Monday, July 8, 2019

In Dublin, Irish design on full display

DUBLIN - As you ascend the escalator to the first floor in Brown Thomas’ Dublin store, you’re confronted with the work of Heather Gilroy. A recent graduate of the National College of Art & Design, Gilroy’s sombre palette and swishy shapes reveal the promise of Irish design in 2019.

Gilroy is one of 33 designers in Brown Thomas’ annual CREATE event, a showcase of Irish design.

‘I just graduated from college a month ago so it’s surreal to walk into Brown Thomas and see my garments displayed in the same store as the biggest fashion houses in the world,’ said Gilroy. ‘It’s such a great platform to be able to connect with other people in the fashion industry and sell to a high-end customer.’ 

‘It was lovely to have young, up-and-coming fashion edit in the mix,’ said Shelly Corkery, Brown Thomas’ Fashion Director.

Entitled ‘Among the Flat Pink Roses,’ Gilroy explains her collection was a response to the Repeal the 8th movement, which saw Ireland recognise the equal right of life of the pregnant woman and the unborn child. Gilroy studied Sylvia Plath’s poetic oeuvre, referencing the oft-overlooked darker side to motherhood. The imagery of roses and Victorian nightwear permeate her work. Additionally, she incorporated masculine elements to depict the structure, authority, physical and economic mobility of men at the same time―pragmatic tailoring and pocket details. 

This year’s CREATE encompasses ready-to-wear, jewellery, accessories, millinery, handbags, homewares and food artisans. Shelly Corkery and retail consultant Eddie Shanahan endured a 3-day-long interview process with 72 designers before selecting the participants. 

‘We do go to search, it’s not just what comes to us. We have our doors open and we’re searching for new, upcoming talents,’ said Corkery. ‘It’s a chance to embrace Irish design and show that Ireland is producing international talent. These designers are the future of Irish fashion and we are proud to support by offering a retail platform to showcase their beautiful collections.’

The centrepiece of 2019’s showcase is Katie Ann McGuigan who showed her sophomore presentation at London Fashion Week in February. McGuigan, from Newry, has been spotlighted in Vogue Italia, British Vogue, and The Irish Times. I chatted to McGuigan for the Irish Examiner a few months ago. She said, ‘to be honest, it’s the first year I’ve felt a real connection with Irish design,’ referencing to features in Image magazine and the CREATE project. ‘Being able to be part of it is great, it’s really exciting as an Irish designer. I think it’s going to be a good year.’

Corkery said, ‘when Katie showed me her collection I thought it was superior, it could sit on an international level. I love designers that think outside the box, ones that aren’t afraid to explore.’ 

McGuigan’s work was inspired by the Bosozoku biker, founded in Japan in the 1950s. A riotous panoply of print, colour, and texture, she fused masculine and feminine aesthetics to marvellous effect ― from colourful biker jackets to layered knits and floaty tulle dresses, McGuigan told me, ‘it’s a real departure for me.’ In effect, her section lights up the space. 

McGuigan’s clothes, like Corkery said, are superior because they can stand on an international level. This is an Irish designer not bound by the narrative of their heritage. This international focus electrified CREATE in a year when many approach design through the lens of Irishness. Of course, design is a personal process but in an increasingly globalised world, 

The designers who stood out were Alison Conneely and Colin Burke.
Alison Conneely’s capsule collection of handcrafted garments of silk and woven wool were inspired by a recent trip to the Skelligs, a former monastic settlement off the coast of County Kerry. The way her knitwear responded to the rugged landscapes of the west of Ireland felt new. 

In the same way that the tribe of monks, in their sanctuary for a spiritual elemental existence of devotion, honey making, fishing, meditation, and survival, led peaceful lives, Conneely translated this 

Meanwhile, Burke revisited the Aran sweater, a heritage knit passed down through generations. The Galway-born recent-graduate expanded on his exploration of the Aran sweater, issuing modern takes with asymmetric finishes. This was Irish heritage rebuilt for the contemporary consumer. Refreshing. 

(Notably, activist Sinead Burke wore a custom flaming red Aran sweater when she was appointed by President Michael D. Higgins to his Council of State.) 

Sustainable practice was on full display. Faye Dinsmore and Anna Guerin’s The Dualist, sat side by side, source and produce their knitwear and tweed tailoring, respectively, in Donegal. The Tweed Project, the brainchild of Aoibheann MacNamara and Triona Lillis, is ‘committed to the west of Ireland for inspiration and production as they work solely with indigenous fabrics.’ Four Threads by Alanagh Clegg builds a sustainable narrative across her brand’s four pillars: inspiration, handmade design, high quality, and ethical production.

What are the necessary qualities for the next big Irish designer? ‘First of all, I think newness, they have to have the ideas,’ said Corkery. ‘Production is really hard to get right but once you have that figured out, it becomes easier for the designer.’

‘Designers are very artistic so to understand the business side of things is a challenge. I think designers can learn a lot [at CREATE] by showcasing and learning from what the team on the shop floor tells them about how customers respond to their work.’ 

While the next great Irish designer has yet to come into their own, there were promising signs here.


The 9th edition of CREATE runs in Brown Thomas Dublin until the middle of August.

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