Millican Dalton: A Sublime Midlife Crisis
The relevance of a 20th century cave-dweller to environmental aesthetics.
Wednesday, 23 December 2020
At the mouth of the cave at Borrowdale, May 2020. Photograph: Lewis Eaton.
On a swelteringly hot day in the North Western Fells of The Lake District, the gaping mouth of a cave offered itself as a refuge and swallowed us mercifully into its cool damp interior. Caves are otherworldly places. This particular cave, set into the hillside of Castle Crag, allows you to peer out at the gently swaying trees and glimmering daylight of the outside world from a viewing point void of light and sound. The daytrip itself had been to seek refuge in The Lakes; an attempt at replacing the stagnancy of a locked-down city summer with a more welcome, less claustrophobic, kind of tranquillity. We spent a few minutes scrambling around on the siltstone, marvelling at the height of the cave walls and exchanging the obligatory comments about feeling small in big spaces. On leaving, I noticed a large, flat stone covered in scrawlings. At the centre in neat, deeply-etched letters read ‘Don’t Waste Words, Jump to Conclusions’ with dozens of smaller sections of writing surrounding this. Each gave names and dates, with many faded with age and dissolving back into the stone’s surface. It was from a frantic Googling during the car ride home that I came to find out we had happened across a sort-of pilgrimage place for hikers: the cave in which a man had lived out his summers for over forty consecutive years.
In 1904, at the age of thirty-six, Millican Dalton gave up his life as an insurance clerk in London in order to dedicate himself to The Great Outdoors. Having spent part of his childhood in Nenthead, the North Pennines, he found life and work in the capital stifling in comparison. From then on Dalton split his year, spending the summer months in the cave under Castle Crag and winters in a canvas hut in Buckinghamshire. Far from your conventional hermit, Dalton was an active and sociable member of the community. He organised camping excursions for the outdoors novice which included teaching hiking, rock climbing, rafting and how to forage for food. What I found extraordinary for the time was that these excursions didn’t exclude women, with one of Dalton’s advertisements for a mountaineering course stating his views bluntly: “Ladies are welcome to the camp. There is nothing new in ladies camping, the custom being at least 10,000 years old.” This rare indiscriminate approach led to Dalton forging a long-lasting friendship with geologist Mabel Barker, who over the years consistently recommended Dalton’s courses to women students and friends.
Dalton and Barker atop a needle, 1913. The Mable Barker Collection.
Hemlines: Notes on Fashion
What is fashion? Is it the haute couture looks that gallop down runways in New York, London, Paris, and Milan two times a year? Or is it the hand-me-down college sweatshirt you stole from your mom that feels like home when you wear it? Or perhaps it’s the designer handbag you bought yourself on your birthday last year? No, wait, maybe it’s the pair of Levis 501s that you wear five times a week? Hemlines: Notes on Fashion is a column that will explore, analyse, and critique fashion as both an industry and a form of artistic and creative expression. From the atelier to the closet, fashion as a medium holds the power to impact and reflect our lives and experiences both universally and personally. Hemlines will act as a forum to investigate fashion as both an everyday outlet for personal creativity and expression, but also as a medium that is profoundly intersectional, calling into question issues of politics, gender, race, and environment.
Monday, February 1st
Visionary. Man of the future. A fashion demi-god. These are just a few of the ways in which the late Thierry Mugler and his work as a fashion designer during the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s have been described. Transformation and its expansive possibilities were important to Mugler’s life and work. He knew well the impact of exaggeration on audiences. Born in Strasbourg, France in 1948, Mugler entered the theatrical arts at a young age, taking up bales at age nine and joining the National Rhine Opera when he was fourteen. During his twenties he moved to Paris, and while working for various designers on a freelance pass, Mugler designed and created his first ever collection. Drama and extravagance would quickly become a signature of his, not only in his collections but in their presentation as well. Mugler’s fashion shows competed with full-on theatre productions, taking on celebrity castings and fantastical mid-show performances.
