London calling, but this time with an Irish accent
A fresh generation of Irish designers are being boosted by an initiative at London Fashion Week, says Constance Harris
London Fashion Week, which runs until Tuesday in its swanky new home at Brewer Street in the heart of Soho, is an especially important one for the Irish designer fashion market.
Simone Rocha, Orla Kiely, Philip Treacy and Paul Costelloe are well-established on the international fashion stage and in our minds as Irish fashion success stories.
And kudos to them for succeeding: it was no small task. They did it with little to no help from the State.
They also had to leave Ireland and base themselves in London to succeed.
But this year, as part of the Year of Design 2015, the Design & Crafts Council of Ireland has selected, mentored and supported 11 of the country's most exciting and best in fashion and accessories design to exhibit at London Fashion Week.
The Irish designers' exhibition for spring/summer 2016, called Unfold, is in the ICA on The Mall, London, just down the way from Buckingham Palace.
In two beautiful, high-ceilinged Georgian rooms, the 11-strong cohort of Irish designers (see next week's Living London fashion report for more on them) are standing by their rails and installations, meeting the all-important buyers, stylists and press many of whom have never seen Irish design and probably never knew it existed in such a collective before.
Brian McGee, acting CEO of the Design & Crafts Council, was instrumental in creating the Unfold event.
"The world's perception of us is years behind," he says. "This event is a recognition of Ireland and its talent. From showcases such as these, people internationally are starting to recognise what Ireland can do.
"We have been trying for years to get Irish fashion to London. The Design & Crafts Council have always felt that Irish fashion design deserved to be based in Ireland and showing in London, as opposed to being based in London full stop.
"The young guys who are talented in Ireland have always had to leave because it was the only way they could show here, and so all the good ones left.
"We were lucky John Rocha came back and based himself in Dublin. But he's one of the few. It is very difficult to be in the fashion business while based in Ireland and it shouldn't be that difficult. It should be easy.
"You should be able to reside in Ireland, run your business in Ireland and come over to London or Paris for the shows. So that's what this is about. It's about giving it back home, to Ireland."
Unfold is the first, serious initiative in decades to be funded by the State in support of the Irish fashion industry, which has become a fraction of what it was over the past 30 years.
Our high VAT rate of 23pc does not help the industry either; it is now even applied to second-hand clothing. So, in some instances, the consumer is paying double VAT on their purchases.
Such a high rate is detrimental to a price-sensitive, vulnerable industry such as fashion, and especially one on the fringes, as Ireland is.
"Irish designers do so much themselves. If you give just a small bit of support to these people they give you 200, 300pc back," says Mr McGee.
"What they need is to break through. They need someone to support them, offer them some means by which to be protected, as small players, in order for them to shine.
"That is what this initiative does. In the context of the state of Ireland, it's a modest spend for the return."