Stylish Local Tastemakers: Kari McLay

By Athena McKenzie

Boutique owner Kari McLay blends old-world elegance with a modern twist.

Kari McLay, owner of Oak Bay boutique Tulipe Noire, wearing Ted Baker London in front of a painting by Bill Porteous.

Kari McLay, owner of Oak Bay boutique Tulipe Noire, wearing Ted Baker London in front of a painting by Bill Porteous. Hair by Carreiro. PHOTO: JEFFREY BOSDET

Kari McLay has been helping people with their style for decades — even back when she was working as a clinical social worker at Jubilee Hospital. 

“People always asked me about skincare and where I exercised and got my hair done,” she says. “That still happens now, but they don’t have to ask me about the clothes because they can see them in the store.”

McLay opened her clothing boutique Tulipe Noire in 2005 and much of what she sources for the store is based on her own “simple and easy personal style,” which she believes can work for anyone.

“I always choose for comfort and simplicity and then I accessorize,” McLay says. “It’s about choosing a great foundation piece in a high-quality fabric and then layering with jewelry and then layering with jewelry and/or scarfs. I just have fun with that. And it can’t take more than five minutes to get dressed. I don’t wear a lot of trousers because that means two pieces and maybe a belt and buttons on the shirt. So I wear a lot of dresses, and I can wear that one piece from nine in the morning until midnight — but I might change up my accessories.”

These accessories are just one way McLay is able to indulge her love of the visual. She draws inspiration from art and interior design, design and dance theatre, and says she loves old-world style combined with modern.

She describes her esthetic as multi-faceted, with the way she dresses and the way she decorates her house as having very distinct styles.

“What’s interesting is that in my own personal style I don’t wear a lot of colour or a lot of print, but in my home, I love a lot of colour, and velvet and layers of colour,” McLay says. “I’m an art collector, and the more colour the better.”

While her style remains easy and elegant, McLay does love to dress up for a formal occasion. As a member of the board of directors for Dance Victoria and a sponsor of their post-performance events, she’s often called on to thank donors and sponsors. 

“It’s a big part of my life, and I really enjoy the opportunity to dress up when I go,” she says. “It’s one way I show my appreciation for the arts. I love silk taffeta dresses with a bit of old-world glamour.

“Even if I’m the only person in a long gown at the Royal, I’m cool with that.” 


Favourite accessory
Silver Kwagiulth First Nation cuff from the 1950s, inherited from my mother.

Go-to shoes
Elk men’s lace-up loafers

Wardrobe staple
Eileen Fisher white cotton or linen shirts

Movie esthetic
The Shining. “The interiors are stunning.”