the stage.

The history of cosplay is said to have originated from the 1st World Science Fiction Convention held in New York City in 1939, but it wasn’t until around the 1990s cosplay as a hobby became a significant aspect of popular culture in Japan, alongside the increasing proliferation of anime aided by television and the internet.

Kirilee Cosplay is a Perth-based cosplayer and YouTuber, who has been cosplaying for nearly a decade. In that time, she has travelled the world taking part in cosplay competitions representing Australia.

She was the winner of last year’s Cosplay Central Crown Championships at PAX Australia as Toph Beifong, an earth-bending master from Avatar: The Last Airbender, and represented Australia at the World Cosplay Summit in Japan following her win at the Madman National Cosplay Championships. Cosplay placed third representing Australia at the 2022 Art to Play Before Christmas Cosplay Championships in Nantes, France, and won ‘Best in Show’ at 2023 Anime Los Angeles.

Kirilee Cosplay’s winning look, portraying Toph Beifong from ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ at the 2023 Cosplay Central Crown Championships. Photo: Supplied.

Apart from making her own costumes and attending conventions and competitions, what brings Cosplay joy is using her YouTube platform to teach and inform others about cosplay’s craft and culture.

How would you describe what you do?

I make costumes and then wear them.

OK, there is a bit more to it than that. Cosplay at its heart is a mix of popular/geek culture, passion, crafting and performing. It is also a very personal experience and everyone approaches it differently.

For me, I tend to find a design or a character (or a mixture of both) that I simply love. And then I have the desire to make that a reality and put it on my body.

Read: So you want my arts job: Wearable Art and Fibre Artist

Some cosplays may only take a day to make, others will take up to a year to complete. Some will cost nothing (as you use materials you already have in your stash – left over from other projects) and others will cost thousands of dollars. Every cosplay build is unique, which keeps things interesting.

How did you get started in your career?

I have been sewing since I was three, and have always enjoyed performing. I even studied performance at university. But theatre and TV/film life was not for me, as I quickly discovered. So I did what any sensible person did – they went and got an office job.

Then I started to play around with photography, particularly model stock photography, where I used myself as the model and focused on interesting poses, expressions and costumes for mostly digital artists to use. Then someone commented on one of my pictures “Hey, cool cosplay!” I wondered what that was, Googled the term and a whole new world opened up for me. I researched conventions that came to Perth, found the next one, made a T.A.R.D.I.S. dress (1950s inspired) and instantly, I was hooked.

What’s an average day or week like?

I still have a regular job, but now it is part-time. The rest of the time, I am working on my business – whether that be making a cosplay, editing/uploading my videos on YouTube, or running workshops to a group of people.

In short, I am never bored and certainly keep a diary to track where I need to be and what I need to be working on.

What’s the most common misconception about being a cosplayer?

That you have to look a certain way. People think that all cosplayers are teenagers, maybe in their early 20s, and you must look identical to the character you are portraying. But that is simply not true – you can be any age, gender, body size and shape, and ethnicity. Cosplay is more about the love for the character and design, not about being a carbon copy of the actor who may portray the character.

Do you have any advice for someone starting out?

See if there are any conventions in your area and plan to go!

Start with a simple cosplay – either buy online, use what you already have, or if you already know how to sew or foam smith, make a simple cosplay. Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Just remember to have fun.

And if you get hooked as I did, remember that YouTube is your friend and there are many tutorials on there to help you.

What is your dream cosplay character?

I have so many and they are always changing. At the moment mine are: Anna of Cleves from Six: The Musical (I’ve already done Jane Seymour from Six), Queenie from Blackadder and so many designs by my favourite fan-artist, Sunset Dragon. I love anything that sparks a sense of joy and excitement within me.

How do you define ‘success’ as a cosplayer?

It is different for everyone. For some it is being recognised as the character that you are cosplaying; for others it is getting asked to have photos with, winning cosplay competitions or getting amazing, mind-blowing photos of them in their cosplays.

For me, it is being recognised from my YouTube videos – from the tutorials I put out to help people, the talking head videos to discuss cosplay-related issues, and the cosplay-building vlogs where I explain what I’m doing with the end pay-off of a finished cosplay. Anytime this happens, this makes me really feel like I have succeeded as a cosplayer.

For more in the So you want my arts job series.

Celina Lei is an arts writer and editor at ArtsHub. She acquired her M.A in Art, Law and Business in New York with a B.A. in Art History and Philosophy from the University of Melbourne. She has previously worked across global art hubs in Beijing, Hong Kong and New York in both the commercial art sector and art criticism. She took part in drafting NAVA’s revised Code of Practice - Art Fairs and was the project manager of ArtsHub’s diverse writers initiative, Amplify Collective. Celina is based in Naarm/Melbourne. Instagram @lleizy_