Egyptologist and vintage collector Colleen Darnell caught the eye of a young Egyptian photographer when he came across a video of her and the 1920s flapper lifestyle that she embraces. He was immediately intrigued, so much so that he contacted her, ambitiously asking for a collaboration after having researched everything that he needed to know about the St. Louis, Missouri-based collector and her Egyptian connection.
“Lost in Time” is the title of their collaborative project, which manages to perfectly channel the era through Le Mosen’s nostalgic mood photography. “We can’t step into a time machine,” Darnell once said, “but we can put on clothes from the 20s, the 30s, the 40s and experience at least a bit of what it was like to live in that era.”
While Darnell lived out her passion for the era through fashion, Othman found his through photography. “I’m horrible with words—that’s why I take photographs,” says Othman, who explains he was inspired by the “beauty of this era when everything was simple and elegant, a time when Egypt was known for its trademark fashion sense and appreciation of art and Vogue magazine fashion shoots. Once I saw Colleen’s style and her attitude I contacted her. I had to give it a try and when she wrote back and said she was very excited about the project I dropped everything, even canceling a trip to Aswan for the shoot because I felt was going to be a game changer for me.”
Othman’s images are captivating and full of stories waiting to be told. From the flowing of her dress lifted by the breeze to the sunlight playing off Darnell’s skin, the photographer manages a perfect balance between the awe-inspiring pyramids in the background captured from the Marriott Mena House and the subject herself: a woman who has traveled through time and refuses to give in to norms.
The end result is somewhat reminiscent of Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris where a man who is out of place in his life takes a risk one night while on vacation with his fiance in Paris and hops into a car with total strangers. The passengers end up at a party with Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, characters iconic of the roaring 1920s. To the viewer this is what the shoot feels evokes, a time machine going back to what were troubled times equally full of art, love, fashion and music.
Darnell’s love for vintage fashion and the 20s began when she realized how liberating the era was for women. As the First World War raged across Europe, women found themselves filling the roles of men. They began working, playing sports, taking part in excavations and finally they were given their right to vote. Jazz music came out of the shadows of New Orleans and started to become popular all around the world, and Hollywood’s influence on the public was at its starting point. The Prohibition had forced communities into underground clubs as nightlife and crime were embraced by all classes. Everyone was dancing the Charleston, while the prevailing flapper lifestyle became the new cool with its own slang.
With all of these changes women were also beginning to find freedom through fashion. Skirt lengths went up from ankle to mid-calf, eventually making it all the way up to the knee. The start of the Art Deco era could be felt in the changes of the fashion silhouettes, leaving behind the Victorian-era corsets and crinolines which had been en vogue for over six decades years. Art Deco went on to inspire everything from art, architecture, furniture and typography seen on the covers of magazines like Vogue and in fashion the movement gave rise to the birth of Chanel.
The roaring 20s dropped the waistlines in dresses, and championed the two piece with a cardigan belted around the waist. Beads and fringes decorated gowns, cut from satin, velvet, chiffon, fur, lace or comfortable jersey. Pleated skirts wears matched with Mary Jane heels or T-straps. Winter coats tended to have large buttons and the inside fabric would match the dress.
Bobbed hair, pencil-thin eyebrows and kohl-lined eyes framed features, while the Cupid’s bow was always the highlight of the lips. Headwear was also very popular with the Cloche hats, which would be decorated with feathers and jewels.
To Darnell the 20s were all about being chic and luxurious. In this exclusive interview she talks more about her love for the era, her work as an architect and the “Lost in Time” collaboration.
What made you want to become an Egyptologist?
I have wanted to be an Egyptologist ever since I was a child. One part of ancient Egypt that especially fascinated me as a child was hieroglyphs, and the ability to translate ancient Egyptian is one of my favorite aspects of being an Egyptologist. Ever since I first traveled to Egypt in 1998, I have loved both ancient and modern Egypt, especially working alongside my Egyptian colleagues.
Where did your love for 1920s fashion begin?
My husband, John, and I have always enjoyed historical fashion, and I enjoy the aesthetic of the 1920s and 1930s in particular.
Why did you begin dressing up on excavations and what were the reactions from people working onsite?
Onsite during an excavation, I wear practical and more recent vintage, such as 1970s and 1980s khaki skirts, sometimes paired with a 40s or 50s jacket. For visits to tombs and temples, I often wear flapper dresses or jodhpur pants with boots. I hope that by combining Egyptology and vintage fashion—from a time when Egyptology and Egyptian designs, both ancient and modern, were popular throughout the world—I can encourage more people to be interested in all things Egyptian, and to travel to Egypt. By wearing the clothing of the early modern period, and attempting to understand how it feels to wear and work in the clothes of 100 or so years ago, I also gain some feeling for understanding the different clothing and the lives of the ancient Egyptians.
You’re a vintage fashion collector, how did that begin and where do you find such beautiful pieces?
John and I both collect vintage fashion, and we have fun shopping together, both online and in vintage stores around the world. Our collecting began several years ago, and we have gotten to know some great vintage sellers, so forming connections like that really helps find the best pieces. Vintage fashion shows and vintage fashion stores—both physical storefronts and online shops—are now more easily located thanks to the internet, and some specialize in particular periods and types of clothing.
What is your absolute favorite piece in Egypt?
We love so many places in Egypt, for so many different reasons, that this is a difficult choice. I suppose I would have to say that my favorite monument in Egypt is the tomb of Seti I—the carvings and surviving painted details are exquisite, and since John and I recently finished a complete translation of the Netherworld Books, I love going into the tomb and knowing how all of the texts and scenes fit together. The site of Bir Umm Tineidba, with its early rock inscriptions, Protodynastic burials, and Late Roman settlement, is a special place as well, with so much undiscovered material all together on an ancient road, and it is a site that John and I discovered together recently.
What is your opinion of the local fashion scene, what do you want to see more from Egyptian designers?
I am impressed by the work that Egyptian designers are doing, not only in fashion, but also jewelry. Some vintage-inspired collections—creating new twists on Egyptian revival fashion or expeditionary wear—would be really interesting. Egypt has so many great periods of history with so many traditions of fashion from which to take inspiration that Egyptian designers could easily present important new fusions of earlier and more recent styles for many years to come.
Tell us about your collaboration with Le Mosen.
Le Mosen reached out to me via Instagram, and we were able to plan a shoot at the Marriott Mena House Hotel in May. When I looked at Le Mosen’s amazing fashion portraits on Instagram, I assumed he was a photographer who had been in the profession for a while. I was surprised that he is so young—he already has the talents of a well-established photographer. Le Mosen was incredible with the art direction during the shoot, and he was great at communicating what he needed for the perfect shot.
How do you feel about the outcome?
I was blown away by how incredible the final photos looked. The composition of each image is stunning—in a way that evokes the past, both for ancient Egypt and vintage fashion—and I am so honored to be able to collaborate with Le Mosen.