Cardi B’s ‘Birth of Venus’ dress at the 2019 Grammys (Image: elle.com)
Mugler’s collections intersected Surrealism, sci-fi, and fetish. In accordance with the body-consciousness of the 1970s and ’80s, Mugler’s designs foregrounded and emphasised a sense of physicality. His archetypal silhouette was that of an inverted triangle, featuring exaggerated shoulders and a highly defined hour-glass shape, and he often highlighted his signature configuration with the repeated use of the corset. With Mugler, the corset was reinvented into a device of empowerment and strength. Divorced from its original contexts in which the waist-cinching garment restricted women’s lungs, inhibiting the physicality of their bodies, Mugler’s corsets do not hide under layers of dress but instead become a central visual aspect of his designs. Now in plain sight, Mugler’s corset becomes a celebration rather than a restriction of the feminine form. With its technical strength and physical rigidity, the garment takes on a role more likened to armour, which imposes a sense of strength and power upon the feminine waist.
Mugler Autumn/Winter 1997 (Image: elle.com)
Mugler Autumn/Winter 1995 (Image: elle.com)
Though stepping away from the fashion industry in 2002, Mugler remained a key figure and source of inspiration during the final years of his life. In 2019 he even briefly resurfaced to complete special projects such as Kim Kardashian’s ‘wet look’ dress at the Met Gala in 2019 and Cardi B’s 2019 Grammy Awards dress. Mugler’s loss is surely felt in the fashion community, as the designer defined and shaped an era of spectacle and power dressing, paving the way for so many others such as Galliano, Gautlier, and McQueen. However, I believe his legacy will prove eternal.
Monday, January 17th
After the harrowing and hallucinatory episodes of season one premiered in June 2019, the second season of Euphoria has finally arrived. Picking up where the first season and two special episodes released in December 2020 and January 2021 left off, season two continues to follow the complex lives of a pack of high school students navigating love, identity, and drug addiction. Euphoria’s main character and primary narrator, the 17-year-old Rue Bennett (Zendaya), grew up suffering from multiple mental disorders which ultimately led to drug addiction in her teenage years. While struggling to maintain her sobriety, Rue falls in love with Jules Vaughn (Hunter Schafer), a transgender girl who is new in town and comes with her own complex set of personal challenges and relationships. At the end of season one, however, Rue and Jules’ relationship ultimately succumbs to mounting pressures. Their relationship falls apart and Rue starts using drugs again.
As director Sam Levinson describes, ‘If season one was sort of a house party at 2 a.m., season two should feel like 5 a.m., way past the point where everyone should have gone home.’ The season’s opening episode features a New Year’s Eve party, which weaves together a montage of the characters’ individual emotional states. The party’s intense energy is palpable as it reveals the underlying tensions that exist both between and within each of the characters.
When Euphoria first came out, it was instantly celebrated for the bold and expressive outfits each of its characters dons in season one. Costume designer Heidi Biven’s whimsical costume direction could seem paradoxical at times given the contents of the show’s episodes; however, the ensembles she put together formed an expressive visual language, embodying the characters’ inner emotional states. And if the first episode is any indication, Biven’s costume direction will continue as such throughout the second season. Against darkening plots which treat issues such as pedophilia, domestic abuse, drug dealing, and violence, Biven’s costumes provide poetic insight into the internal complexities of these characters as they attempt to navigate the turbulent world of Euphoria.
Jules, Euphoria Season 2 Episode 1 (instagram.com/euphoria)
As in season one, Jules’ costumes remain extraordinarily layered. Her character is going through a lot of changes with regard to her gender and sexual identities. Jules arrives to the New Year’s Eve Party in a fitted mini skirt, two layered mesh tops, and elbow-high arm warmers, with an embellished ribbon choker and two longer necklaces wrapped around her neck. Her clothing is characterized by a combination of light pastel creams and blues, at once evoking a light and stereotypically feminine sensibility and complicating it through the act of layering.
