Constance Harris recalls her dear friend from the world of fashion, who brought love and light to all
Fashion designer Rachel Mackay died on Saturday, July 25, aged 53.
Rachel was born in Blackrock, Co. Dublin. She was the second youngest of five sisters. From a young age, she had a passion for activity and boundless energy. As she grew older, this characteristic would result in her calling friends at 8.30am, after the children's drop-off to school and before returning to her design studio, to suggest a vigorous walk up Killiney Hill, down Dun Laoghaire's West Pier, or around Douce mountain. Kayaking may have been offered as an alternative activity. Shopping centres were never Rachel's idea of a good time. A moment was never to be wasted.
What was precious to Rachel were her children, friends, family, nature, design, friends, horses, and did I mention friends? Her home was open to anyone, all the time.
Born into a family with no previous connection to fashion or artistic creativity, Rachel took herself to the Grafton Academy to learn how to be a fashion designer, having created clothes for years on her mother's sewing machine.
A year after graduating, in 1984 Rachel set up her first label, Khan, which sold in the Irish Fashion Design Centre in the Galleria Shopping Centre on Stephen's Green, where Topshop is now. When she was old enough, Rachel's beloved younger sister, Deryn, began to work there.
Throughout their lives, the sisters constantly supported each other. Ten years later, when Deryn started her own boutique in Blackrock, Co Dublin, she called it Khan with Rachel's support. When Rachel relaunched her clothing label under her own name, Deryn was a staunch supporter and stocked it in Khan.
It was Deryn who said to me one day, "You and my sister would get on great - you are both hippies with your own ideas on child rearing". Though at the time I wasn't sure it was a compliment, I thank Deryn for that insight, for she introduced me to a woman who was to become a special friend over the next 18 years as we raised our children our way and waited together at the gaelscoil gates. Rachel was passionate about our Irish language and Celtic heritage and often incorporated it into her designs.
For a fashion designer and fashion editor, Rachel and I had a private friendship not of social pages, with conversations that ran round creativity, relationships, spiritual teachings and our children. We even holidayed twice together. Once to Agadir, which she didn't like (no nature) until we hired a battered old Mercedes and drove to a beautiful beach with no buildings around. There, we frolicked in the Atlantic waves with our children. The other was in Portugal, at another resort she didn't take to (no nature), so Rachel dragged us all up into the mountains on a seeming wild goose chase, to witness a village's old tradition of women laying petals on the streets for their menfolk to later march on. It was an unforgettable, beautiful experience.
In her early design days, Rachel's creations were all about soft jersey. Later, she moved into tailoring. In the Noughties, as her label evolved and especially after she became pregnant with her third child, Sean, from 2004 until 2010 Rachel's work became inspired and she began to freely express her creativity and spiritual connection through evocative motif, texture and colour.
Rachel's collections became an exploration of femininity, art and the times we lived in. She began a love affair with embroidery and with cashmere, which sustained her to the end; her last collection, Chakra, was due to be launched this year.
With the recession, the bottom fell out of the designer fashion market.
Always ready to adapt, Rachel took the opportunity to train as a yoga teacher, an enduring love, and converted her studio into a yoga one. She also began consulting with Horseware Ireland on a project incorporating crystal therapy into horse and animal blankets. It was one of the happiest times of her working career as it combined all her skills and her loves.
I felt she had become a medicine woman, offering healing through being.
A few years ago, Rachel found love with her best friend since her teenage years, Denny Martin. Denny matched that part of Rachel that was spiritual and a seeker, while knowing and understanding her, her commitment to her children, her drive to create.
From the moment Rachel was diagnosed with cancer last April, Denny tended to her, supporting her to the last in creating the life and death she wanted, surrounded by her daughter and sons, family and friends.
It was a good death, if death can be described thus. As ever, Rachel Mackay was showing us the way; she was, she had declared at her funeral, in bliss. We were instructed to be happy, learn about ourselves and love.
"If you are having fun, you are beautiful, you are light, and you give that out to the world. By enjoying ourselves we can show the world what we can do. By offering lovely clothes to ourselves we are offering them to others.
"And when you know you are looking gorgeous, your day will just flow." Rachel Mackay, Sunday Independent, 2010.
Rachel is survived by her three beloved children, Richeal, Con Og and Sean