Gowngate: Cecelia's snub of Irish fashion sparks dressing-down from a top designer
Writer missed a golden chance to give something back to Ireland, writes Barry Egan
I'm told by people who know about these things that a wedding dress is every girl's dream. And a dress by Oscar de la Renta most of all, it would appear. So who am I to carp?
Whether or not a person believes Cecelia Ahern benefited from the fact that her father was Taoiseach when she, then only 21, wrote her debut novel, PS I Love You, there is no denying that she has benefited from her Irish tax-exemption status as an author. So it is not mean-spirited of me to suggest that Cecelia should have given something back at a time when the country -- and the Irish fashion industry -- is in recession, and worn a wedding dress by an Irish designer.
"As I understand it," Irish designer Jen Kelly says, "Cecelia could afford a wedding gown for every person in Ireland getting married this year off the tax-free money she has earned as an author."
Cecelia choice of gown -- made by de la Renta, one of the world's leading designers -- for her 'secret' wedding to David Keoghan last Friday week in Lyons Demesne in Co Kildare has divided the nation perhaps as much as her father did during his time as Taoiseach.
Everyone has an opinion on it. Many in the industry have chosen not to share that opinion. When contacted, Irish designers were generally diplomatic.
Donald Brennan of designers Tyrrell & Brennan didn't want to comment: "We are not in a position to comment as Cecelia is a client of ours. As such we would never discuss any personal matters."
Ireland is, however, in a dreadful heap economically. And while Cecelia, like any bride on her big day, is entitled to go to Timbuktu and wear Mongolian fur with bells on, it would have been a nice thing to do had she worn a dress by an Irish designer. That's all. I am not trying to force any bride into anything she doesn't want to wear. It just would have been a good gesture, not least given the exposure the wedding has received internationally.
Kelly shares this view. "I am actually sickened over this," he told me. "Her father is the former Taoiseach. So why is she not supporting the Irish fashion industry? Why is she not supporting Irish trade? The country is in deep shit and she is buying her wedding dress from an American designer? It would have been an opportune time to fly the flag for Irish design. Is she not proud of her Irishness?"
He added that Sybil Connolly had designed many gowns for Jacqueline Kennedy while she was First Lady.
"There are some great designers in this country -- John Rocha, Deborah Veale. She could have easily used one of them. It would have given the country a bit of a boost internationally given the coverage the wedding got. Making a wedding dress is not f**ing rocket science. Why did she have to go to Oscar de la Renta? It is absolutely outrageous."
Kelly said that the then Lady Diana Spencer went with young English designers Elizabeth and David Emanuel in 1981 to make her dress for her wedding to Prince Charles -- "and the Emanuels were just out of college. The Brits support their own industries and their trade", Kelly told me, adding that Cecelia "has never bought clothes from me and I understand that because I dress Celia [Larkin]. So I understand why she wouldn't buy from me. But with unemployment so high in Ireland, you'd have thought she would have thought of other Irish fashion designers to fly the flag for Ireland in this recession."
This is not a view, however, shared by the never-less-than-forthright Irish designer Paul Costelloe (who, lest we forget, once said Irish women "wouldn't know style if it tottered up to them in 10-inch heels").
"Cecelia is her own woman," he told me. "People are free to wear what they want. Nationalism doesn't come into fashion. Good luck to her. I'm sure she looked beautiful in Oscar de la Renta. She is a great little writer. She doesn't have to bow down to the Irish fashion media.
"Patriotism is nothing to do with wearing Irish fashion. I'm sure most of Irish fashion isn't even made in Ireland. I'm wearing jeans that are made in India. So let Cecelia wear what she wants. I'm sure she looked incredible."
Irish designer Synan O'Mahony concurred: "Cecelia has always supported Irish designers. I've dressed her a few times, as has Helen Coady. I thought she looked stunning and I get why she didn't go with an Irish designer because of the secret wedding. I would imagine it wouldn't have been secret for long if the dress had been made here. I wasn't in the least offended. She is lovely and fair play to her for doing it her way."
Delphine Grandjouan, Irish Bridal Designer of the Year for the last two years and Kerry Designer of the Year 2009, believes "that every bride has to be allowed to fall in love with her dress regardless of any external pressure or PC-ness. Of course, when a high-profile bride chooses a home-based designer it is a bonus for all concerned."
Sunday Independent Fashion Editor Constance Harris takes the view that it is "a great pity that Cecelia didn't choose an Irish designer considering the huge talent we have here, but I can only think that a part of it was the fear that they would possibly have leaked the information".
"However, it's a kind of damning reason. Not all Irish designers are indiscreet and quick to contact the media for a moment of fame," she said.
"Maybe she didn't want to offend designers here who she is friends with by picking one. But at a time when the Irish fashion industry is on its knees, it would have been great if she had tried to make it work.
"Considering Cecelia's profile, the success that Ireland helped make for her, the good she could have done, why not give something back?"
Why not indeed.