Friday 20 January 2017

Runway success for homegrown design

The annual Irish Fashion Exposure show reveals new directions for the rich tapestry of Irish design

Published 10/10/2016 | 02:30

Claire O'Connor
Claire O'Connor
Liz Quinn
Emma Manley
Caroline Kilkenny
Dress by Peter O'Brien, hat by Martha Lynn. Photo: Mark Condren
Niamh O'Neill
Fee G
Helen McAlinden
Peter O'Brien

The elegant surroundings of the Hibernian Club in St Stephen's Green provided the perfect runway for Peter O'Brien. His years as a couturier in Paris showed in every garment, from the olive-green hounds-tooth check coat and his signature "New Look" numbers, to his wide variety of dresses, this time adding an early 1960s flavour to his ballet-length sunray-pleated number. His show stopper was a vivid red cocktail dress with a train from the shoulder. With Martha Lynn's Star Wars hat.

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This was the opening of the Irish Fashion Exposure's autumn winter collection fashion show, the only show dedicated solely to Irish design. The beautiful light of that Stephen's Green drawing room illuminated many of the most familiar and exciting names in Irish design. "It's been a beautiful show, I'm very proud of it this year," said Fiona Foy Holland, the dynamic brains behind Irish Fashion Exposure in aid of the Order of St Lazarus Ireland.

"It was full of texture and depth and real luxury. The confidence of the designers has increased over the years, they're much more rounded, they're bolder."

This is the show's eighth year, for many designers lacking the budget to stage a show on their own it is a crucial chance to see their designs on a runway. This year, the event was styled by Clara Halpin, head of personal shopping at Arnotts.

Liz Quinn
Liz Quinn

Roisin Linnane is the queen of "soft dressing," but there was nothing shapeless about her jersey masterpieces, whose fluidity created a flattering effect. Her dresses and separates in the softest shades of grey and peach when worn under her grey and peach faux fur were luxury personified.

Helen McAlinden is the best kept secret of many of our high-powered politicians. Her tailored coats and dresses take a person from early morning constituency meetings to late-night Dail votes.

Her belted camel coats and print dresses continue this theme, but for winter 2016, McAlinden has let her creative range loose.

A confident femininity is celebrated in "natural" suede waterfall jackets worn with skinny suede trousers and silk tops. If suede is not your thing, there's a red tweed section with a decidedly 1960s feel, but as with all McAlinden it's extremely wearable. Fee G , like Caroline Kilkenny has been tagged with the special occasion stamp. Fee G's fabrics certainly emphasise the "special" part, creating a luminous effect in many coat and dress sets. But the label's feathered tops with striped trousers as well as her graphic printed black, grey and dawn pink dresses are thoroughly contemporary. Liz Quin formerly of Quin and Donnelly, is all about contemporary fashion. She has kept the price awareness of her former label. Her section started with a beautifully tailored black coat at an incredible price point of under €200. It looked ten times the price. Obviously her pink faux-fur, her nude coloured dresses with beautiful pearls down the back and cream wool and lace-panelled two pieces, cost more. But they were stunning.

Caroline Kilkenny straddles "special" and workplace to perfection. Her pencil powder dresses made great use of a "flame" fabrication to emphasise her skill with "body-con".

Her strengths are also evident in a cool urban pink and black print silk taffeta set of dresses, skirts jackets and big 1950s skirts. The styles are now classics but the fabric gives an edge. And then there was her new addition of "goddess" numbers. Draped dresses, tops and skirts in pre-Raphaelite forest greens, black and silver.

Emma Manley
Emma Manley

Niamh O'Neill knows her client. She is not afraid of a strong palette - ultramarine blue, fuchsia and black this season - and a bold feminine style. Sophisticated, sharp with a very moneyed look.

Emma Manley regularly designs in leather. The opening style was a drop-dead gorgeous red leather skirt with matching trapeze cut "cape" jacket. This was followed by silver leather, leather printed like fabric in cobalt blues and yellows, mini skirts and blouses with leather collars. Breaking news was the unveiling of renowned bridal designer Delphine Grandjoan's first ready-to-wear collection. It was a neat collection of dresses - some in lace, others in wool - and accessories. There was a 1960s feel to the collection. Particularly covetable were the collars. Stunning, detachable, in leather and lace, they were designed to grace any outfit.

The grand finale was a collection of red carpet dresses by Claire O'Connor. The young Irishwoman's last few years working in England has wrought a distinct change. Gone is the tendency to overwork a design - of which many creative people are guilty.

Her new simplified lines allow her precision cutting and mastery of drape to shine.

Six draped floor-length silk satin dresses in white, black, red, blue and an amazing black and white beaded jumpsuit were superbly executed. The confidence shows that O'Connor has found her metier.

Irish jewellery designer Christina Bell and milliner Martha Lynn were intrinsic to the show, showing the transformative effect of a great neckpiece or headpiece on an outfit.


Their work, along with glove-maker Paula Rowan, were the guilty pleasures of a wonderful show.

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