You’ve probably seen Adele Mildred out on the town, maybe at a gallery opening or fashion show, probably in a 1940s dress with a tiny hat nestled into her thick black wavy locks. She looks like a young Elizabeth Taylor and is so put together you undoubtedly felt like a slob in her presence.
Well, she did study fashion in San Francisco, and even created her own label, Cotton Candy, a deconstructed circusy line of bright stripes and bunnies that was creepy but fun, when she landed in L.A. five years ago. But she got tired of spending nights alone with her sewing machine making all of Cotton Candy’s pieces herself.
“It got to be too much,” she says over tea at her Craftsman-style apartment in Echo Park. “I didn’t even have time to make my own clothes. So I stopped producing the line and just started doing special one-of-a-kind pieces for friends.”
She leads me through her home, filled with stuffed bunnies, the walls striped with pink and cream. She has a sewing area outside her bedroom and on the other side an art studio, a sunny enclosed porch filled with the costumes she’s made, including some for the local goth Western band Miss Derringer, a black gothy Victorian ruff for a Margaret Cho photo shoot, and a Spanish flamenco dancer’s headpiece made for Marilyn Manson’s ex Dita Von Tease from starch-dipped layers of black lace, molded and then hand-stitched to wire frames with black roses on each side.
Mildred’s even been thrust into the world of personal styling. “I got a panicked call from Gary Baseman saying that Mark Ryden couldn’t find a brown suit,” Mildred says, sitting ever so straight on her Chippendale-esque divan as she tells me how she scoured vintage shops to find the perfect suit and retrofitted it for Ryden to wear to his opening.
Recently, Mildred has branched out into painting — within the first 15 minutes of the opening of her solo show at Show Pony, the Echo Park clothing store/gallery, half of her pieces were sold. At the moment, she’s painting new works for a show at the David Young gallery — all around her studio are watercolors of animal men and women in 18th-century dress, a goat couple, a gazelle, all framed by fabric that has been elaborately embroidered. She’s also gotten into hatmaking, and points out a few she designed for herself using starched lace, felt and feathers.
“I wish I could spend all day making them,” she says, sighing, as she pours more tea.
To pay the rent, Mildred gets jobs here and there art-directing reality-TV shows, or working as a tailor on catalog shoots.
“It pays really well,” she says of the latter, “and most of the time I’m not doing anything — I work on my art or embroider.”
She had dreams of taking embroidery classes in France that cost something like $10,000.“But I had to teach myself,” she says. “I don’t have rich parents. No trust fund here.”
Every now and again Mildred finds herself longing for the end product of a fashion show. This season she designed a series of wire-ribbon cage skirts with ruffs and tall pilgrim hats for a group show at the Los Angeles Theatre sponsored by Box Eight.
“I go through phases,” she says, “I’ll spend months painting, then spend the next six months on hats and clothes. I don’t care if I sell them or not. I love them. I only make stuff that I would want to keep in my place. I wasn’t getting that quality in my clothing line, and it’s not worth doing if you yourself wouldn’t wear it, buy it or hang it in your bedroom.”
For the moment, potential customers have to commission pieces through her MySpace page, but eventually Mildred does hope to open her own shop — with the help of some financial backing — selling women’s accouterments, especially gloves and hats, like her idol Vivienne Westwood.
“I already planned it out,” she says, smiling softly. “It would be a really fancy, pretty store, where I can go in a hat and a fancy dress and sit there and embroider or paint while I work. I just can’t think of another job where I can go in and look fancy every day.”