Back to their roots: 'The NCAD students have proven beyond talented, year-on-year'
Two young graduates tipped as 'designers to watch' have made their mark with inspiration found close to home, discovers our fashion editor
I won't shirt around the issue: I'm getting a tad bored with all those blue stripes out there. Who sent out the style memo that resulted in a flood of the Wall Street uniform of candy-striped shirts? Only this time, they've been deconstructed, slashed and frilled. Button up your shirt the wrong way, wear it off the shoulder, with one long end deliberately hanging out, add a pair of furry pool slider sandals and you are hot to trot.
The only problem is, the high street seems to have become a homogeneous sea that has us all wearing variations on the same outfits - but there is some hope around the corner. The flag going up on the summer sales this week means it is now only a matter of weeks before the autumn-winter collections land and newness (think plaid, denims and lots of blue) begins to arrive on the rails. And there's plenty of promise too with the wave of new talent emerging on the Irish fashion scene.
This season's 'new kids on the block' stepped into the spotlight at the college graduate shows and one lasting impression from this latest tranche of student designers was their canny ability to curate the past while fashioning their own futures.
NCAD student Laoise Carey, from Nenagh, was supremely crafty - her intuitive use of a pair of antique curtains from her aunt Bernadette's farmhouse in Carhue, Co Tipperary, marked out this 21-year-old's six-piece graduate collection for some special attention.
Far from turning into a 'Fräulein Maria' moment from The Sound of Music, Laoise used the flowery fabric - bought at McCarney's Antiques in Nenagh - to maximum impact by cutting out sunflowers and daffodils and then appliquéing them back on to the surface of her jacket, creating a striking 3D effect. She also drew inspiration from Romanian sculptor Ana Lupas who encouraged the revival of handcrafts while the shape of the jacket and her striped shorts and a floral swimsuit were inspired by Boris Mikhailov's photographs of bathers in the Ukraine.
"The silhouette was inspired by the curvy female bathers and I wanted to exaggerate and accentuate the female form," says Laoise. Her collection includes some 'installation' style pieces such as a basket bikini bra made from willows her dad, Gerard, pulled, and woven sandals made from rushes on Lough Derg.
"In fashion, it's good to be different and when I design clothes, the idea of originality is important and so too is sustainability," says Laoise, who plans to travel for a year before considering a Masters in pattern construction.
The jacket and exaggerated shorts caught the eye of Shelly Corkery, group fashion director of Brown Thomas, who awarded Laoise the lucrative Brown Thomas/NCAD mentoring award.
This means that Laoise, and the 'Designer To Watch' competition runner-up, Colin Burke, will be exhibited at BT's CREATE initative which opens in the Grafton Street store next month.
The two recently graduated students will be on view alongside established fashion industry names like Helen Cody and Lainey Keogh.
It's a welcome leap in commercial terms of what can be achieved if you have a point of difference and a story to tell. In an industry that is drowning under a wave of sameliness, it is important to have your own voice, and a thoroughly original perspective from early on.
Corkery praises Laoise's inventiveness: "I love the silhouette and the jacket's big shoulders. It is very now, very modern, very Balenciaga and I absolutely loved all the appliqué on the jacket and the 1940s swimsuit bottoms."
Colin (22), from Claregalway in Co Galway found his inspiration in his late grandmother, Maureen Burke (left), who was considered quite the fashion plate in the City of the Tribes.
"My grandmother Maureen, who died this time last year, worked as a fashion buyer at the Anthony Ryan's department store on Shop Street in Galway and she had fabulous style," says Colin.
His collection was all done in yellow (Maureen's favourite colour), and as a nod to her love of crochet, he honed his skill with the crochet hook and completed a luxe-feel scarf using a complicated four, three, two stitch then turned on its side.
However, the pièce de résistance, which no doubt Maureen would have enjoyed no end, was that the silky satin fabric used in the belted blanket coat - filled with wadding - and in the matching bloomers, features sections of a photograph Colin took sitting on a silage truck.
"It was from her (Maureen) that I got my love of fashion. The collection picks up on the things she loved," says Colin, who hopes to secure an internship with a designer, and adds his dream job would be with Simone Rocha.
As he tells me this, I can only smile because I remember the reaction at London Fashion Week when Simone unveiled her AW13 collection which was inspired by her own grandmothers in Birr and in Hong Kong.
Considering the new talents coming through, Corkery says "searching for new design talent is a huge part of our business and the NCAD students have proven beyond talented, year-on-year.
"It will be wonderful to see our winners being part of CREATe and getting the exposure that they so richly deserve.
"Meeting new up-and-coming designers and modern collection with a fresh perspective is always exciting and keeps us evolving," she adds.
This week, top New York designer Don O'Neill was back in Ireland, celebrating his pearl anniversary and 30 eventful years in the fashion business.
It all kicked off for the Kerryman when his graduate collection was displayed in the windows of Brown Thomas in 1987 after he won first prize at the Barbara Bourke College of Fashion in Dublin.
"This kind of exposure is wonderful for young designers and after winning my scholarship to the college - which came through a competition in the Irish Independent - I ended up working with the designer Gina Fratini who was one of the judges and it all went from there," says Don, who has dressed everyone from Oprah Winfrey to Nicole Kidman and Taylor Swift.
Don says encouraging young designers is crucial whether it is stores stocking their collections or customers making a point of seeking them out.
He happily points to the talents of Kerry-born designer, Colin Horgan, who studied at Limerick School of Art & Design. Colin has just graduated with a Masters from the Royal College of Fashion in London and one of the people to endorse him on social media was no less than Suzy Menkes, former fashion editor for the International Herald Tribune who is now International Editor for 19 editions of Vogue online.
As for Laoise Carey, she has a prize of €3,000 from her BT's 'Designer To Watch' competition to spend. She can use it for fabric, that is, unless her Auntie Bernadette has more fabulous fabric lying around her home in Co Tipperary.
Inspiration: Colin's grandmother, Maureen