Rue, Euphoria Season 2 Episode 1 (instagram.com/euphoria)
Rue’s outfit features a confluence of texture and pattern, its respective parts unified by their similar dark hues and dull colors. Comprising black pinstripe pants coupled with a dark grey waffle t-shirt and a loose-fitting embroidered vest, Rue’s clothing exhibits a sense of confused disorder that mirrors her emotional state as she attempts to escape the challenges of her reality through drugs. Completely devoid of light, her ensemble’s foreboding undertones echo her precarious mental and physical state, as her addiction slowly consumes her and pushes her closer and closer to overdose and death. The dull grayness of her t-shirt mimics the lifelessness that she creeps towards.
As new challenges and controversies are introduced into these characters’ lives, we can almost be certain that their clothing ensembles will continue to reflect their internal worlds. The irresistible and riveting world of Euphoria is exhaustively expressed in each perceptible detail of the show, from soundtracks to eye makeup, and the fashion continues to be no exception.
Gucci, Gucci, Gucci.
Monday, November 22nd
The Gucci Love Parade on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, CA. (Image: gucci.com)
On November 2nd in Los Angeles, California, the Gucci Love Parade marched down Hollywood Boulevard. Since taking leadership of the brand in 2015 as creative director, Alessandro Michele quickly became known for his maximalist designs and fashion shows of cinematic proportions. However, the recent Spring/Summer 2022 show took such precedents to a dramatic new level. The 115 look collection read like a retrospective of Hollywood’s fashion over the last century, an outright celebration of classic Hollywood glamour and old-school movie magic.
Gwyneth Paltrow. (Image: Jordan Strauss/Invision, via Associated Press)
Gwenyth Paltrow at the VMAs in 1996. (Image: whowhatwear.com)
As much as Alessandro’s show celebrated the stars, the stars showed up to celebrate Alessandro. Dakota Johnson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Billie Eilish, Lizzo, and Serena Williams, to name a few, were all in attendance. Moonlighting as models, even figures such as Jared Leto, Macaulay Culkin, and Phoebe Bridgers took a turn on the runway for the Italian brand. Gwyneth Paltrow arrived in a familiar red velvet suit, a reprised version of the ruby-colored ensemble—designed by Tom Ford for Gucci in 1996—which the entrepreneur and actor famously wore to that year’s VMAs. Remembered today as one of Paltrow’s most iconic looks, the suit delivers the kind of offbeat glamour Gucci does so well while proving that good fashion never ages.
Look 42. (Image: gucci.com)
Look 36. (Image: gucci.com)
Look 40. (Image: gucci.com)
Set against the shimmering lights of Hollywood Boulevard, the Gucci Love Parade was a fairy tale of sequins upon satins upon velvets upon feathers. Strutting down the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one after the other, the 115 looks featured exaggerated silhouettes, overstuffed shoulder pads, and taffeta trains, while the lively 70s-inspired color palette was occasionally grounded by 1960s wide-stripe plaids, dark velvets, and classic menswear pieces. Not to mention the accessories, or rather props, were magnificent. Cowboy hats, crystal speckled cat-eye sunglasses, princess tiaras, vinyl dress gloves, and starry tights vied for attention in a more-is-more collection that once again reminded us that Alessandro is the king of maximalism.
