Saturday 18 January 2020

Nothing quite like a Wren boys' traditional straw suit to bring catwalk inspiration

Turning heads: A model presents a creation during the Simone Rocha catwalk show at London Fashion Week. Photo: REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Turning heads: A model presents a creation during the Simone Rocha catwalk show at London Fashion Week. Photo: REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
A dress inspired by the event and designed by Simone Rocha at London Fashion Week. Photo: Reuters
Bairbre Power

Bairbre Power

The Wren boys were out in force yesterday, continuing a time-honoured tradition of dressing up with painted faces, masks, old clothes and even a scratchy suit made from straw.

The tradition of going from house to house singing, dancing and playing music for the household while looking for money 'to bury the wran' has long been a post-Christmas Day favourite around the country.

The ancient tradition involved the capture of a wren, which was then placed on a bush decorated with ribbons.

Hunting the wren has been performed across Europe but on different dates.

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In Pembrokeshire, in Wales, it's on January 6.

On the Isle of Man, it happens on St Stephen's Day, like in Ireland, but in parts of southern France, including Carcassonne, it's on the first Sunday of December.

However, in a fashionable twist this year, the Wren boys tradition will reach a much wider and contemporary audience.

It's all thanks to the influence of award-winning Irish fashion designer Simone Rocha, who grew up in Dublin but now lives and works in London.

For her Spring Summer 20 collection unveiled at London Fashion Week last September, her starting point was Ireland and the Wren boys, who traditionally would hunt the wren on St Stephen's Day.

She threaded a magic story of festive tradition and Celtic folklore with incredible textures and mesmerising fabrics.

With a nod to the Wren boys and their traditional get-up of using lots of straw - particularly in Co Kerry - she devised hand-macramé aprons in hay and raffia, worn as harnesses and layered over dresses.

Straw sashes and crocheted raffia elements lifted the textural layering to a new level and the result was stunningly three-dimensional looks.

The feathers of a wren featured in the make-up and the fairy wren, with its blue and white tail, decorated the foreheads of models.

On the Isle of Man, the feathers of the wren are considered lucky and are believed to have special powers to protect fishermen from shipwrecks, and protection from witchcraft. Raffia was also worked into the hairstyles and appeared in free-flowing woven braids and embellished twists and plaits.

Rocha showed her upcoming collection - which goes into stores around the world in the coming weeks - at Alexandra Palace and models walking in circles around the theatre echoed the Wren boys signature style of chanting and singing in a circle.

To complete her thoroughly Irish story, Rocha recruited a cast of Irish characters including theatre actress Olwen Fouéré, Jessie Buckley, Simone Kirby, Valene Kane and Charlene McKenna.

Rocha worked raffia with pearls and lace but then the concept grew into making whole pieces in both crochet and macramé so it became like a cage for the dresses.

Rocha, who is a graduate of NCAD and Central St Martins, factored in many aspects of the Wren boys' day out including the imagined interiors of the abandoned stately homes to which they called.

This aspect of her storytelling saw the introduction of peeling wallpaper prints on silk taffeta while broken plates and crockery with their faded blue delph were re-imagined into embroidery on ivory tulle.

The Wren boys of Dingle, Co Kerry, are famous while in Dublin the tradition of music and poetry unfolds annually on Sandymount Green, with money being collected for charity.

Irish Independent

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