“I’m a candy-haired gangster, an international nomad and playgirl with big plans,” mischievous Gala Lumiere Darling announces with a grin, wearing sequinned bunny ears on top of her fuchsia hair. Stylish writer and internet entrepreneur Darling earns her living self-publishing inspirational articles about fashion and lifestyle advice. Her mission is to turn ordinary life into a more magical existence.
Wellington-born Darling offers up life and style knowledge daily on her website iCiNG, www.galadarling.com. Enthusiasm colours every article she pens, whether it be about How To Be More Assertive, How To Cope With A Quarter Life Crisis, Fashion Advice For Recovering Goths, or How To Wear Pink Cowboy Boots. Over 100,000 people flock to Darling’s site each week for inspiration on how to be their best selves, transform their lives and dress better.
Darling abandoned security in search of a more soul-satisfying lifestyle two years ago. Gleefully, she traded up the restrictive dull dress code and strict break times of her corporate Auckland job for a round-the-world plane ticket. “I believe in being passionate, and thinking big. I believe in turning the music up loud. I believe in celebrating every day, and getting dressed up for the occasion,” Darling says with a twinkle in her eye, “I love life.” Energised by her travels, Darling relocated to Melbourne in late 2006 and launched iCiNG with the aim of inspiring others. Now, Darling is making a full time living from the site and lives in New York City.
Darling believes that style is not just a matter of dress. While most fashion-focussed websites advise readers how to choose the most flattering neckline for a small bust or a skirt that minimises problem thighs, Darling encourages baking cupcakes at 3am, drinking iced tea on a rooftop while watching the sunset. Tired? Forget energy drinks. Try waking up your spirit by following Darling’s advice: write a wish on a balloon or inside a paper plane, sing to your plants, stack sparkly Indian bangles upon your wrists and leave trails of glitter in your wake, flirt more. Bored this afternoon? “Stick confetti hearts all your face. Leave the house,” Darling dares, “Buy a bubble gun. Use it mercilessly and inappropriately, with delight.”
The advice twenty five year old Darling dishes out is aimed mostly at young women like herself, though her site is read by people of all ages. The website began with a focus on fashion, but Darling soon realised that a stylish exterior was futile without a positive internal outlook. “ It’s not just about buying a good winter coat,” Darling says of her website, “It’s about having satisfying relationships, getting comfortable with yourself, pursuing your dreams and living with passion. Dare to make your life your own, to go against the grain, to create your own reality.”
Darling’s personal strength shines through in the transformation she has made in her own life. “Five years ago I was locked into the reality of working a miserable job and feeling like that was the only way,” Darling says, “Opportunities are spinning our way all the time. We can choose to live a life that scares and delights us, or we can choose to allow someone else’s view to control us.”
The common name her parents bestowed upon Darling, often shared by other girls in school classrooms, didn’t satisfy this young woman. The moniker Gala Lumiere Darling appeared to her in a dream – and she stormed straight in to the Births, Deaths and Marriages office to make it legal. “Changing it was great for me, very powerful. I really feel that our name shapes our identity,” Darling explains, “By assigning yourself a name that you feel is greater than yourself, you can grow into it. To me, Gala Darling was the name of a superhero, a rockstar, a fabulous girl heroine, the ideal me – I feel myself becoming more like that girl every day.”
Darling has maintained since launching the site that she wished to form a community, “not just a platform for this girl in her platform shoes!” The 6.5 million visitors iCiNG has received since it’s December 2006 inception have become a global group of young women aiming to live more truthfully and positively. Amazingly, the site has grown without any marketing. “I’ve been incredibly blessed in that my intended audience found a lot of value in what I was doing, and loved it so much that they told their friends. All the growth has come from word of mouth, which is absolutely incredible!”
A weekly ritual on the site, Things I Love Thursday, sees Darling practising gratitude by publishing a list of things that are giving her joy on any particular week such as vegan ice-cream parlours, secret societies, hour long Shiatsu massages and karaoke. In response, readers post their own lists. Darling also encourages her readers to set goals, and get to know themselves better. “I think inspiration is all around us, we just need to keep our eyes open!”
