How a trip to Paris Fashion Week inspired me to be a designer
Four years ago, I witnessed my first ever Paris Fashion Week show - an experience that was the catalyst for my fashion label Manley. Parisians are effortlessly chic. Their ability to make black skinnies and a tuxedo jacket appear like the most directional combo that ever walked, is only something a native of the city can do.
I tried my hardest to channel the look. My first mistake was my PVC skinnies, which squeaked with every step and made my legs feel like they were in a furnace - and that's before I was sitting beneath the hot runway lights. The second faux pas was dreadfully high boots - you'll most likely find a real Parisian in their Saint Laurent kitten heels. The outfit would have been fine, if I was Anna Della Russo being chauffeur driven from show to show… But I was not. I forgot the first rule of Parisian style - be understated.
My first show did not disappoint. The theatre of it all had me awe; the music, the lighting, the carefully-chosen guests sitting front row - all part of the designer's vision for the season. Their sweat, tears, highs and lows, all poured into five minutes of sartorial bliss. It's one of the biggest adrenaline rushes - a five-minute power rave, and then you're onto the next show.
And so, I squeaked my way out of fellow Irish designer, Sharon Wauchob's show. Walking away, I knew I had made the right decision to set up Manley and I had more fire in my belly then ever to make it work. I wanted to be that designer bowing at the end of a show some day.
My Mum had come with me on the trip and she and I spent that evening tucked away in one of our favourite restaurants, Chez Marianne in the Marais, making plans for Manley. A short year later and I was back in Paris during Fashion Week. I was showing Manley at my first trade show in the grounds of the Louvre. Every morning I took the long walk through the Napoleon Courtyard to catch a glimpse of the action - the blacked-out cars dropping editors, stylists and buyers to their next show; models scooting by on the back of mopeds; an army of jostling bloggers.
On my lunch breaks I went to people-watch in the Jardin de Tuileries, a location which has hosted shows from the likes of Christian Dior, Celine and Valentino. It is taken over by Fashion Week tents, some housing trade shows, others runways. Last person in, doors locked, music blaring… Five minutes later and it is all over and the tent empties of hundreds of people. It takes just those short five minutes for the press to judge the designers' past six months of work.
My ever supportive beau, Eoin, travelled over on the last day of the show to help me lug back my four cases to Dublin. I insisted that getting them to Paris had been fine, but he saw through my lies. Together we packed up my six months of work and took two days in Paris to celebrate Manley getting its first overseas stockist - a very big deal for a young Irish label.
Today, I go back to Paris quite often, mostly for work. It's the Manley team ritual that on the evening of the last day of trade shows, we set off to the Eiffel Tower with champagne and plastic glasses in hand. Paris was where the Manley seed was sewn. It's where we had many firsts and I have no doubt that there will be more bubbles by the Eiffel Tower in Manley's future.