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Milady’s Fancy isn’t just your ordinary clothing store. If you dream of knights on white horses and damsels in distress, then this is the place to go – but you may find a few slinky short numbers too. The lesson here is expect the unexpected.

Harriet Gausman: So, Rachel, have you been a member of Second Life for long? What made you venture into this great big world, many of us now call home?

Rachel Darling: I’ve been a resident of Second Life since about June of 2006; so for a while, I guess you could say. Why did I come to Second Life? Well, I’d been a player of an older fantasy MMORPG game called Ultima Online for about 5 years and I felt I needed something newer and more up to date. I did a lot of “decorating” and custom home building in UO, but when I heard about the content creation tools in SL, I just had to try it. I guess you could say that my gaming is my creative outlet, and so far, there’s no other Online world with so many options to create.

Harriet Gausman: Were you very productive in your first few months? It always amazes me when designer after designer tells me they began designing two weeks after rezzing.

Rachel Darling: Productive? A little, I suppose. My first foray was learning how to build – in my first week I bought a small plot of land and a house that was “modifiable,” so I could take it apart and edit it and learn how things are put together; it was my own little “tutorial.” Then I built some beds, which didn’t come out too badly, even if I do say so myself. But I honestly NEVER thought I would be a clothing designer. To me, that was just the most complex thing in the world, next to scripting. It wasn’t until I was doing RP (roleplay) sims several months later and couldn’t find any medieval dresses I liked, that I finally told myself I had to learn how to do clothing, just so I could have something I’d be willing to wear!

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Harriet Gausman: I’m curious – where did the name Milady’s Fancy come from?

Rachel Darling: Mm. Interesting question. In fact, it’s a name I’ve used for a very long time. I had a house in UO that I named “Milady’s Fancy” many years ago. Since my first dress designs in SL were medieval/RP gowns, the name made perfect sense to me. I wanted to create things that a Lady would “fancy.”

Harriet Gausman: Where do you gain your inspiration from?

Rachel Darling: I think most designers would answer this question the same way — everywhere! I love simple but elegant things. I get inspiration from pictures of gowns on the internet, I absolutely devour bridal magazines and bits and pieces from other designers I like. I would say the absolute elegance and wonderful detail work of Nonna Hedges was probably one of my first inspirations, though our styles are different and I don’t think I’m anywhere nearly as talented as she is. I also get some great inspiration from customers and friends, who show me pictures of something in RL that they like. The Alix was one of those, and named after the person who asked me to try and reproduce it, incidentally. Most recently I’ve been really fascinated with dress designs from 1940’s Hollywood, I’m hoping to do several in that style soon.

Harriet Gausman: Who do you make your gowns for?

Rachel Darling: I make them partially for me — I never make anything I wouldn’t like to wear — and for other women like me who love rich textures and simple, understated designs. There’s nothing more satisfying to me than when a customer IM’s me and says “I just love this gown, it looks so great on me!”

Harriet Gausman: Your gowns are incredibly beautiful and show that a lot of detail has gone into the design. Did you have those design skills before you came to SL or have you learned them along the way?

Rachel Darling: Thank you, Harriet — that’s very kind of you. I don’t really think of myself as “skilled in design,” to be honest. When I was a little girl I used to draw what I called my “Ladies;” basically, paper dolls with fancy medieval and renaissance dresses. Being able to do clothes in SL is SO wonderfully beyond that! As for the technical skills, I did have middling photoshop knowledge before I came to SL and a long technology background with knowledge of 2d graphic arts techniques — I’m in publishing in RL. But as for SL clothing design — that came entirely from the absolutely fabulous resources and posts on the SL texture design forum.

Harriet Gausman: How long does it take you to design your gowns  from thought to display?

Rachel Darling: Oh, my gosh, my friends and customers would tell you — FOREVER! *laughs* For me, it almost always starts with a fabric texture I find and fall in love with. From that, an idea begins to form on how it might be used. I can tell you though that the finished gown almost NEVER looks anything like whatever I was thinking about when I started. It tends to change with the fabric swatches and trims as I find them. Once the basic design is templated, I have a tendency to wear it for a few weeks and “tweak it” with bits and pieces for several more weeks or maybe even walk away from it for a while and then come back to it, if I can’t figure out exactly where I want to go with it. So, overall time — if I’m doing a “reconstruction” of a RL design, it might take a couple of days to a week. If I’m doing a gown from scratch with no idea, because I’ve found a fabric I like… a month? Some dresses I work on, on and off, for even longer *grimaces and looks slightly embarrassed*

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Harriet Gausman: In terms of design, which piece has been the most difficult for you?

Rachel Darling: Sleeves, hands down. I would love to do more elaborate sleeving but I just can’t get my head around that part of the template! *makes a mental note to work on that*

Harriet Gausman: Tell us a little about some of your creations. Do you have a story in your head as you develop your design; like the princess held prisoner, waiting for the prince to arrive and save her…? Well, you know what I mean, your gowns are meant to be worn by the heroine.

Rachel Darling: “To be worn by the heroine…” Wow, what a wonderful expression, Harriet. I never thought of it that way, but you know, I think you may be right, in a way. Probably nothing so specific, no specific story exactly, but I do think there’s a fantasy woman in my head somewhere, hiding behind the dresses. The secret though is, I think it’s always the same woman. She just keeps getting reincarnated into different times and lives. *grins*

Harriet Gausman: Have you ever thought about expanding your small empire and branching out? Where do you foresee your business headed?

Rachel Darling: In fact, I have. I’ve spent the last year in Medieval/Fantasy/Gorean wear, because I just love the possibilities of all those textures and shapes and elegance. But I’ve really switched my focus over to mainstream dresses in the last couple of months and I’m working hard to make that transition. In fact, I’ve just bought my own island and I’m busy building it now, with a new homestore. It’s set in a village on a hill, reconstructed from a place called Portmeirion, in Wales. There’ll also be a stage for regular live music events and an extensive garden and forest to wander through, filled with small “follies” for people to explore. Business-wise, I guess you could say that I still want to create gowns for “ladies,” but now I’m focused more on the modern Lady. And by that I do NOT mean “prim and proper ladies;” I just think you can be both sexy and a lady at the same time.

Harriet Gausman: Do you have any tips for the would-be fashion designer out there; there’s bound to be a few young entrepreneurs reading?

Rachel Darling: Mm. First, read the texture forum on secondlife.com — that is an absolute MUST. Pore over it, devour it, learn the basics and the ins and outs and everything you can before you even make your first attempt. That will teach you both the technical underpinnings and the tips and tricks that many of the designers use. And the other advice? Create things that YOU love, that YOU would love to wear. I’m a firm believer that if you’re working on something you really really like, then your chance of success is ten times what it would be otherwise.

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Harriet Gausman: Ok, so you’re lost on a desert island, name five items you would not be without. To make it a little harder this week, I’m going to say you can’t take a computer or anything electrical – well, there isn’t a power supply, you’re on a desert island, miles from civilization.

Rachel Darling: Oh, rats. *feels her practical side warring with her hedonistic side for a few minutes…* OK – an iron pot, a sharp axe, a lighter, a hard-back copy of “Here Be Dragons” by Sharon Kay Penman… and Harrison Ford, if I can’t have a satellite phone!

Visit Milady’s Fancy and see the beautiful selections of gowns Rachel has to offer.

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