Thursday 26 April 2018

Creative Strength: New and experienced designers

Wool and cashmere jacket, €395; top with neck detail, €260; wool and cashmere skirt, €495, all Sean Byrne.
Wool and cashmere jacket, €395; top with neck detail, €260; wool and cashmere skirt, €495, all Sean Byrne.

One of the loveliest fashion moments I have experienced in a long while was on a dark September evening last year.

Brown Thomas was throwing a celebratory party to mark the opening of their third Irish Designers Create initiative; a unique project, incorporating mentorship and development of selected Irish designers' collections, which are then sold on Brown Thomas's prestigious designer floor.

That night, the brilliant Sharon Wauchob flew in from Paris to say a few words before opening Create 2013. The attendees were new designers, old hands, editors, photographers, stylists, impresarios and retailers.

Two hours had passed when I realised the room was utterly relaxed and buzzing with genuine happiness. It was like being at a party of old friends.

There was no resentment or jealousy, frustration or power-tripping. Everyone was thrilled to be there, thrilled Create was there, and wasn't it just great to be alive and working in fashion?

The fashion industry in Ireland has few occasions (actually none) to celebrate its existence. Designers work in terrible isolation, with virtually no company; mixing with peers is a rarity.

Then there is the retail gap to contend with. To gain international success, a designer needs either an influential supporter, such as Anna Wintour, or the business of a prestigious store, such as Brown Thomas, to use as leverage.

"How do you reach out and make it? How do you approach a department store without being intimidated?" asks Shelly Corkery, fashion director of Brown Thomas and driver of Create, explaining the challenge designers face.

"For Create," she says, "we make appointments to see people's collections. We look far and wide. We reach out to all the colleges. We found people like Sinead Kennedy, who is doing an installation this year. JW Anderson started in Create. This is not being done anywhere else."

I have known Shelly since she was at the Irish Fashion Design Centre in the 1990s. I would dash in, manic, prepping a shoot for Terry Keane's fashion pages. If I picked a new designer, or one who was on a roll, Shelly would tell me all about them. Her love of Irish fashion talent has not changed. With Create, Brown Thomas has given Irish designers a vote of confidence, the ability to drop their name abroad, and a celebration of what they do right.

"Create is not just about what's new and hot. There are new designers alongside experienced ones, such as Helen Cody, and an exhibition to celebrate Richard Lewis's 50 years of dress design, with a retrospective installation and a collection just for us," says Shelly. "Fifty years in business is an extraordinary achievement."

As is Create.

Create opens on August 26

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