Photo by: Sonia Gurrola
Five blocks from MacArthur Park, on a gloomy secluded street east of downtown Los Angeles, you will find the Mother Plucker Company. Entering the concrete building there is a showroom full of feathers. Willy Zelowitz, a true artist, is the owner of this magical feather shop.
Over 40 years ago with a $40 bag of feathers, Zelowitz started his feather business in West Hollywood. He started out as his own one man business making handcrafted earrings. Little did Zelowitz know that Mr. T would be his first celebrity customer. Everything took off from there. “There were a few museums back east that had used some of my artwork. They had a butterfly exhibit and I made flowers for them out of feathers. I did the Tokyo Gift Fair. It was called Big Sight,” Zelowitz said.
He has seen his angel wing artwork on ten story buildings. He has been in Milan and found his work in the subways.
“To me, almost more important than the cosmetics is the infrastructure. How well is it going to work, how it moves, what it looks like, how stationary or flexible it is. All these things have to be taken into consideration,” Zelowitz said.
He also produces private-label apparel and lingerie in addition to custom pieces and studio work, which is 40 percent of his business. If it involves feathers, Zelowitz will make anything his customers desire. If the feather is legal, there is not one in his shop he does not have. He is famous for his custom jobs and special order garments. He carries a big inventory and a lot of the feathers are dyed.
“Depending on the type of feather, they take colors differently. My preference for a brand name will be Jacquard dyes, you definitely need a protein dye,” Zelowitz said.
“Birds molt. That’s a process that every bird goes through. An example would be there are some ostriches that are prized for their quality of feathers,” Zelowitz said. ”So they are placed in a containment where they are incapable of kicking someone or something, which would definitely kill them and their feathers are just literally cut off, When they molt they fall out and grow new ones.”
Zelowitz gets the remnants of feathers from the young birds, which aren’t totally developed, but are still beautiful.
“The opportunity to create things and expose my artwork to the general public is what I value,” Zelowitz said.
From your average Joe to top designers, they all flock to his shop. His celebrity client list is three pages long. He has celebrity clients such as pop sensation Justin Bieber, Britney Spears and the late Michael Jackson. He has done many custom jobs for not only humans but animals too including a headdress for an elephant. His art has also appeared on Hallmark cards and Showtime’s “The Red Shoe Diary” series.
Zelowitz employs an Emmy award-winning costume designer, Lelan Berner. Berner is the top designer for the Mother Plucker Company and has been there for 13 years. One of Berner’s jobs is to hand-dye feathers in–house for small jobs. For bigger orders, the feathers are sent to a local dye house.
“I try to keep in-house as much as possible. So that I’m feeding my wonderful employees and taking care of them first,” Zelowitz said.
“Willy takes care of everybody. Willy takes care of me,” Betty Lo said. Lo is lead fabricator for Mother Plucker Company and has been with Zelowitz for nearly 30 years. Lo takes one feather at a time and together creates dreams and fantasies.
Zelowitz is very knowledgeable when it comes to feathers. All you need is a mental picture for it to become a reality.
“As far as making things for people our limits is my imagination and their pocket book,” Zelowitz said.