logo

MEET DARA ALLEN: MY COVER GIRL

I wrote Wildchilds. It took me four years.

I had very clear ideas of what I wanted my cover to be: French auteur 1950’s with non-identifiable models. I wanted a mood, not a face. I wanted my readers to have their own picture of the main characters: Iris, a soon to be supermodel, and her lover Gus, a sexy chicano fashion photographer.

And then I was introduced by my friend, the photographer Ethan James Green to Dara and Fernando and fell in love. Fernando is from New Jersey. His parents are American and his family is from Puerto Rico and Nicaragua. After graduating from NYU, he began a career as a fashion freelancer, set designer and also party planner. Then he got noticed on Instagram and started modelling too.

I had given Ethan all my ideas and references. He told me he wanted to do exactly the opposite.

I was like: “Uh… sure! ok!”

And it was so good. You can’t have Ethan James Green shoot your cover to then tell him what to do.

Dara worked the styling and posed, Fernando laid on a grassy park in the lower east side, Dara on top of him; reverse Blow Up with a lot of Tony Viramontes and a dash of Malcolm McLaren.

Shawn Stussy designed the cover. The references and ideas he gave me were everywhere; but in the places that inspired me. I loved them too.

In the end, my cover, is the result of brilliant team work by a fierce group of artists, some improvisation, a lot of intuition and thinking outside the box.

 

Cover shot by Ethan James Green. Cover designed by Shawn Stussy.

Now, back to my cover girl and stylist: Dara Allen.

Dara’s knowledge of fashion is impressive, her references deep. She knows the name of every model and photographer of the 80’s and 90’s and has a passion for fashion that makes me feel alive. Dara has studied fashion journalism and is the face of diversity in an exclusive world that sets so many boundaries. Fashion is what makes everyone look the same, but style is what makes you different. Dara has a ton of style and so much panache too.

Photographed by Inez and Vinooh for I-D Magazine. 2018

FashionSphinx: Pitch yourself for an editorial job. If I had to pitch you as your agent I would say: “Chic, elegant, Dara moves like a dream and brings so much energy and passion to the clothes. Dara is a photographer’s gem.”

Your turn!

DA: That’s difficult to answer! I recognize more and more how important it is to advocate for yourself in this industry over the short amount of time I’ve been working. Pitching myself feels like more of an act than a statement, it’s the classic rule of “show, don’t tell.” What I’ve noticed from how I view other people even, is that being a living example of what you can do is so much more compelling, exciting and accessible than dictating to people what you want and what you’re capable of achieving. Embodying those goals and inclinations always proves to be a more successful route toward getting work that fits who you are and how you want to be.

Working with people who can challenge and amplify the crazy, specific thoughts in your brain is my comfort zone. I crave that interaction. The back and forth that develops between a group of people who really understand each other’s instincts taking the time to create something together.

 

Photographs by Ethan James Green,  2018

FS: I love your story on how you photographed yourself for a decade in the changing rooms of the department stores in different outfits with your best friends. That must be a treasure trove of imagery, are you ever going to show us those pictures? How would you define your style back then? Were you more of a warrior babe/ Margiela girl or a high maintenance Dior princess? What designers were you obsessed with at the time?

DA: My best friend Iris introduced me to fashion in high school. She started getting interested in magazines, editorials, runway shows and street style blogs online and insisted I start looking at them. If she loves something, she makes sure everybody around her become experts about it from sheer exposure. I’ve always liked taking pictures and appreciated how things look, and I was highly invested in how I dressed from a young age but I’d never interacted with high fashion imagery or the industry in a real way. Iris opened my eyes to all of that. Like the photos we’d devour online, we started taking photos of our outfits every day before school started. We also played with fashion photography during art classes.

After we graduated, we met our third musketeer Cruz and started documenting each other trying clothes on while shopping. It was our only access to the clothes we spent all of our time looking at and talking about.

