In the year that CREATE, the annual Brown Thomas event that celebrates and promotes Irish design, marks its 10th anniversary, never has the industry needed its support more. The store's Fashion Director, Shelly Corkery, was originally moved to establish CREATE in response to the lack of Irish designers in the store and approaching her and her buying team. "We had only Louise Kennedy at the time. I was quite taken aback by the lack of Irish people presenting to me. I took it upon myself to get out there, open the doors and start looking," she says.
Assisted by Eddie Shanahan, Shelly set in place what is now one of the most important platforms for finding, and showcasing, new Irish design talent in both fashion and interiors. Typically, each year, Shelly spends two days in March interviewing candidates; finalists are then exhibited in the store from July, just in time for tourist season, in what is both an exhibition, and a pop-up store. "I thought it was a lovely opportunity to show our home-grown talent," Shelly reflects. This year, as with everything, Covid-19 affected the schedule, and CREATE will run from September 22.
Careers have been made by CREATE; knitwear designer Lucy Nagle, who started out on the platform, is now stocked in every Brown Thomas store. "CREATE is about looking back to our roots, and to all the people who have Irish roots; for example, this year's exclusive collection by Rixo," Shelly explains. To further this aim, several years ago, she began working with NCAD final-year students, introducing the Brown Thomas NCAD bursary award. "It's all about opening the doors and letting people know we are accessible," Shelly says.
For those starting out in the business, Shelly advises continuity in your output, saying, "Start small, and be consistent. No need to change drastically every year; develop a true DNA. Identify what you are good at, and what the customer wants. Listen to the customer."
What has she noted, over the years, that Irish designers particularly excel at? "Knitwear, for sure," Shelly reflects, citing Faye Dinsmore, who takes part again this year. "I do think there is a creativity that Irish designers have. They're not afraid to play, to explore, and I think that's really exciting." This year's offering is a mixture of newcomers and those who have previously exhibited. Cancelling was never an option; Shelly is keenly aware of the importance of supporting Irish design at this moment.
"We did push it back from July to September, but I really, really wanted to make it happen. I do believe everybody's talking about community, and looking after our own during this pandemic. We've been doing this for 10 years and therefore I thought, 'There's no way we're going to let this go'," she says, adding, "We have to really show the true talents that are out there, to still give people the opportunities, reach out and develop and help our home-grown talent. We're all busy, but no one is too busy to be looking at what's on our own front doorstep. And I think we need to really, really reflect on that."
Photography by Andrew Nuding
Styling by Darren Feeney
Words by Liadán Hynes