Sunday 19 November 2017

Our fashion industry lives to fight on

From the Brown Thomas ISPCC fashion show to Arnotts annual catwalk event, the Irish keep the fashion flag flying high

Constance Harris

The year was 2009. Things were so bad we all wondered was there ever going to be another high- octane Brown Thomas fashion show in aid of the ISPCC at the Four Seasons Hotel ever again.

Yet the show has survived due to Brown Thomas's commitment to it and the ladies who support it. Thus far the event has raised well over €600,000 for the ISPCC, money that would not have been found if the event did not happen. Here's to the ladies who lunch, and launch hope.

But while the event is still fabulous, things have changed. The heady power dressing and uber glamorous hair and make-up of the Celtic Tiger is gone – as has the monumental parking jam on the forecourt of the Four Seasons Hotel that was made up of Mercs, Porsches, sports convertibles and SUVs.

The style is still great, but it has relaxed. Hair and make-up was softer as the glamour pack showed they were about femininity and friendship, rather than scoring style points, for this has become the ultimate 'girls lunch out'.

Many, if not in this season's latest and most striking to hit BT's floor, were wearing favourite ensembles.

There were quite a few trousers around, a definite first for the event, which was always strictly dresses by VB/Dolce/Prada et al.

The catwalk show was a marked departure from before, and I welcomed it. Yes, it was young. Yes, it was directional. Yes, there were a lot of short skirt- lengths and thigh-high to ankle boots on the catwalk. But fashion has moved on, and we in Ireland need to do that, too.

There is a distinct danger that in a recession, people stop taking risks and before they know it they are stuck in the past, not knowing how to move forward.

Brown Thomas was showing that there is life after the figure-forming dress, and this was how to do it.

I loved the new labels like Sacai, JW Anderson and The Row for their very fresh simplicity and easy-to- wear looks. Old hands like Dries Van Noten and Stella McCartney played with stripes to simple effect and were a great contrast to the exquisite digital print play of designers such as Peter Pilotto, Erdem and Mary Katrantzou.

I have two words for you to describe the Azzedine Alaia dresses – pure sex.

Who'd have thought what is in essence a knitted skating dress could look so naughty on? Yet worn with this season's chunky boots, there was something bold about the look. Add classy stilettos or striking platforms by the brand and you have something more sophisticated.

Other star collections on the day were Saint Laurent and Tom Ford, both big proponents of black as a way of life.

The show closed with an elegant presentation of Christian Dior, where the lengths were probably more to the taste of the majority of the ladies.

But from my chats with many women in the room, even if they couldn't see themselves wearing a flirty skating skirt, the Brown Thomas/ISPCC fashion mavens still roundly enjoyed their fashion fix, their raffle prizes and the chinwags and solidarity of friendship.

This kind of unpretentious, social pleasure is something that Brown Thomas seems to be getting quite good at.

Just two weeks ago, with the launch of their Irish Designers Create, Brown Thomas fashion director Shelly Corkery welcomed some of Ireland's brightest new design talent, like Sean Byrne, to sell on their first floor.

It was a massively positive evening to attend, buzzing and full of life, young designers networking, thrilled to have been selected, because to be chosen was a vote of confidence. The fabulously talented Sharon Wauchob flew in from Paris to open the event.

If you haven't been into Irish Designers CREATE, I recommend you do soon as it ends in two weeks' time. And most of the newbies are there only temporarily, although one or two have made it into Brown Thomas's fashion floor full- time – Heidi Higgins, Sphere One and JW Anderson.

All round, it has been a buzzy, positive time in the Irish fashion scene these past two weeks.

Last week, the Dublin Fashion Festival held its second, free and open to the public, outdoor fashion show on South William Street.

Another part of the event was the Samsung- sponsored Young Irish Designer of the Year award, with a very generous prize and another city-based, outdoor fashion show, this time in the grounds of the Bank of Ireland College Green. NCAD graduate, Claire Lynam scooped the award with her stunning creations.

The day before, Helen McAlinden held her show in the new home of the Irish Georgian Society at City Assembly House. For those of you with a love of Italian elegance, snappy knee-length leather skirts in berry tones with merino wool sweaters and fabulous overcoats, this is the collection for you.

Designed to work and perform, it features stylish wax and leather jackets, great work dresses, trousers and blouses, in gorgeous shades of cherry, berry, chocolate, cream, fawn and black, at prices that are great value for the class and style delivered.

Arnotts held their annual fashion show last Wednesday night at which they officially unveiled Peter O'Brien's latest, and perhaps most commercial, collection designed exclusively for them.

There was a new silhouette and flashes of strong colour that meant the range offered more scope to different body shapes and lifestyles.

I thought it particularly strong on coats, knitwear, lovely white shirts and unique tailored separates.

At the Arnotts show we were also treated to Lennon Courtney's latest fashion maven must-haves, which won't leave them disappointed, as well as Helen McAlinden's cosmopolitan chic. They are three gem Irish collections to be found in one store.

On Thursday night, Louise Kennedy, another favourite Brown Thomas label, celebrated her 30th year in the fashion industry with a gala show at the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery.

Unfortunately, this article goes to print before the show so I can't report on it other than to say I am anticipating an evening of pure luxurious, fab.

Brown Thomas are also set to launch their new online store at the beginning of October, from which most beauty products will be available.

So, while things might feel like they haven't changed much, I am extremely happy to report that Ireland's fashion industry, from old hands to new ones, are still fighting the fight.

Willing to celebrate life, willing to be bold in this area of life, we can say the fighting Irish live on.

Sunday Independent

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