Gucci’s name has long been linked with Hollywood. In the mid-1990s, Tom Ford’s collections set the sleek, sex, modern style of the house’s look and established Gucci as a brand dedicated to evening glamour, attracting Hollywood A-listers in the process. However, the aesthetic of golden age cinema has often informed Alessandro’s collections before. Growing up in Rome, Alessandro would hear tales of his mother’s work for a film production company. ‘I remember all the stories she told me, and the details and the sparkles, about that dream factory. There was the alabaster paleness of Marilyn Monroe and her diaphanous voice’, he said. ‘There were the black satin gloves of Rita Hayworth and Veronica Lake’s velvet hair, as well as the bewitching allure of Rock Hudson and Kim Novak’s dizzying transformative power. Everything felt like a fairy tale’. In this respect, Alessandro’s latest collection is deeply personal. However, being presented in the fashion house’s 100th year of establishment, the Gucci Love Parade takes such allegiance to old Hollywood glamour to incredible new heights. In a statement after the show, Alessandro proclaimed:
'This boulevard of stars lends perfect support to my uncurbed love for the classical world… Hollywood is, after all, a Greek temple populated by pagan divinities. Here actors and actresses are acknowledged as heroes of the myth: hybrid creatures with the power to hold divine transcendence and moral existence at the same time.’
Through an almost camp display of affection, the show exquisitely captured that wild and chaotic 'anything is possible’ spirit of Hollywood that makes it possible for mortal humans turned movie stars to be worshiped as royalty or even gods. From the wild west to Charles Manson and the new Hollywood of the 1960s, the show absorbs an array of Hollywood tropes. And while the fashion world more often tends towards all things new, newer, and newest, Alessandro reminds us that we can never resist a good throwback.
Gucci took over Hollywood Boulevard for their “Love Parade.” (Image: Elizabeth Weinberg for The New York Times)
An epitomisation of glitz and drama in a declaration that more is still never enough, the show was an epic success. And this will almost certainly not be the last time we see the Gucci Love Parade march down the streets of Hollywood. As award season approaches in 2022, these same star-inspired looks will likely grace red carpets upon the exact figures who continue the legacy of this fantastical industry that inspired their design in the first place. It was a full-circle moment in the historical collaboration between Hollywood and fashion to say the least.
The Little Black Dress
Monday, October 25th
In 1926, Gabrielle Chanel, better known as Coco Chanel, created her infamous ‘little black dress’. For nearly a century since, the little black dress, often called the LBD, has not only maintained its fashionable currency but has also become something of a mandatory piece in the modern woman’s wardrobe. Within the fashion world — an industry fundamentally characterized by turnover and change — the longevity of the little black dress is remarkable and even paradoxical. While fashionableness is inherently defined by its impermanence, the survival of the little black dress, its transcendence of time and trend, becomes a rather perplexing and oxymoronic phenomenon.
For Coco Chanel, the little black dress was cherished for its simplicity. Undecorated and architectural, Chanel’s little black dress was the ultimate expression of linear and structured design in dressmaking, which had been the focus of her career from the beginning. Antithetical to the long-standing tradition of haute contour and one-of-a-kind dressmaking, Chanel’s revolutionary design championed standardization and repetition. In its growing popularity, the little black dress became exemplary of liberation and modernization. Its simplifying power was not only felt throughout the fashion industry but also in individual closets. With a little black dress in her wardrobe, a woman need never worry about having appropriate attire for any occasion.
Since 1926 no other colour, indeed no other garment, has demonstrated quite the same versatility. Cristóbal Balenciaga himself was keenly aware of this fact. For the Spanish designer — recognized particularly for his architectural and sculptural abilities — the colour black harbours the unique power to preserve a garment’s physical design, structure, and form. Black emphasizes cut in sturdy fabric; mysteriously conceals the body in mousseline or organza; and formalizes silhouette in velvet. Coupled with the distinct sculptural qualities of Balenciaga’s collections, black upheld and bolstered the true artistry of his designs, enhancing their architectural structure and form. This past September, Kim Kardashian attended the Met Gala in a (literal) head-to-toe black ensemble, custom-designed for the multi-hyphenate celebrity by Demna Gvasalia of Balenciaga and perhaps signalling the fashion house’s enduring commitment to the artistic legacy of Cristóbal himself.