The way I dressed when I first started getting interested in fashion is honestly similar to the approach I have today. I think I invest a lot of time thinking about composition and shape, silhouette and texture. I don’t get bogged down by details, I like the big picture. I focus in on things that create a strong image and impression. I’m a showboat! While it’s easy for me to explain my approach, I can’t define the style! I like variation a lot, and it was the hallmark of how I dressed back then. Changing radically every day is something I’m completely comfortable with. I like princess dressing and I like tomboy. I get itchy when I stay the same. I’m definitely not ready to confront all of that old imagery publicly yet! But those photos are definitely integral to how I process who I am and who I’ve been. I go back to them and it helps me evaluate what I’m doing now. Fashion lives off of a moodboard, and that’s because it allows you to reference what has been done in order to create new. That’s what old photos provide me, a jumping off point to understand where I’m heading.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marc Jacobs AW 2018. Channeling Linda Evangelista for Instagram. Marc Jacobs Shameless Foundation campaign by Charlotte Wales

FS: You are a fashion journalist, a spokeswoman, the face of a new generation of trans models, a stylist, is there anything in particular that you want to explore now? You told me that you wanted to work closely with designers during the creative process, kind of like a house model does for a couture house, in full hair and makeup while the couturier drapes, pins, fits and cuts on her. Did you watch the gorgeous 1992 documentary on Yves Saint Laurent?  What I love about this intimate and in depth documentary is that it shows the creative process of making a dress, letting you delight in the slow measured pace, the excruciating detail, the mastery….there is a scene where Mr Saint Laurent is making a dress on a model, from scratch, it takes forever, the camera cannot stop filming and the scene is uncut. I picture you in the model/muse role. Is this what you would like to do? Why?

DA: Because I’ve always been interested in fashion, I’ve always been obsessed with all of the parts you don’t get to see. My favorite part of fashion week is the fitting, when you get to try on the look they’ve prepared for you and have it measured and edited. It feels like watching one of the documentaries I’ve obsessively watched over and over, like the one you mentioned. The silent connection that exists between people who are vehicles for another person’s creative vision is a relationship that excites me. To be a witness to somebody’s creative process is such a gift. My favorite thing to see is somebody solve a problem. Creating solutions when obstacles arise is the funnest part of the process. I would love to be more involved in this part of the industry, to really get to observe designers up close. It’s like a secret only a few people are allowed to know. And it’s the basis for this entire industry.

 Photographed by Inez and Vinood for C⭐️ndy. 2017

 

FS: Modeling is a very hard and very serious art, I explore this in Wildchilds, the struggle but also the artistic aspects of it.  Would you recommend modelling to the thousands of kids that follow you on Instagram and aspire to be like you?  What would you tell them? What piece of advice?

DA: I would recommend following your instincts and being open to wherever that leads. I felt a desire to participate in this industry, I wanted to do the hard work and experience the fun. If you want great, you take the bad. All of it looked attractive to me. I don’t know if I can recommend modeling as a route to take, because I didn’t enter fashion with that in mind. I started out assisting a stylist and fell into it. It’s a weird space to occupy! It’s not in your control, so pursuing it feels like a confusing thing to do unless it’s thrusted upon you. When I recognized that it could be a possibility for me, I ran toward it. It’s not easy to get involved in this part of the industry, and even when you do, you have to relinquish a lot of responsibility. It’s a line of work that depends on other people, and I think that’s hard for a lot of people to wrap their minds around. You can prepare and push forward but that only gets you up to the starting line, it takes a huge amount of chance and luck to run the actual race. To partake, my only advice would be to focus on cultivating yourself and your life outside of work, otherwise you’ll end up waiting around a lot. You have to be willing to jump head first into the deep end if it’s something you need to do, because once I realized I wanted it, I needed to see it through. This is very much a field based on instincts and performing when you’re asked. Fashion moves so quickly you don’t have time to prepare. You just have to be game.

Photographed by Yuki James for Moschino Special 

FS: I think it was you who told me that fashion saved your life in a way, or maybe it was another fashion-loving kid, in any case, you used fashion to self-express… what were you expressing then? What were your doubts as a Filipino teen growing up in San Diego?

DA: I never felt that my life was under threat, but I definitely understood early on, that I needed a particular vocabulary to express what I felt and what I knew. That language has always been invested in visuals, and that includes fashion. When I didn’t have the words to explain certain feelings or moods, or desires, imagery could always illuminate those ideas.

