Take me out tonight
Because I want to see people and I
Want to see life
Driving in your car
Oh, please don't drop me home
Because it's not my home, it's their
Home, and I'm welcome no more
(The Smiths, There Is A Light That Never Goes Out Lyrics)
"The story for the season revolves around a lonesome young souls who had been pulled from pillar to post because his father was in the service," begins Lou Dalton as we travel by train to West Yorkshire on our mill tour with Woolmark. Her eyes light up and she excitedly weaves he latest tale. "I remember these awkward kids from my own school days growing up near both army and RAF bases in Shropshire. They'd struggle to belong. They would arrive on a bus for the first day of a new year and then they'd slowly disappear." Well, these lost boys always have a home in the mind of this designer. Each season Dalton crafts well tailored, rebellious English sportswear for her working class souls. Each season is an evolution and this sees the most confident march forward. She's a humble design talent that is ever growing in confidence and belief. It shows both on the runways and on the rails.
There is always a narrative but it is growing increasingly tighter and seductive. The world's she stitches into the very seams of her designs are ones in which we long to lose ourselves in. From the miners strikes of the 80s to the Russian mafia and Wuthering Heights' Heathcliff, various influences combine that all lend themselves to the continuation of her sartorial fascination with struggling heroes. For spring/summer 14, Dalton remembers her childhood in Shropshire, enveloped by daydreams of fighter pilots and the machines they tame in the air and recalling the lost boys of the forces.
"We can all relate to the idea of wanting to fit in. Always trying to be part of a collective and this played on my mind as I delved deeper. I had this idea of a more distressed, grungy feel and this played out in the fabrics and the colour palette. Trying to blend in wearing all black but actually standing out. Drawn in to this lifestyle by his father, fascinated by aviation and machines. I developed the story from his childhood and developed this idea of him being at art school, still fascinated with aeronautical engineering - rebuilding the machines that fascinated him as a boy in an artistic form and soundtracked by Jesus and Mary Chain, Bauhaus, The Smith because that was the music that I listened to whilst at school in my fifth and final year. It just felt right. The wool had to have the same clipped, fresh feel about it and the softness would work with the cottons, linens and tones of the collection."
Dalton frequently grounds the discussion in fabrics. In fact, she uses fabrics as each season's narrator. Her eloquent tales become ever more enticing and exciting with the perfect delivery. Wool is a common syntax within her speech.
"I use wool every season regardless of whether it be light, heavy or whatever. We've always been given such generous support from mills like Bulmer & Lumb but being approached by Woolmark and their great sponsorship, we could push it that bit further and explore CoolWool. I knew that I wanted a really light wool. In the past I've used a mohair which has quite a crisp feel to it but I was keen to use something else. Having visited Première Vision earlier in the season I began to see what the collection needed and the mill trip with Woolmark brought everything together."
Having already stopped off at and explored the craft of Bulmer & Lumb and W.T. Johnson & Sons, it was a pleasure to watch her sift through binders filled with luxurious fabric options at Stanley Mills. With a focused gaze, she methodically worked her way through the latest offerings from John Foster, Charles Clayton and William Halstead. Each steeped in history but striving to innovate, their fabrics are produced with the finest wool, cashmere, silk, mohair, cotton and linen available from the best farms around the world and crafted in Yorkshire, the heart of the wool textile industry in England. Now, the sheer volume and diversity of choice would intimate most but Dalton thrived on it.
Lou Dalton making a fabric selection at Stanley Mills.
Weaving an intricate and dazzling group, Stanley Mills is ever evolving, helping to both protect and drive the textile industry forward. As Lou Dalton's mind raced through her material mood and fabric fancies, our senses were treated to a cacophony of sights and sounds from of the weaving world. Through its careful selection and control of raw materials together with continual investment in the latest equipment, the trio of brands collectively continue to push textile manufacturing to new heights.
A few snapshots of the mill.
"For me, this season was a breakthrough. I don't want the collection to be pigeonholed, I want it to feel welcoming and approachable to all those who want to buy into it and indeed have bought into it but I still want it to be surprising. The last thing I want is for it to be predictable." There is an evolved self awareness of Lou Dalton that deftly balances the demands of the customer with confidence in its own narrative. "You have to really think about when the product will be in store, we part delivered autumn/winter 13 before the spring/summer 14 show in June - you have to consider when the collection will be on rails and online and buyers are becoming more strategic with their orders, for example number of the stores bought t-shirts and light hires so it's perfect timing for them now as we're waiting for our summer to kick off and the gorgeous mohair pieces can drop later." The light wool pieces of spring/summer 14 will blossom as boundaries between the seasons blur.