Lady Gregory returns
Next week, Mary Gregory returns to the fashion scene after a break of 20 years with an Irish-manufactured collection debuting at CREATE in Brown Thomas. Here, our fashion editor meets the designer
The morning after the 'supermodel show' in Dublin's Point Depot in 1996, Mary Gregory's phone rang with unexpected madness.
The world's top models, Karen Mulder, Helena Christensen and Eva Herzigová had been photographed wearing Mary's ethereal, romantic, feminine pieces and with all the global publicity that Ali Hewson's A-list fundraiser for Chernobyl garnered around the world, international buyers were queueing up to stock the Irish designer.
At the height of her career, Mary sold into 47 stores but her twice-annual collections ceased in 2003, when she decided to move to the country to live with her husband, Aidan McCarthy, and their two young sons, Joshua and Toby.
Mary's sabbatical from the retail scene left a "vacuum of love". Gregory aficionados had faithfully bought her pieces, from those early days in the Design Centre on St Stephen's Green where Mary was chosen as a founder designer, to her later collections at Brown Thomas.
With her departure from the manufacturing industry 13 years ago, diehard fans took special care of her heritage pieces, such as the hand-painted dresses with images of Botticelli angels and etched with lines of poetry.
Then there were her innovative, textural knits, oversized, luxury, avant-garde coats and suits in intriguing fabrics, like the blue suit which looked, and sounded, like paper. Over the years, Mary Gregory dressed everyone from Ali Hewson to President Mary McAleese and lots of avid collectors in between.
After a conversation last year with Shelly Corkery, the BT's fashion director who devised the CREATE annual show six years ago, Mary Gregory (pictured above) is now making a welcome comeback to the Irish fashion scene, starting with a 34-piece collection of coats, dresses and separates in delicious hues of matt black, white, silver, olive and translucents.
Always the innovator, Mary has used double cuttable fabrics. Two layers of the same fabric are stitched together and the air between gives movement and allows the garments to be finished so that the inside is as perfect as the outside.
Sourced from couture fabric mills, the fabric compositions are appealingly natural, with cashmere, baby lama, fleece wool and silk all produced ethically.
In Weekend's exclusive showcase of her "return collection," Mary explains how it was "inspired by life's fragility and strength. The sculptural drafting echoes fragility, and strength enthuses the fabrics and colours. It began as instinctive, emotive moments from which I sketched gesture drawings and that was the conception of each piece.
"This is the first full collection I have designed in this honest way, trusting in the gift of being true to one's self and the gesture drawings that come from within.
"Being a designer is an innate part of who I am but I had to wait until the time was right to allow me the freedom to design collections again," Mary explains.
During her sabbatical, she continued to attend international fabric shows. With her husband Aidan (to whom she was introduced by John Rocha), she began researching the highest standard of international production. They worked with the world's top fabric mills to develop Mary's own fabrics and travelled throughout Italy to super suppliers working on production alongside Ann Demeulemeester, Maison Margiela, Prada, Azzedine Alaïa, Céline, Valentino, Dior and Louis Vuitton.
It was a true voyage of discovery and while Mary's AW16-17 collection is stunning, the most exciting aspect of all for me as a fashion editor is the fact that the work has all been produced in Ireland to international standards.
This collection was manufactured at the little-known, until now, Lismore Atelier in Co Waterford where Mary is the first designer-in-residence. Lismore Atelier plans to take on a new designer each season and initiate an Irish International fashion industry.
It's just over two years since Mary and Aidan met Anike Tyrrell, then CEO of County Waterford Enterprise Board. Recognising the need to bring the skill of high-end garment-making, which would rival the best being produced globally, to Ireland, Anike secured funding to purchase international production machines. After two years of research and planning by Anike, Mary and the team including working, in October 2015, on the Mary Gregory Autumn Winter 2016/17 prototypes.
Since then, Aidan has skilfully led production alongside training programmes which have been developed with the Education Training Board. The project relies heavily on the wealth of manufacturing skill and experience which Mary and Aidan have gained through 21 years of collections and their extensive international research.
"My family have always known me as a designer and they saw how much a loss not designing and producing collections has been to me. I am delighted that it is with their understanding and support that I return to the part of my life as a designer," says Mary who, with typical modesty says she is "humbled" by the reaction to her comeback collection which debuts in Brown Thomas Dublin next Tuesday, July 5.
Mary Gregory will join a host of new talents in CREATE at Brown Thomas including Teatum Jones, revered for their innovative use of merino wool and colour blocking and Fintan Mulholland who has a collection of striking sculptural knits. Also included is Una Burke, who has been worn by a host of celebrities such as Lady Gaga and Rihanna. Jewellery designers this year include Helena Malone whose pieces celebrate the woven texture of the rose stem, Tory Long whose collection features druzy gemstone earrings and edgy pearl necklaces, and Maria Parson's "Terrible Beauty" line which is influenced by Nordic modernist design. Milliner Elaine Keogh will showcase her beautiful feminine collection of headpieces infused with a bohemian twist. There's an exquisite knitwear collaboration - madigan • whisker - between Elaine Madigan and last year's hugely successful CREATE designer Mariad Whisker.
Richard Malone's fantastic AW16 collection features 1980s asymmetry and fresh stripes. Giovanna Borza will showcase her eclectic mix of handmade shearlings along with Jill De Burca's intricately embroidered and embellished designs. Milliner Davina Lynch introduces her latest couture headpiece collection alongside her signature hand-knit Irish Aran hats. Margaret O'Connor presents a bright and bold headpiece collection with monastic influences. NCAD graduate Aideen Gaynor will showcase her beautifully embellished collection 'Hard Boiled Wonderland' as part of the Brown Thomas 'Designer to Watch' competition, chosen by Shelly Corkery at the recent NCAD Graduate Fashion Show. brownthomas.com
Stylist Darren Feeney
Photographer Aaron Hurley
Hair Mathew Feeney
@ Alan Keville hair
Make-up Nicole Lynch for Brown Thomas' personal beauty team
Model Cara McSweeney
@ Andrea Roche