I was telling my friend on the beach the other day that I needed a photo of a shell that matched my nail polish, because even when you lose the people around you or you lose yourself or you leave this moment, the picture will always exist to go back to, for either you or people who you’ll never know. It’s important to me to hold those memories. I’ve never been a person who’s kept a diary or been able to consistently write down my thoughts but I have photos of everything. My phone is eternally crashing because of full storage. Right now, there’s over 30,000 images on my phone and that’s just from the past two and a half months. It’s always been in my nature to take photos and because my mind is filled with such a back log of fashion photography, it’s completely effected how I see the world and how I compose even the quickest snapshots. For a time, my only way of experiencing fashion in my reality was dressing up with my friends and taking pictures. It’s still like that, really. But before I could tangibly interact with fashion, it felt like something at a distance. Something I had to create in my life if I wanted it there. Attempting to capture our lives as if they mirrored images in fashion magazines wasn’t about creating an air of status, it was about the ability to depict ourselves (or who we saw ourselves to be) within a canon of imagery that radically changed how I view the world. Fashion allows me the vocabulary to speak to the people I hold closest. It’s given me the concrete examples to define myself people who might not understand.

The ability to finally see yourself as you imagine has been one of the most important and profound experiences of my life, and most of those experiences have been silly! It’s being fifteen years old and rabidly grabbing for clothes in the shop that finally looked like the wardrobe I had envisioned in my head for months and could never actualize. It’s those moments when your heart beats faster and your nerves spike, you finally see it. I stay chasing those moments, looking for other moments that give me that experience again.

 Dara photographed by @Cruz Valdez for Instagram. August 2018

FS: You told me that you love fashion magazines. I remember the 1980’s, 1990’s predigital days when we would wait feverishly for the new issue of The Face or Vogue Italia to come out. As soon as we had it in our hands we would tear out the pages for our mood boards and comment on those pix for a whole month… building up the excitement for the NEXT issue that we had to have. Now with digital, we are consuming imagery, good and bad, at such a frantic pace that I do not think people can absorb all that information. Images have become more visual entertainment that art. Magazines now are struggling to keep up in the digital era, they are scrambling to define their readers, the importance of paper vs digital, the speed at which they have to provide sometimes mindless content for their online presence… What advice would you give a magazine like Vogue?

I don’t know if I’m in the position to give advice to the biggest magazines in the world! But I think that as an avid reader of fashion publications, what I look for is a voice. A consistency in delivering upon a vision of a world and allowing that vision to be as nuanced and complex as it can be. I think there is space for a bunch of different voices to speak in fashion and that should be how publications exist as well. A magazine can sound like your best friend who has reliable recommendations, and another can sound like a stern teacher talking at you telling you what to do. Both are correct, I just need to feel that the voice is strong enough to dictate an opinion and a worldview. I think it’s important that as a reader, I’m treated with enough dignity to know that I am coming here to listen and to see. That kind of approach works across all platforms, digital and physical. I want a magazine to pre-empt what I desire, to provide me with something I haven’t seen. Surprise me!

  Dara photographed by @Cruz Valdez for Instagram. August 2018

FS: When I started my business as a photographer’s agent in the early 80’s, my first client was the illustrator Tony Viramontes. His muse and model, as well as that of Steven Meisel, was Teri Toye, the first transgender model to become a top model. Since then, the industry has come a long way, or has it? Hollywood is starting to embrace diversity by casting an array of excellent actors of all races and genders in excellent shows like Orange Is the New Black, Atlanta, Pose, Transparent, and most recently the feature film Crazy Rich Asianswith its all Asian cast. However, I feel that the fashion industry has not done enough yet. I long to see more variety on the pages of the magazines: older women, women of all ages, races and body types. Do you think that because of the exclusive nature of fashion, this inclusion is not possible?

It’s important for fashion to feel different than the rest, to exist on its own plane. I think fashion’s exclusivity needs to stop being lazy by relying on a small sect of identities and start relying on visual specificity and material rarity. Does this create a strong image? Is this person compelling? Is this something we haven’t seen before? Do I desire to be that? Those are the questions fashion needs to ask about the subjects which it chooses, not if they are a certain size or race or age, etc. Changing how fashion has always focused on one type of person is completely possible, it’s happening now and I don’t think it will be allowed it to stop.

Photographed by Luigi & Iango for Vogue Germany.  July 2018

FS: How do you see yourself when you grow up?  With your own company? Platform? What are your dreams? Do you want to write? Act? Design? All these?

Time will tell! I just want a big life, full of experiences. I’m realizing that at this point, I just have to say yes and make noise.

Squeaky wheel gets the oil!

FS: Thank you Dara… Just don’t go topless on the beach!

 

Dara photographed by @Cruz Valdez  for Instagram. August 2018

© Eugenia Melian 2018



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

YOU MAY LIKE