It should come as no surprise that Alexis Noriega always wanted to soar through the air like a peregrine falcon. As a girl, she spent hours watching birds take wing in the wild and she asked for a green-cheeked parakeet as her first pet at age 5. Then several years ago, the 28-year-old Phoenix artist signed up for flying and skydiving lessons to satisfy her urge to have a bird’s eye view.
Now, Noriega has taken her love of all things avian to new heights. Through her online Crooked Feather shop, she designs the ultimate accessories for those who appreciate the high life: Realistic feathered wings that extend with the flip of a switch, turning even the most mundane of outfits into creations worth preening over.
Ranging from $35 for a small set of wings made from rooster feathers to $3,000 for large, dyed pheasant feather sets designed for models and beauty pageant contestants, Noriega’s plumy adornments are in such demand that dozens of new orders are on hold until the end of January.
With 120 hours put into each pair of super-sized mechanical wings, “it’s become my life,” she tells PEOPLE. “There’s a constant layer of feather fluff in the air at my house.”
Her husband, Chris Noriega, 26, a yoga instructor, concurs that they might as well be living in an aviary.
“But the mess is more of a punishment to her than to me,” he says, “because she is the one who is constantly vacuuming.”
Twelve-hour days spent glueing feathers individually on to lightweight frames to resemble actual birds’ wings have all been worth it, says Alexis, if only to see the looks’ on her customers’ faces when they try on their first sets of crow, hawk, eagle or falcon wings.
“Ever since I made my first pair four years ago and wore them to a cosplay convention, people have gone nuts over them,” she tells PEOPLE. “I mean, who hasn’t wondered what it would be like to have bird wings?”
Many of her customers are beauty or fitness pageant contestants, looking for a unique way to make their costumes stand out, she says.
“With the popularity of angel wings like the ones at Victoria’s Secret fashion shows, it’s a look a lot of contestants want right now,” says Noriega, who spent months perfecting how to make her wings fan open mechanically like a bird’s. “Women who wear these want to look like they could just fly off the stage.”
One contestant says that a pair of “Crooked Feather” wings helped her to win first place at a recent fitness competition.
“Alexis’ work is amazing and absolutely beautiful,” Nellie DaSilva, 50, of Tiverton, Rhode Island, tells PEOPLE. DaSilva won the World’s Best Fitness and Fashion pageant last month in a set of silver-and-gold wings made from ostrich feathers. “Everybody complimented me on them,” she says. “I think they made a big difference.”
Another fan of Noriega’s wings now owns four pairs, with two more on order for future cosplay conventions.
“Her wings are not flimsy at all and look so realistic,” says Trevor Gahona, 25, an artist from Tempe, Arizona. “I fell in love with them the minute I tried them on. I use them for cosplay, photo shoots and just when I need to smile on a great day. The craftsmanship is incomparable to anything else out there.”
Now frantically filling orders for Christmas, Noriega concedes the day is approaching when she will have to move her operation out of her living room and hire some help. “My days are long and my house is filled with feathers,” she says, “but I’m doing what I love.”
And for those who wonder when she’ll create something that can actually help the wearer take flight?
“Well, in a way, that already happens,” says Noriega. “I always tell people not to wear their wings in the wind because they basically have a giant sail on their back. So far, nobody has flown away. But I suppose that anything is possible.”