Hundreds of emails swarm Darling’s inbox daily with comments and questions. For the entrepreneur, there’s no better feedback than hearing that someone has taken positive action after reading her words. “My hope is really just that I provide people with something that helps inspire or better them, whether that’s an alternative perspective, a fresh idea or just a kick in the butt!”
In a world where websites encouraging anorexia lure teenager girls, Darling’s site of overflowing feminine positivity is a blessing for young women and their parents alike. The mother of one iCiNG reader contacted Darling to thank her for the positive improvements she’d noticed in her daughter. “While her daughter had been reading my site, she had watched her change from a depressed pessimist to a teenager who looked forward to every new day. That blew me away and really touched me,” Darling revealed, “because I remember being a depressed teenager too. Having any small part in jolting someone of that hideous cycle is amazing to me.”
Darling’s own teenage years were spent in Eastbourne, Wellington, in a heavily dark gothic phase. “I would go in to the city in my goth garb with a pair of silver angel wings strapped to my back and they encouraged me,” Darling says of her supportive parents, with whom she enjoys daily conversations and a close relationship. “They were proud of the fact that I was different and brave. It taught me that it was okay to experiment and try new things.” Independent and “pretty eccentric” (her mother owns a clothing boutique, and her father a hi-fi store), Darling’s parents fostered the strong sense of self within her, and a fearless attitude towards life and style. “I’ve never been worried about following trends or doing what other people did because being my own person was never been presented as a “risky” or scary thing. My parents have always embraced and celebrated originality, diversity, and being different.”
Darling expresses herself through her hair, changing it like most women change a pair of earrings. Her tresses have gone from a spunky short pale violet style to long indigo hair extensions, and now back to bright pink – a colour she has coveted and worn on and off for years. Of her chameleon-like locks, Darling says, “I like to try new things, and altering your image is one of the most fun ways to do that! I see (my hair) as an accessory.”
While free-spirited fashion divas like Edie Sedgwick, Betsey Johnson, Sarah Jessica Parker and Mary-Kate Olsen inspire Darling’s own sense of style, her fashion philosophy is based on expressing and exploring yourself through clothing choices. Originality is revered by Darling, and she suggests that defining personal style begins with researching and recording fashion ideas. “Start making a look book for yourself. Stick into it any pictures of models, clothes, makeup that appeal to you. Don’t worry if it’s not ‘in fashion’ now – fashion is cyclical and being constantly ‘on the pulse’ is boring.” Darling recommends taking photos of your outfits, to have a visual record to inspire and remind you of what looks good on you. This is something she does regularly, posting photos on iCiNG of her outfits posed in Paris’s catacombs, on a New York fire escape, or sitting atop a dining table in Wellington. What does Darling think is one item of clothing every woman should own? “A pair of high heels which make them feel magical!”
2008 was a whirlwind of travel for Darling, with the webmistress flying from Melbourne to New York, Florida, California, Philadelphia, North Carolina, Missouri, Las Vegas, Paris & back to New Zealand twice. Since moving to New York, Darling has worked with Louis Vuitton, been invited to a Halloween party hosted by Mariah Carey; and partied with one of her fashion idols, Sex & The City costume designer Patricia Field. “As soon as my feet hit the ground in Manhattan, I knew it was where I was supposed to be,” Darling says of her new home, and describes the city as a real roller-coaster. “I think it’s the only place in the world that you can really live any way you want to. It’s hard not to believe that you can manifest anything in this city.” It’s not all fabulous, though: living in New York makes people discover what they are made of. “It can be amazing or horrifying, and sometimes both at once. NYC will kick your ass every way it’s able, but if you can survive it, it will reward you beyond your wildest dreams. Living here is a real test of your spiritual beliefs, I think. You really have to be on top of your game.”
Originally published in Next magazine