Monday 14 October 2019

Cut from the same cloth

CREATE opens at Brown Thomas next week, propelling two sets of dynamic duos to the fore. Bairbre power meets fashion designer Mariad Whisker, who is launching a collaboration with her talented daughter, Domino. Meanwhile, restaurateur Aoibheann MacNamara and costume designer Triona Lillis have combined energies on The Tweed Project, a new heritage brand

Mariad Whisker and her daughter Domino Whisker and dog 'Best' display their embroideries at their home in Dublin.
Photo: Steve Humphreys
Mariad Whisker and her daughter Domino Whisker and dog 'Best' display their embroideries at their home in Dublin. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Thread alert: Embroidery artist Domino Whisker with her mother, fashion designer Mariad Whisker, wearing one of the collars they collaborated on, €325
Example's of Domino’s work, which will sell from €198 at CREATE
Example of Domino’s work, which will sell from €198 at CREATE
Example of Domino’s work, which will sell from €198 at CREATE

There's no mistaking the pure joy of the Whiskers, mother Mariad and daughter Domino, to find themselves on the same CREATE journey, one which was never planned - "not even remotely", laughs Mariad. A fashion designer with more than 30 years' experience to her name, Mariad is marking her return to CREATE - the annual Brown Thomas celebration of the very best in Irish design - with a raft of new pieces and some eye-watering colours that will no doubt surprise her most ardent collectors.

Mariad (who I maintain is Ireland's answer to Yohji Yamamoto, with her Japanese aesthetic and talent for fluid tailoring that drapes like a dream) has designed a big blanket coat in pink boiled wool, €1,090, for next season, and there are strong silhouettes in impactful electric blue.

However, lest fans be concerned, I can assure them that her signature use of black/ivory is still there, and she has executed flattering tulip shapes with attractive tuck details in tactile silk crepe de chine. Mariad has dressed everyone from Ali Hewson to artist Anne Madden Le Brocquy, and for AW17 she is doing a strong take on easy dressing, with pinafores in pink or black in two lengths, €545-€620; white tops, €240-€390, and Domino's Victorian dress, €598. It's a mix-and-match formula that fans of her label love and the trans-seasonal, easy-pack qualities represent clever wardrobe-building at its best.

In typical motherly fashion, Mariad accepts my compliment about her outfit (pictured left), which she made for the marriage of her eldest daughter, India, in California this summer, and happily bats the conversation back to her 29-year-old daughter, Domino.

The young Whisker was invited to take part in BT's annual Irish showcase after group fashion director Shelly Corkery saw her intricate embroideries. There are large framed pieces of dancers, inspired by the work of Pina Bausch and Martha Graham, and more affordable patches with script or playing cards. The third element is a collaboration between mother and daughter, with pilgrim-esque collars in Irish linen.

"I never, ever, thought I'd be making art," says Domino. "As a kid, I always said, 'My mum is a fashion designer and my dad is an artist, and I don't want to copy what they are doing' - but taking on the role of looking after my dad three years ago kind of took me out of my comfort zone."

Domino's dad, acclaimed Bangor artist Charlie Whisker, was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's when he was 63, nine years after he and Mariad split. "There was a lot of staying in, a lot of emotions; I didn't know what to do with it so I picked up embroidery," explains Domino. "I had never done embroidery before in my life - I don't even know how to use a sewing machine - but it was something to pass the time and I can't believe that, three years later, people might be buying my work.

"I think what I like about my own work is that it looks handmade. For CREATE, the works were done on fabric which dates back to the early 19th century. It was found in a friend's great-aunt Jenny's wardrobe after she died. It's stained and old, and that's another thing that I love - the imperfection of the fabric makes it even more special."

Domino spent 72 hours on one commission alone and most of her big pieces take her between 30 and 40 hours, depending how much colour there is. She says, "I love poetry and the power that the most simple thing emits. I'm just trying to create a life without storms. I always say that what I'm doing is stitching my own emotions into fabric.

"I just love words - pairs of words like 'can't swim', 'I'm fragile' or 'forever rain'. Shelly wanted me to focus on fashion. What I love about fabric is the movement in it. I try to go through different stages of fashion history and I love the work of the illustrator René Gruau. I think I've looked at every single Vogue cover and my mum has been a huge influence on my work too.

"The really special thing about my embroidery is that I never knew my dad's mum, Ethel Jewel," continues Domino. "She had a huge impact on my dad and now he will often say, 'I wish my mummy was here.' I feel like I've kind of taken that role where I'm looking after Dad - I'm cooking for him and tucking him in at night. His mother was a huge embroidery enthusiast and we have her work framed all over the house.

"I feel very inspired by this woman that I've never met and feel like I'm carrying on her love for Dad - and her love for needlework," concludes Domino. It's clear that all this love is stitched into the very fabric of her artistic journey.

Pictures: Steve Humphreys

Subverting tradition to give Irish heritage fabrics like tweed and linen a new relevance has put Aoibheann MacNamara and Triona Lillis centre stage of the Slow Fashion movement. Business partners in The Tweed Project, HQ'd in Galway, their label is a labour of love for the two women (pictured left), who are passionate about promoting indigenous fabrics.

"We always use the term 'subverting the tradition' because that's what we feel we do. Tweed is a traditional fabric but we are subverting it to our taste," explains Triona, who has an exceptional eye, and works as a stylist, costume designer and set designer.

"We both loved linen and tweed but we didn't feel that anybody was making clothes in those fabrics that we wanted to wear personally, so we started to design a capsule collection three years ago that was very much rooted in Japanese workwear and designers we love, like Margaret Howell."

The generously sized shawls are the foundation of The Tweed Project's collection going to CREATE. Made from 30pc wool/70pc mohair, they have a soft finish, and all the wool was dyed and spun in Kilcar, Co Donegal.

Aoibheann explains how the layers of colour, which can be seen in our picture (left), were influenced by the yellow and grey of the Burren, the lichen that grows on the rocks, and the greyness of the landscape meeting the sky. Meanwhile, their oversized quilted tweed bags (below) come in pale grey and black, and are lined with a special linen.

Inspired by their local landscape, they steeped gorse petals to create a yellow dye, while a powder-pink lining in their black tweed bag was achieved by extracting the dye from avocado stones - a by-product of Aoibheann's ever-popular restaurant, Ard Bia at Nimmo's.

The flecked tweed they used in their fashion collection -which includes the tracksuits they wear - comes from Aoibheann's home town of Ardara, Co Donegal. There, the pair are working with the world-famous Molloy & Sons, these days run by a son and grandson of John Molloy, who made tweed for Beckett.

Now The Tweed Project's fascinating story is about to open a new Dublin chapter.

Irish Independent

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