When Claire Falkiner was made redundant from her job as a childrenswear designer late last year, she did what many people would do in the same situation: try and keep it together long enough to make it to the car. “Michael [her husband] and I were driving down Punt Road and I was doing that crying-laughing thing. I was like, ‘this is kind of awesome – I don’t have to go to work tomorrow’, but it was scary,” she recalls.

Before long, Falkiner returned to painting, something she had always loved but allowed to fall by the wayside when the demands of her job reigned supreme. It was at this time she found herself crafting paper headdresses which are now known under the name of Merci Perci (named after her rabbit Percival).

The couple converted their second bedroom into a light-filled studio kitted out with everything Falkiner needed to create her headpieces, which were largely inspired by the headdresses worn by tribesmen in Papua New Guinea.

Falkiner has always been interested in tribal costume and self-decoration and initially came across pictures of the headdresses in a book about tribal art. In PNG the headdresses are traditionally worn to signify momentous occasions and this idea of ceremony and celebration comes to life in Falkiner’s own intricate designs.

Falkiner was entranced and began a fruitless search to buy one online. Even though she didn’t find one for herself, “I couldn’t stop thinking about them,” she says. “They were just so amazing, so they inspired me to see what I could make myself.” After “fiddling around” with paper, Falkiner fashioned one herself. This first piece she made was so enormous that she didn’t know what to do with it, storing it away until a girlfriend rescued it. “She saw a corner poking out from under the bed,” Falkiner says.

Falkiner was so surprised at her friend’s positive reaction to the piece and gave it to her straight away. The very first Merci Perci piece now has pride of place in her friend’s home and Falkiner set to work making another. “I couldn’t believe she claimed it, but I’m so glad she did.”

Although Falkiner was originally inspired by Papua New Guinea, she says that her artwork has evolved and her pieces do not try and represent or emulate specific tribes or cultures. People have commented that that they look Mexican, sometimes Najavo or even West African, but Falkiner says that she isn’t trying to represent other cultures in a Western context, but rather make art that gives a feeling of celebration.

Falkiner uses her background in textile design when she mixes watercolours, pen and gouache as well as acrylics, collage and occasionally sequins and pearls to make her delicate creations. Each piece takes hours, as she paints the designs on large sheets, before carefully cutting and mounting it carefully to a 3D form, the tiny pieces extending exactly the right way before it is taken away to be professionally hinged and framed.

It was the same friend who rescued her first piece that introduced Falkiner to interiors stylist Julia Green, who then recommended her to Lucy Fenton, part of the team behind Fenton&Fenton homewares – which happens to be Falkiner’s favourite store. Merci Perci is now stocked in its Armadale store, alongside artists that she looks up to. Asked how it feels to be ticking off things from her bucket list so early on, Falkiner smiles and gestures to Michael. “We high-fived.”

Merci Perci is available at Fenton&Fenton at 471 High Street, Prahran.

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