Despite radical changes in Lainey Keogh's world, our 'national treasure' is still true to herself, writes Constance Harris
'SHE'S A national treasure we really don't appreciate her enough." I overheard this comment at Lainey Keogh's extraordinary fashion show last week, held to raise funds for the Mayur Foundation, which helps the victims of last January's earthquake in India. The show was extraordinary, not just because of Lainey's work but because it was the embodiment of Lainey's life and world. Friends and fans were there to work and support in a Lainey-created love field.
My heart gladdened to hear someone who appreciated rather than worked in fashion say this. I feel the same way about Lainey. She is an artist. But because she works in fashion that fact is somehow never acknowledged.
Lainey, if truth be told, is envied by many in fashion. Her talent, and the media attention she attracts, so threatens them they love to reduce her importance in our industry. But the fact remains, Lainey is the most important creator in Irish fashion today.
Ironically, Lainey no longer sees herself as a part of the fashion world. She almost reviles it. She views her time 'at the top' as a phase, but not one she wishes to return to. She believes there are few people of any creative originality working in fashion today.
"Fashion needs creators who understand human nature," she told me.
"There's a relationship which must be honoured for creation to come about." She rates only John Galliano, Yohji Yamamoto and Ray Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons as being true creators.
In every Irish fashion journalist's memory there was that magical period, back in the mid-Nineties, when Lainey's knitwear filled over half of a fashion editorial in American Vogue. @@STYL cf,mils
We all thought, this is it Lainey has broken into the big time. The collection was the first of its kind to come from this part of the world: luxurious yarns, contemporary shapes and rich symbolism. It was, in fact, an early indicator of the return of haute couture. But then there followed, as Lainey described it, "two years of black clothes and 12 shades of neutral".
Then, in 1997, Lainey held a fashion show in a working man's club during London Fashion Week. She broke all the traditional rules of fashion by asking friends, as well as professionals, to model. John Hurt read Seamus Heaney as the big, small, young and old models looked beautiful and powerful in their Laineys. Marianne Faithfull and supermodels Naomi and Helena were a coup. It was also the first time the then generously proportioned Sophie Dahl appeared. It proved to be history in the making. The clothes were evocative, sexy, sumptuous, luxurious, vibrant. For the second time Lainey entered the big league, and this time she stayed until she decided she wanted out.
"Two years ago I was ego and fashion ... and everyone (in fashion) needs to go through that stuff and then get beyond it."
She is categorical that she has left that world behind.
"I learnt so much there, it was amazing and everything ... but according to fashion there is no life beyond fashion time and I don't accept that. You can't be a perfect human being the whole time, you can't go in a straight line, it's not human."
Her present collection, as always, contains her own life ethos, a desire for joy and a faith in life. "Every single person I meet is a source of inspiration. Everyone speaks a personal language ... there is a moment of total magic when you capture the description of the character."
"I want people to feel playful and remember what it was like ... to be childlike, innocent. Such happiness, such treasure ... it is good for our souls."
That is the magic that is contained in Lainey's work. Lainey fans are people who understand Lainey and feel the humanity and empowerment contained in the clothes.
"We are so manipulated by our own aspirations, by our aspirational society. We have very demanding expectations of our lives. Greed has now been taken over by fear."
"Creation instead of fear" was the first thing Lainey had said to me when I sat down to interview her. I had assumed she was referring to the present world climate of fear, but I now realise this is what Lainey is; we have the power to change everything, if we only believe in our own power.
"People aren't aware of the potential of our power ... at all" (Meditation plays a huge part in the awareness of one's power). "I really feel an awareness 24/7.
"It's silly not being aware, there is energy all around us ... that is what is available to me. It's there you can just hook on."
At the moment, Lainey is going through major change. She is changing the structure of her business and the nature of her work. She is clearing her studio, creating sacred space, although nothing will be thrown out, to be neglected. Her studio is full of young, vibrant women.
Twenty per cent of Lainey sales are now donated to charities a different one each month. Her work is returning to nature. Everything and everyone around her is integrated with her life, her work.
"The only reason there is profit in the West is that there is abuse in the East. I don't see why a woman in Nepal isn't worth the same as a woman here.
"From next season I won't be working with synthetics. Only natural dyes, natural materials."
In recent years, Lainey has become increasingly preoccupied with the loss of traditional knitting and weaving skills in Ireland.
"All our clothes are made by hand, by people. Everything you buy is touched by hands mine, others. Not chemical, not toxic, not damaging the planet, not abusing."
Considering how excited she was by new technology in the last years of the last millennium, I am amazed at this change in direction. But, of course, this is Lainey integrating her life beliefs into her work.
As always, Lainey's work is entirely in touch with international trends; the multi-ethnicity of her current collection is what the top designers were featuring for next year. The vaguely Edwardian feeling of faeries and sprites in the photographs on this page, show that Lainey is in tune with a war-torn world in need of some magic.
The models pictured are not professionals, they are friends and the children of friends. This is Lainey's family.
As life would have it, as the planes crashed into the World Trade Centre, I was in Lainey's studio. It was surreal to be surrounded by the embodiment of peace and love that is Lainey's clothes, while we listened on the radio to lives being snuffed out.
"We are mourning all those people. But I believe that good is coming after the World Trade Centre. People in Manhattan are turning to each other. Humanity has shifted. "We had the opportunity (with the Good Friday Agreement) to be an example. The whole world was looking at us for inspiration and we threw it away. They've lost the world because they never moved on.
"I love Ireland, I am Irish, it's why I am still here. It's a cultural thing. I don't think it's appropriate any longer to be stuck in nationalism, as we evolve as human beings. It needs to be a love field. We're building houses in India here in our workroom. It's so amazing what we can achieve when we come together.
"One good act, one pound donated, one neighbourly gesture, comes back at us ten fold. It's the power of good vibration. The more we love, the more we are surrounded by love. It's not such a big deal."
These words have been uttered throughout time. When they are said in the past, we respect the wisdom and knowledge of those that say them. However to say them in the here and now is to be a fool, a naif, a New-Age hippy. Lainey is all and none of these things. She is true to herself and she is not afraid to hear her own words back at her.
Like all artists she puts herself on the line and receives judgment from fools. "Every man, woman, child, within, is a divine creature," she told me as I got up to leave.
"It's important to mix it's all of life. Joy. A smile on our faces. That is where we are best."