Text: Alec Coiro
Photo: Olimpia Dior
Lou Dallas is everything an emerging young fashion label should be. Designer Raffaella Hanley is approaching and creating fashion in a way that young designers must in order for fashion to stay alive as something relevant and distinct from pure commerce.
Not influenced by trends or manufacturing streetwear, there is a purity to the extent to which imagination informs Hanley’s creations. Her pursuit of fashion has always been twinned with a pursuit of fine arts. “I had done costume design since 4th grade, so I’d done fashion and I’d done art, but I decided to do the art thing when I went to RISD, so I feel like they’ve always been together.”
Indeed her art practice helps inform the unique look of Lou Dallas. “I was always collaging elements on paper and that translated when I put fabrics together I feel like I’m collaging fabrics.” However, it would be a mistake to make too much of a direct connection between her collage work and Lou Dallas. She resists the clumsy term “fashion collage.” in favor of “Pieced-Together.” The practice of piecing together often seems to begin with the raw materials. “A really big part of my practice is using found fabric or people donate fabric. My mom used to make childrenswear and still has fabric around, so I sometimes take fabric from her. But I think that relates back to my art practice because I always made art with the materials I have around. And that’s a big influence, the challenge of working with odds-and-ends that I have collected over the years.”
This not to say, however, that Hanley is purely guided by her materials. Each collection is discrete body of work because she begins work on each collection from a place of intention and research. “All the research creates a strange narrative in my head, but the viewer doesn’t have to understand it to get the collection.” The research comes from unexpected sources and is only transposed onto the final designs in subliminal ways. “I usually look at architecture, and interiors really interest me. I love looking at all the Frank Lloyd Wright houses.” How does it translate, “I’m not sure. I don’t like to sketch the clothes before they’re made. Part of the fun is to see how the making of it dictates what I’m going to do next. I don’t like the idea of using a reference and then literally trying to translate it onto a piece of clothing.”
Another source of inspiration is revealed by the etymology of the name Lou Dallas itself: “That name is pieced together, too. It comes from the name Korben Dallas that Bruce Willis plays in The Fifth Element. I took the Dallas from that. I like the idea that Lou could be a girls name or a guys name.” I asked her if she was a big Gaultier fan, as I think his costumes are what made The Fifth Element an amazing movie. She says she’s a huge fan and “that movie made me want to make clothes.” The Lou Dallas sci-fi film fantasy genesis story ties in neatly with Hanley’s intentions as a designer. “I love costumes and I love fantasy, so I always want it to feel like some other world, a new experience. It doesn’t interest me to make streetwear; although I definitely am influenced by streetwear.” That she has succeeded in creating the costumes for a new world is clear from looking at the results and from considering the name of her collections like “Plutonium Tears” (which was actually coined by her boyfriend and collaborator, Andrew Gonzalez) and observing the vibrancy of enthusiasm for her innovations. This vibrancy of enthusiasm emanates from the energy of the young creative people brought together to produce the Lou Dallas fashion shows with the classic mix of DIY moxie and next-level creativity that always heralds the coming of something important and new. “I like doing the fashion shows because that’s my way of including all my friends in the process. For my last collection I collaborated with my old friend Sonya [Dissin]; I showed her all my references and asked to make a pattern from them and then I got her pattern printed and the made clothes from them.”
Talking to Hanley, it’s clear that she’s only just getting started, and only just becoming aware of the scope of her potential. She says of of the second fashion show she produced (a few years ago): “I realized this is exciting, you can do everything: you can manipulate lighting, you can do a set. And I felt more ambitious, now I can create a whole world.”
I love costumes and I love fantasy, so I always want it to feel like some other world, a new experience.