Wednesday 21 February 2018

New voices help Irish fashion to find its feet

Irish fashion is thriving, enjoying a new wave of success and respect, both creatively and commercially

Jill de burca
Jill de burca
Catriona Hanley
Philip Treacy
Liadan Hynes

Liadan Hynes

'Irish design doesn't have to be Peig Sayers shawls and tweedle-e-dee. We have really good designers who have cut their teeth in proper international houses. For example, Jill de Burca has worked with Erdem (a Kate Middleton favourite). And they're coming home to take ownership and make a name for themselves," says Fiona Foy-Holland, a long-standing champion of Irish fashion.

In a previous life as Head of Personal Shopping for Brown Thomas, then Arnotts, the tall redhead with the perfect pale skin dressed Irish women in her trademark female-friendly, fashion-loving style. Now, as a mother of two gorgeous girls, she is the powerhouse behind the yearly Irish Fashion Exposure show, an invaluable opportunity for Irish designers to show their latest work, as well as a fundraiser for the Military and Hospitaller Order of St Lazarus of Jerusalem - both causes Fiona is passionate about. Now in its sixth year, "it started at the very beginning, when the recession had really taken a bite," Fiona recalls. "Things were very sombre. Charities were collapsing all over the place. And I thought we needed something. I had to stick to what I know. And fashion is what I know. And Irish fashion I always felt had a lot more to offer. It wasn't being given the opportunity to have its proper showcase."

As now, when Irish design is thriving, Fiona spotted a surge in talent. "I saw designers come up where ten years ago there were three or four Irish designers, and then dressmakers. I thought, 'Okay, we're going to seek that out, and we're going to have a fantastic fashion show, and we're going to invite the right people into the room, that have the ability to enjoy it and buy it'." With the help and support of Ashling Kilduff of the Design Centre, another long-term supporter of Irish design, the Irish Fashion Exposure was created.

The show was attended by a mix of TV celebrities and top business executives, as well as a host of women who were there because they love their fashion fix, and it was MC-ed by Nuala Carey.

The show has created a platform for designers who might not otherwise have had the opportunity to show their designs, and has seen the careers of those included flourish. "Umit Kutluk, look at where he is now," Fiona remarks. "Something different has come in every year. Jill de Burca, who would bring a luxe-sports mix. Caroline Kilkenny would be nice dresses that are office wear and evening wear. The likes of Sook Young Song for tailoring; watch that space. And the new name on the scene is of course Catriona Hanly. She is taking the fashion world by storm."

Of late, Irish fashion design is enjoying a new wave of success and respect, both creatively and commercially. Recent presentations, Unfold in London Fashion Week, and the Ireland Fashion Showcase at New York Fashion Week, were hugely successful. Meanwhile, Irish designers Simone Rocha and JW Anderson are the darlings of the fashion world.

"Not only is Irish fashion becoming relevant," says Fiona, "it's becoming important. It's not considered a cottage industry now. And most people in society will have a little bit of Irish fashion in there."

"I feel that Irish designers all have a very original voice within their collection," says stylist Aisling Farinella. A long-time supporter of Irish designers, she styled this year's Irish Fashion Exposure show and was responsible for the recent Unfold showcase of Irish designers at London Fashion week, in her role as fashion and textiles adviser for Irish Design 2015.

"Contemporary Irish designers are really engaging with their own Irish environment, their landscape, their community. They're taking elements of Irish society and they are interpreting them in a contemporary way, into modern fashion collections. That is what is creating a new voice in Irish fashion at the moment. They're not trying to be anything other than themselves."

The show itself, Fiona says, is "a little bit for everybody, it's not just one market." Beautiful fabrics, from the almost baroque designs of Catriona Hanly to the gorgeously embellished looks of Claire O'Connor, were, as always with Irish designers, a big theme. The Design Centre has a history of discovering new designers, and Kabaira Allain launched her debut collection for her line Kymaia on the day, with some gorgeous tailored leather. Stunning evening wear was provided by Rebecca Kenn and Synan O'Mahony.

"Obviously there's such a legacy of skill, crafts, textiles and fabric that designers are channelling into," says Aisling of the new movement in Irish fashion. "But we're seeing a new modern take on it; from the Aran jumper to the tweed coat reworked by designers like We Rea Islanders and The Tweed Project. It's directional fashion design. It's not just about wearable clothes. Not that they're not wearable but it's not just about clothes, your geansai or your guna or whatever, but fashion as design as well".

"We have to think big," Fiona remarks. "It could be a very important part of our economy. And not only will it draw investment into this country. Supporting economy, supporting one and other, supporting ourselves, how can that not be good?"

Leather gloves by Paula Rowan and shoes by Buffalo. All clothes from The Design Centre, Powerscourt Town House, tel; (01)679 5718.

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