Meet the Young Designer of the Year finalists who are shaping up Irish fashion
As the Dublin Fashion Festival launches tonight, our fashion editor looks at the work of some of the finalists in their Young Designer Of The Year competition
Browsing through the historic Powerscourt Townhouse Centre - former home of Richard Wingfield, the 3rd Viscount Powerscourt - visitors stop in their tracks to take in the vista. They are enthralled by a line of 12, ultra contemporary designs dressed on mannequins in an arrow-straight row.
"Can we buy them?" the fashion-forward Italian shopper enquires. The answer is "No, not for the moment".
These garments, inspired by everything from bees and hives to a post-apocalyptic planet where climate change has ravaged the world - are from graduate fashion collections. They are the bespoke calling cards of the Class of 2016 whose next big hurdle comes on Wednesday September 7, when the Dublin Festival of Fashion's 'Young Designer of the Year' catwalk show and competition takes place at the Bank of Ireland on College Green.
A total of 12 finalists have been chosen for this year's competition, which offers the platform - and profile - to catapult the winner onto shop rails and into the public spotlight.
Now in its fourth year, the DFF's Young Designer of the Year competition is all about championing young talent and getting it to the next step. But young Irish designers are always faced with the same hurdle - there are not enough support systems in place in Ireland for fashion graduates with big plans but small budgets.
Ballyheigue-born Kerry designer Don O'Neill worked in McDonald's in Paris after he graduated from design college in Dublin, determined not to let his designer dreams evaporate in the City of Light.
In London, Irish designers Simone Rocha and JW Anderson were selected for the NEWGEN scheme sponsored by Topshop at London Fashion Week. This showcase undoubtedly helped the two launch their careers which, within a short space of time, went international.
Danielle Romeril, a graduate of the Limerick School of Art and Design, is tipped as the next big name to watch and has been offered her sixth season in NEWGEN at LFW.
However, her Irish counterparts can only dream of finding similar financial support here.
River Island is one high-steet store that offers young talent a bursary, while this year NCAD graduate Aideen Gaynor won the CREATE at Brown Thomas bursary which comes with all-important mentoring.
Independent retail consultant, Eddie Shanahan, points to the difficulties facing young designers who cannot get onto the manufacturing lines because of high minimum orders, and the same goes when it comes to buying the fabrics.
So much about getting ahead in the rag trade is about networking and meeting future customers, but oportunities like that were lost when Dublin Fashion Week ceased due to lack of sponsorship.
Tonight's launch of the seventh Dublin Festival of Fashion at City Hall centres on a major catwalk show of over 50 looks drawn from the high street and independent boutiques.
For the young designer finalists attending three weeks before their big catwalk show, the air is full of designer possibilities.
Reinventing knitwear is a particular passion, for Griffith College student Sarah Murphy from Dublin. She incorporates modern and unusual finishes to traditional knit, above, such as silicone and expanding polyurethane foam. Sarah won the Irish Student Designer of the year 2016 at Kerry Fashion Week and the Student Design Competition at DIT.
Grainne Wally’s ‘Forgotten Lives’ graduate collection, above, at NCAD was inspired by a childhood visit to Clare Island and forgotten characters of Irish heritage: the forager, the fisherman and the quarryman. Using Irish craft techniques such as crochet, weaving and handwork, the collection incorporates elements of the characters’ surroundings into a contemporary context for a menswear collection.
NCAD student Ailbhe Griffin from Kilkenny was highly commended in the recent Brown Thomas Create bursary and previously completed an internship with the respected House of Holland. Ailbhe’s collection, above, explored expressing emotion through clothing; she made whimsical creations using mind mapping techniques drawn onto her fabric. Her very feminine silhouette and head turning handbags were a real crowd pleaser.
Naomi Ajetunmobi is a student from the Grafton Academy of Design and the inspiration for her burnt orange fabric, above, came from the rust of wasteland. “My design concept is based upon an idea of a future where climate change has ravaged the planet. I watched ‘Mad Max’ and was drawn to the way they dressed.” The outfit was accessorised with Mo Muse jewellery, sandals from River Island and a cuff from Om Diva.
NCAD student Aisling Duff is a breath of fresh air on the knitwear scene. She created her jumbo knit sweater, above, in 100pc merino wool she sourced online and she used a chunky size 16 needle “very loosely”. Aisling’s visual inspiration came from storytelling, including confessional poetry and the work of Sylvia Plath.Drawn to her dreamy, surreal imagery of honey, beehives and sweets, this playful womenswear collection toys with the ideas of feminine vulnerability in off whites, candy pinks and warm yellows. “I feel my look showcases new, contemporary knitwear in a more young and quirky way while also exploring the idea of detachable and interchangeable garments.”
‘Blood, sweat and tears went into my winning outfit’
Katie Donohoe, 2015’s Young Designer of the Year, was a popular winner, with her cream outfit (above) inspired by the Wicklow mountains and its unique landscape.
“Winning was wonderful because it was validation of my designs,” explained Katie, who had studied business and accounting and worked in the buying office at Arnotts before going back to college as a mature student to do fashion at Griffith College.
“I finally got to do my first love and I won the DFF award after my third year. It was wonderful going into my final year with that confidence.
“After all the blood, sweat and tears that went into the outfit, I couldn’t part with it. Now I’m looking at getting my graduate collection stocked and certainly there’s a recognition there for my name,” she said.
Katie displayed a strong design maturity and deft touch in her contemporary look, mingling tactile yarn with sturdy leather. The silhouette was pared back, but it intrigued too with its vertical and cross-body lines. Special touches included perspex embellishment on tailored culottes.