British actress Audrey Hepburn on the set of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, a movie based on the novel by Truman Capote. (Image: Sunset Boulevard/Corbis)
In the 1920s and 30s, the role of cinema entered the scene, and the little black dress came to inherit especially glamorous connotations. Cue Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s in the ultimate little black dress by Hubert de Givenchy. Perhaps the most famous example of them all, Hepburn’s iconic, floor-length black look effortlessly combines classic and chic, casually gracing Fifth Avenue with its alluring elegance. In the 1972 film, The Tall Blonde Man with One Black Shoe, the French model and actress Mireille Darc donned a more risqué rendition, with a bottom-skimming, back-exposing, high-neck take on the classic piece. In its various forms, styles, and attitudes, the little black dress has become an icon of its own history and timelessness.
French model and actress Marielle Darc in the 1972 film The Tall Blonde Man with One Black Shoe. (Image: Getty Images via Vogue.com)
By the 1980s, Princess Diana of Wales could be regularly seen outfitted in black gowns and cocktail dresses. However, it would be her 1994 “revenge” dress that would make a particular impact on the historical legacy of the little black dress. On June 29, 1994, Princess Diana attended a fundraising dinner hosted by Vanity Fair magazine for the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens. Though she initially declined to attend, Diana accepted her invitation only two days prior to the event, amidst several days of publicity exposing her husband Prince Charles’s infidelities. The dinner was to be held the same night as Charles would publicly admit to his extramarital affairs in a televised interview.
Princess Diana arriving at the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens on June 29, 1994. (Image: Jayne Fincher/Getty Images via People.com)
Yet instead of cowering in shame, Diana arrived in a figure-hugging black silk dress, accessorized by a pearl choker necklace, black pumps, and a red lip. Though her arrival lasted a mere thirty seconds, the photographs taken that day captured a fashion statement for the history books. A pièce de résistance, the revenge dress was born. Georgina Howell, in her 1998 book Diana: Her Life in Fashion, describes the revenge dress as ‘possibly the most strategic dress ever worn by a woman in modern times’. On the morning after Charles’s damaging televised interview, Diana’s devastating black look wiped her husband clean off the front pages. ‘The Thrilla He Left to Woo Camilla’, beckoned the headline of The Sun. By way of a seemingly simple choice of colour and cut, Diana reclaimed her own narrative without having to utter a word. That is the power of the little black dress. On that June evening in 1994, Diana reinvented and transformed the little black dress from a universal icon of liberation into a profoundly personal one. Today, her revenge dress remains one of her most iconic looks of all time — an enduring model of independence, bravery, and silent rebellion.
The beauty of the black dress is that it is a blank canvas. As evidenced by its shifting forms over the decades, the iconic dress is perhaps so iconic precisely because it lends itself to reinvention and reinterpretation. As elegant as it is democratic, the little black dress can be sexy and seductive, but also conservative and practical — and smart and sophisticated, too. Dressed up or dressed down, the little black dress is an inherent celebration of individuality while also being an icon of its own history. It connects the individual with the universal, inviting its present forms of interpretation to engage with a larger conversation on femininity and fashion that is both personal and transhistorical.
Brown, Tina. The Diana Chronicles. New York: Random House, 2011.
Howell, Georgina. Diana: Her Life in Fashion. New York: Rizzoli International Publications, 1998.
Saillard, Olivier. Balenciaga in Black: The Black Work. New York: Rizzoli International Publications, 2018.
Davis, Mary. Classic Chic: Music, Fashion, and Modernism. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2006.
Asenov, Stoyan. ‘Notes on femininity, or the big story of a little dress’. Horizon, Studies in Phenomenology 6, no. 1 (2017): 161-180.
Bumpus, Jessica. ‘Everything to know about the history of the little black dress’. Vogue, accessed 23 October 2021, https://www.vogue.com.au/fashion/news/everything-to-know-about-the-history-of-the-little-black-dress/image-gallery/331833aef31580619e15123a0e1496d0.