Eight years ago, a challenge faced Shelly Corkery. “Where is the Irish talent?” she asked herself.
As fashion director of Irish department store Brown Thomas, Corkery undertook the responsibility of assembling a group of Irish designers—“the ones who haven’t yet pushed through”—to showcase their work in Brown Thomas’ flagship on Dublin’s Grafton Street, the main shopping thoroughfare. Entitled ‘CREATE’, the annual event runs for six weeks in the summer months, when tourism is in Dublin is at its peak and the fall collections are dropping in stores.
“Eddie Shanahan of the Design and Crafts Council sent over some names, and we researched the rest ourselves,” Corkery told me at the launch of Create 2018 on Monday night, where she welcomed guests for the eighth instalment of the showcase.
Twenty-five emerging and established names across ready-to-wear, knitwear, accessories, jewellery, housewares, were selected by Corkery and her team after an intensive two-day interview process which whittled down the candidates. The successful twenty-five will present their work in-store through August 12, on the first floor. “This is the place in the store where customers circulate more than any other point in the store,” Eddie Shanahan points out.
The first thing they’ll be confronted with is Álla, the work of Alla Sinkevich, a recent National College of Art & Design graduate who won the Brown Thomas Bursary. Three outfits from her graduate collection, ‘Existential Nomad,' are on display. Interpenetrating Chagall and the Aran Islands, the collection was influenced by archetypes of human dwellings throughout the ages.
Highly conceptual, the process of making the collection was simplistic in that it used only two fabrics—linen and wool—but it was complicated given the intensity of labour. Sinkevich shared that the sculptural coats which initially seize the viewer’s eye were hand-felted on the floor of her workspace. It took three days to make a single piece. She stopped only for food breaks and sleeping as it was a live-process. “All of it was made by me. Like any fashion designer, I like to be in control of my work,” she said. She admits her husband assisted in the final process of felting or else she "would've been left with a ball of wet wool.”
Sinkevich’s work isn’t retailing at Create but she is accepting commissions. “Irish couture,” chimed Shanahan.
The other star of the evening was Richard Quinn, the London-based designer who presented a breakthrough collection during London Fashion Week in February to an audience including Queen Elizabeth II and Dame Anna Wintour. He was the recipient of the inaugural Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design. The outfit he designed for human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, which she wore to the 2018 Met Gala, is in the store window.
Quinn was in attendance to celebrate the launch. The Irish connection? “My dad is from County Meath, and my mom is from a small fishing village in Northern Ireland.”
He sauntered into the exhibition, chatted with guests throughout and received a special mention from Corkery during her welcoming speech. Attendees at Monday’s event huddled around to admire his hodgepodge of 60s references: chintzy tablecloth florals, spotty dresses and metallic fabrics.
Quinn clarified the reference point for the florals is the lesser-known 1960s artist Paul Harris, not Leigh Bowery. But he maintains, everyone’s entitled to their own interpretation. “Everyone can have their opinion. I’m all for that.” He had the same reaction when questioned about Diet Prada’s design plagiarism claims. The controversial Instagram page accused him of copying Demna Gvasalia’s Balenciaga, even though he had presented his show, with much the same motifs, months prior to the quoted Balenciaga collection.
As for production of the collection? “We like to keep everything in London. It means greater control of the finished product and fewer emissions,” he said. What’s next? “Another collection in September. I’m going to Milan next week for a project. There’s another big project but we’ll see if that happens.”
“It’s great to have Richard Quinn with us, he’s amazing. We bought [his fall 2018] collection,” Corkery enthused. Will he continue to be stocked in Brown Thomas? “Definitely.”
Knitwear is obvious gambit in terms of Irish design. Aran knitting is internationally renowned. Pearl Reddington is this year's knitwear breakthrough. She infuses luxury Irish wools with cutting-edge skills. She handcrafts her work in her bedroom in her parent’s house in Raheny, a hamlet outside Dublin. “It took a lot of hard work. I’m a bit frazzled,” said Reddington.
Other knitwear designers on display are Faye Dinsmore, Lainey Keogh, technical whiz Fintan Mulholland.
Like knitwear, Irish millinery has made a name for itself in light of Philip Treacy’s success. Michelle Kearns, Leonora Ferguson, and The Season Hats decorate an entire wall with their fascinating, individual styles.
Jewellery is another proposition. The glamorously-attired Bláithín Ennis from Gorey, County Wexford was receiving alacritous, well-wishing guests all evening, complementing her work which poses a contrast between “delicate and robust” metals. Joining her is Emer Roberts Design, and Helena Malone.
The work featured by Éadach by Sara O’Neill and Jill & Gill were the closest to the Instagram generation in terms of their style. O’Neill paints on vintage leather jackets; Jill & Gill have hand-printed the faces of Anna Wintour, Kate Moss, and more onto sweaters and t-shirts.
Úna Burke’s work with leather is not only an insight into technical wizardry but because her past client list reads like a Who’s Who in the music industry: Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj, Taylor Swift.
The exhibition crescendoes with the refined, monochromatic Mariad Whisker; Grafton Academy of Design graduate Sarah Murphy whose work recalls Simone Rocha; the sportswear of Amie Egan with a conceptual touch; the ethical fashion proponent Four Threads by Alanagh Clegg; Debbie Millington, a practitioner of printed silk scarves and accessories; Deirdre Duffy’s Wild Cocoon’s hand-woven, brightly-coloured scarves; Ale Walsh, the only handbag designer on display; Domino Whisker, creator of embroideries on Irish linen; Mookie & Boo by Suzie Beggan’s exclusive candles range, hand-produced in County Wicklow; interior designer Katie Larmour’s “couture cushions”.
2018’s instalment of Create has one message to impart: Irish designers are building a sustainable future. From Richard Quinn’s London-based production to the bespoke craftsmanship of many of the designers on show, the Irish designers of tomorrow are centred on environmental responsibility, lowering emissions, and carving a viable future for the planet.
Furthermore, Shelly Corkery and the team at Brown Thomas are paving the way for the future of Irish design. (Other countries should take note—especially ones without a fashion week.) The nexus between designer and consumer will be pivotal in a growing fashion market like Ireland.
There is still ground to break in Irish fashion but there is also belief, and as proved by the intense labour and industrious nature of year’s edit of designers, where there's a will, there's a way.