Writer and journalist Dolly Alderton has long looked to the night sky for inspiration, religiously collecting anything with a celestial motif. Here she explains where her love of stars and moons began, and how she’ll be feeding her obsession with this season’s newest offerings.
Written by Dolly Alderton
The chapel in my primary school was my favourite room in the big, old, cold Victorian building. It was a Catholic school, thank God, not because I enjoyed being told by little Irish girls that I was going to the fiery depths of hell for not having a first holy communion - but I was grateful for all the gold. Catholics do interiors so much better than Protestants. Catholic Gilt, I call it.
The ceiling of the chapel was painted deep, midnight blue (this hackneyed name is the wrong time of night, if we’re splitting hairs - this was instead the magical, inky wash of the sky 15 minutes between dusk and night) and covered in gold stars and moons. The chapel also doubled up as the room in which we did drama and I always longed for a game of sleeping lions, so I could lie on my back and stare up at this hypnotic night sky.
I loved the ceiling of my chapel so much, that when my family moved from our London flat into a house in the suburbs, my mum let me turn the storage room attached to my bedroom into a star-gazing cupboard. I blue-tacked glow-in-the-dark plastic moons and stars to the ceiling and it was just about long enough to let me lie down and take it all in. I enjoyed this ritual every night before bed - perhaps it is because I grew up in London, a clear, smog-free night sky was a rarity. I had to make do with paint and plastic.
The first time I discovered paper moons was in the V & A gift shop when I was visiting as a teenager. There, on a sepia postcard, was a family in the 1900s looking severely at the camera, propped up on a moon in a starry sky. Long before photo booths at weddings and thirtieth birthdays, this was how people recorded their day or night at fun fairs, parties and carnivals - sitting on a pretend moon, as if floating euphorically out of the shindig and into the sky (we’ve all had that feeling).
I was enchanted. I started collecting old paper moon photos. In fact, I still have an eBay alert for them.
I also started searching for moon and star fabric. And jewelry. And shoes. I found a backless black dress covered in gold-tinged crescent moons and stars and I loved it. My friend Laura gave me a pair of big, beautiful vintage rhinestone star clip-on earrings for my 21st. I wore them together and it was my favourite outfit for a party, with a slash of crimson lipstick. And then - the worst happened. I left an overnight bag containing my moon and star dress, star earrings and favourite black ankle boots under a table in a bar. When I went back the next day to collect it - it was gone.
I thought about that dress pretty much every Saturday night until this year - it’s impossible to find moon and star patterns that aren’t on children’s Halloween costumes.
...AND THEN. I discovered this beautiful Lily and Lionel number. Smattered in my favourite celestial pattern, in the floaty, bohemian, 70s cut I love so much. It is my dream dress. I want curtains made of the fabric, I want a bedroom wallpapered in paper moon photographs. I swear to never leave it in a bag in a table under a bar, so help me God.
I don’t know whether I loved that chapel ceiling because I loved moons and stars, or whether I love moons and stars because I’m always thinking back to that chapel ceiling. One of my first clear memories; letting my five-year-old mind relinquish all thoughts to meditative swim in a painted sky. All I know is I am and always will be deeply drawn to a moon and a star - on postcards and fabric; made of paper and paint. They make for a romantic, mystical, nostalgic, whimsical, joyful motif.
In the recent David Hockney exhibition at The Tate, I was struck by something he said on the audio guide, when I approached the last room. “A photograph of a sun set may be a cliché, but a real life sun set never is - it is always a unique and beautiful thing”. The same could be said of the moon - with its wax and wane that turns the tide and measures the months; the same thing we all look at wherever we are in the world. And the stars that: “burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders” to borrow a sentence from Jack Kerouac. How could they ever be a cliché?
So, if I ever get bored of my wardrobe of stellar-patterned dresses and my bedroom I plan to wallpaper with paper moons one day - I’ll always have the magic of the night sky, too.