Mixing it up
Photography by Aidan O'Neill Styling by Danielle Romeril Fashion edited by Constance Harris
Considering the very small number of accessory specialists we produce, we can take pride in the number who make it abroad. Look at Philip Treacy, Slim Barrett and Pauric Sweeney.
My new favourite Irish designer abroad is Dalkey girl Merle O'Grady. One of her staff spotted me walking the stalls at London Fashion Week last year, shanghaied me onto Merle's stand and made the introductions. Had Merle's work been anything less than fabulous, it would have all ended there. However, Merle's work is fabulous, and fair dues to her intrepid assistant for her daring.
Many of you may not realise you already know Merle O'Grady's work, but she is the designer who created Cheryl Cole's fabulous spiky earrings, and bracelet -- both seen on this page -- a look which has featured in dozens of magazines.
"When the Cheryl Cole thing happened, it was mad," Merle told me. "I had two hours to get it all together. My sister came over and was gold-plating!"
Merle graduated from the Limerick School of Art & Design seven years ago, went on to further studies in London and lots of work experience, and she then launched her own collection in 2008.
Last year, Beyonce saw Merle's work in Rebecca Davis in the Westbury Mall, and bought all the big earrings in the shop. Rihanna and Ellie Goulding also are fans.
That first collection of Merle's drew me because of its post-art-deco aesthetic -- a theme she has evolved, with a smattering of punk in the mix.
She is influenced by futuristic movies such as Blade Runner, Metropolis, the work of Russian constructivist artists such as Popova, and by Irishwoman, designer and architect Eileen Gray.
"A lot of my influences are of futuristic industrial elements," Merle explained. "I used spikes and gold, laser-cut perspex with chunky onyx, so you have the semi-precious mixed with the man-made. Then there are delicate, pieces with tiny-crystal detailing, all hand-crafted. The whole idea was juxtaposition: mixing spikes with pearls, which are perceived as ladylike. I find the more of a mixture of styles you have in a piece, the more you can wear it with different styles of clothes."
Merle's pieces are strong, but somehow they don't take away from the wearer, and often seem to seamlessly become one with one's look. But are they as jewellery must be for women -- desirable, seductive, tapping deep into her psyche and bringing out her power? Oh, yes!
Merle O'Grady is all joy, all passion. And it is there in her work for us to enjoy.