Monday 19 March 2018

Tales of the adventuress: designer Rosie O'Reilly

Irish-linen coat, €550
Irish-linen coat, €550

Andrew Nuding

'This collection is called 'The Journey to Hy-Brasil', and it is based on research I did on women in the 18th Century, who dressed as men to board ships and travel the seas," Rosie O'Reilly, designer of Irish fashion label, We Are Islanders, tells me. "It celebrates the explorer, the journey; the journey we are all on. Most of those women explorers were interested in learning about botany and the natural world. I think it is a pretty wonderful story of women."

Hy-Brasil, Rosie tells me, is a mythical island off the west coast of Ireland, which is said to appear out of the sea's mist once every seven years. The story goes back to the 13th Century.

The theme of 'The Journey to Hy-Brasil' and women explorers dressing as men is subtly played out in the shapes and prints of the We Are Islanders collection. From the dramatic, full-length, duster-style linen coats to the cool, aqua prints, hand-painted by Rosie on soft, white bamboo-silk pieces, this collection, like women, is both strong and soft. Luxurious quilted styles reflect the need for warmth against the elements.

"The idea was to get quite a feminine look, but also that it was a little tailored and masculine," Rosie explains. "It can be that the tailoring reflects the masculine, and the frills and silkier fabrics reflect the feminine."

As a designer and artist, Rosie has long been fascinated by the sea and often integrates it into her work. She has done art installations on the sea, and called her first three We Are Islanders collections, 'Tidal', to reflect that work.

"We Are Islanders is a contemporary designed collection with hand-painted work," Rosie tells me. "The island is the basis of our aesthetic - its solidity. We are an island in the middle of the sea; we are islanders. It's very powerful. Wearing We Are Islanders, you aren't just putting on clothes - you are putting on a story. We get letters from people thanking us for creating this brand, wanting to be islanders, too."

Some of that We Are Islanders story is that they are committed to a business model they call 'best practice'. This means that where possible, fabrics and the collection are produced in Ireland. So the gorgeous linen in the collection is made by Wexford Emblem Weavers, and the salmon-leather trims come from a company in Co Kerry. The clothes are made in Blessington in Co Wicklow. The fabrics are hand-painted and hand-printed by Rosie, and dyed in Dublin.

This means that not only is every piece unique, but, every step of the way, the We Are Islanders collection is supporting Irish businesses, new and traditional. It's an important principle for the future of the country, and was recognised last year, when We Are Islanders was selected by ID2015 to show at London Fashion Week. We Are Islanders - adventurers still.

Photography by  Andrew Nuding

Styling by Kieran Kilgallon

Fashion edited by  Constance Harris

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