It was while studying at Rhode Island School of Design that Raffaella Hanley realised that her interests had changed. At some point she had begun to feel uninspired by formal art school education; she found herself in search of a clean slate. It was 2013 and like many an artistic New Yorker before her, she turned to fashion.
That leap of faith paid off. Now five collections deep, Hanley is a finalist for this year’s Vogue/CFDA Fashion Fund. Those who made the shortlist were dubbed by Anna Wintour as “a true reflection of American fashion – and the world today – speaking to creativity, community, and sustainability.”
She has earned her place among the emerging greats by creating a label with meticulous hand-craftsmanship, and an unmistakable sense of place, at its core.
“Coming from a city like New York you’re always trying to find a little escape in something because it’s so overwhelming at times,” says Hanley.“The city is almost like a movie set. It’s so romantic in its architecture and the skyline is so iconic. It also plays into the idea that you’re actually in the film. It’s such a cinematic city.”
Her designs are influenced by film, too. Specifically David Lynch, and the way in which his work simultaneously straddles dreams and reality. In the pieces in her recent (and first) Resort collection whimsical frills were paired with Pepto-Bismol pink, hair was preened to ’50s Hollywood housewife standard and layered knits were worn with decorated tights (a Lou Dallas signature). All of which made for models who looked like they’d walked straight out of a bedtime fairytale.
Meanwhile, her commitment to sustainability is worth noting. Upholstery fabrics sourced from NYC’s Garment District featured in Resort 2020, while previous collections have seen Hanley re-use her mum’s left-over fabrics from the costumes she makes. Hanley’s designs are made for layering – slashed tops may not be the most “wearable”, but pop a vest underneath and bam, you have yourself a Lou Dallas look. Versatile, surreal and quite sexy.
She’s one of the most exciting talents in New York at the moment so give yourself a second to take in Lou Dallas’ world – you might just find yourself daydreaming for longer than you intended…
So, Raffaella…where did the name Lou Dallas come from?
I came up with the name before the brand even existed! It was really fun for me because I love names, so to create one seemed exciting. The movie The Fifth Element has always been an inspiration and so I looked at the character Bruce Willis played – Corbin Dallas. At first, I thought I could name the brand that, but then I thought it should be more original, so I added Lou – I thought it was good and androgynous-sounding.
How do you ensure each collection is as fresh as the last?
I really do try to create a narrative to stick to. Originally I started Lou Dallas because I was feeling very frustrated looking at a lot of designer’s collections. They’d say‘oh my references are X Y and Z’ and then I’m looking at the collection wondering where those references are. I really wanted the clothes to have a story.
What’s one film you’ve been inspired by?
David Lynch’s Wild at Heart has always been a reference point. I love how he mixes in the surreal, the dream… and then there’s the reality. He does that very well.
What’s the best thing about being a designer in New York?
It’s a really great city and I like how many people I see on a daily basis whether I’m on the subway or walking – there’s so much inspiration from all the people I see every day on the street. I also love that it’s a walkable city.
Your collections have been shown in the Ukrainian National Home, a lighting store and your mum’s friend’s apartment…
I usually try to find the location I can get for the cheapest or free. Showing in New York is so expensive, that’s the downfall.
What’s the support like for young designers in New York?
It’s very confusing, especially having not gone to fashion school. The biggest hurdle I’ve had to overcome has been the production – it was so overwhelming. Now I got into the CFDA Vogue Fund, I’m very curious to see what that will do. I feel like that’s the only thing here to apply to that might help up-and-coming brands. Thank god for that!
Describe your dream customer.
It’s the kind of girl who thinks her life is a movie. She’s quite bohemian, dishevelled, maybe a little crumpled. But I hope to infiltrate Hollywood. I think my whole idea, Lou Dallas, is a very potent look, so I think the majority of my consumers can buy a handful or small amount of it to wear on top of dresses or jackets to add a little flair, but they don’t have to be head-to-toe Lou Dallas.
If you could only wear one outfit for the rest of your life what would it be?
I love wearing tights, low rise pants and probably some kind of mesh top. I’d live in that.
Describe Lou Dallas in three words.
Romantic, sustainable and otherworldly.