Monday 18 December 2017

Signs of a new confidence at Irish Design Centre showcase

Irish Fashion design showed real signs of coming of age at the recent Design Centre show. Photos by Tony Gavin

Irish Fashion Exposure at The Hibernian club.
photo: Tony Gavin 16/05/2014
Irish Fashion Exposure at The Hibernian club. photo: Tony Gavin 16/05/2014
Irish Fashion Exposure at The Hibernian club. photo: Tony Gavin 16/05/2014
Irish Fashion Exposure at The Hibernian club. photo: Tony Gavin 16/05/2014
Irish Fashion Exposure at The Hibernian club. photo: Tony Gavin 16/05/2014
Irish Fashion Exposure at The Hibernian club. photo: Tony Gavin 16/05/2014
Irish Fashion Exposure. photo: Tony Gavin 16/05/2014

Although we keep being told the economy is improving, the lack of fashion shows indicates to me that recovery still has a way to go.

There was a time when it seemed like every designer boutique and Irish designer treated us to catwalk showcases. Such bounty is no more.

Happily though, Irish designers (and retailers) are fighting on. In the last four years, several new, dedicated-to-Irish designed fashion stores such as Atelier 27, Design House and Project 51, have emerged, and joined the ranks of well known, long standing Irish designer emporium, Design Centre in Dublin 2.

Design Centre in association with the Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem is one of the only stores (apart from Brown Thomas) to still hold an annual charity fashion show.

Always staged in May, the show has a reputation for being a stylish and fun affair. Held in the beautiful environs of The Stephen’s Green Hibernian Club, the stylishly dressed women were ready to celebrate summer and fashion and support the work of Saint Lazarus in Ireland and Africa.

Nuala Carey of RTE was the perfect compere, letting her ‘fun gal’ out and proving she knew her fashion, as well as her audience.

“It is a show that is worth watching.” Deputy Almoner of the Order of Saint Lazarus, Fiona Foy-Holland, stated. She and Aisling Kilduff, owner and buyer of Design Centre, produce the show together.

“The aim of the show is to raise awareness and to give Irish designers a platform they don’t have and that hasn’t been there for years. We could have sold many more tickets because it is proper fashion in a proper salon environment.”

In the last few years, Design Centre has overhauled its labels and has a mass of new and interesting designers, as well as the experienced such as Caroline Kilkenny, Roisin Linnane and Philip Treacy.

“We want to encourage Irish designers to develop and stay.” Aisling told me.  “The designers we selected to show are designers we think have a future and will go forward.”

Some of Design Centre’s new labels are recent graduates from our design colleges — but not utter newbies: Sookyong Song of the Grafton Academy and Polina Yakobson of NCAD both had fashion experience under their belts before they formally trained in design and it is apparent in their creations. 

Fiona Foy-Holland looked stunning in a suit by Sookyong Song and said she felt fabulous in it. Polina Yakobson is currently finishing her masters in Central St Martins and has been named by several industry leaders, including Italian Vogue, as one to watch.

“The graduates and standards that are coming out of our design colleges these days are way up there for fabric, quality and colour.” Aisling believes.  “They know a collection means a collection, meaning it has flow and consistency through it and it must deliver to the consumer something they want and can wear.”

Jill de Burca, whose collection was one of my favourites, is an embroidery and textiles specialist who worked in London for many years as a consultant to designer labels such as Erdem before returning home and launching her label.

“People come to Design Centre for those one off pieces. They are looking for the unique. And Irish designers deliver that,” Aisling said.

I loved Claire O’Connor’s black trench-coat-dress while others waxed lyrical over her chevron dress. Claire has been splitting her time between Dublin and London since last year as she is working with designer Victoria Snepp on Bastyan (sold in Brown Thomas), and loving it. Design Centre is the exclusive stockist of Claire O’Connor bridal wear.

The show signalled the complexity of Irish fashion and consumer needs. There were gorgeous, classy, evocative suits for race days and mother of the bride.

There were strong, contemporary pieces by Blathnaid McClean, David O’Malley and Caroline Mitchell whose work would appeal to the international designer-aware consumer who wants to buy Irish.

I thought Shona Harrison’s work adorable: flourishes of femininity in chiffon and soft shades.

“It was a gorgeous show and it was edgier than I expected.” Fiona Foy-Holland told me. “Claire O’Connor and Jill de Burca stood out for me. But across all the collections I felt this was the strongest year yet for new, contemporary designers.”

 Synan O’Mahony’s collection closed the show and illustrated his versatility as a designer. A striking midnight blue sequin gown was modern and the crowd loved it. A soft, richly embroidered, bustier gown was dreamy and romantic and I loved that. Design Centre is undoubtedly a destination for special occasions in life, alternative bridal and evening wear.

But to my mind, they are rebuilding their confidence again in stylish day wear and striking jewellery such as they used do before the recession. They have a good eye for it.  I look forward to seeing it grow.

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