Thursday 22 February 2018

Youth springs eternal in the design school fountain

Orlaith Carroll.
Orlaith Carroll.
Sarah Prendergast.
Katarzyna Wyppych
Ameira Emam

Limerick School of Art and Design has primed an inspirational crop of young designers, finds Constance Harris.

STUDENT shows, be they fashion or art, are always hugely uplifting and exciting experiences. I highly recommend that you visit one, even if you think you know “nothing” about the specialties. There is something about being around young thought that has been nurtured and focused to a creative end that feeds your own thoughts and infuses you with optimism.

Last week, I visited the graduating class of Limerick School of Art and Design's (LSAD) fashion degree course. Thirty-one students later, I can honestly say that every single one of them impressed me. They were cogent, modest and interesting to talk to. Their expectations of the future were real. Many knew they needed more experience and that their future was most likely abroad. But there was no self-pity in that, rather mature knowledge that if they have a dream, they have to follow it.

I was buzzing from the meetings and told anyone in Dublin who would listen, starry-eyed tales of them all! So for your opportunity to see a little of what had me so inspired, next Thursday, May 20, LSAD's fashion department is presenting its annual fashion show, sponsored by AIB, in its Church Gallery at the Clare Street campus.

It will not only be an evening of fun and fashion but also good news for some lucky students, as there are several awards: the AIB business development award of €2,500 for one lucky graduate; the Miriam Mone commemorative award of €1,000 for the collection that shows a sense of excellence in tailoring, generously sponsored by the late Miriam's husband, Willie Healy; the LIT award, also €1,000, for the student who uses fabric in an exciting way.

Pam McCarthy, who was a domestic science teacher at the time, first organised the course in 1975. Today, Anne Melinn is the course leader of the fashion department and has been teaching for many years. Anne previously worked in the industry here and in New York.

“As well as teaching them how to draw, cut and sew, our strengths are our work placements. The students go all over the world — New York, Japan, Australia — working with world-famous companies. It gives them a great sense of reality and focus about what it is they are getting into — and if they want it,” Anne told me as we grabbed a quiet hour to talk in the faculty office.

Outside the door, some 90 students are hovering, waiting for a piece of her time. I don't envy her and Liz Spillane, knitwear specialist, and Siobhan Hanley, the technical tutor, their task — they are silent heroes who work hard for love of the students and the work.

The course is now a fouryear degree, with students coming straight from school. (In the past, it was possible to transfer from other courses or at different stages of one's life. But sadly no more.)

Initially, they enter into Art, which is divided into six subsections, one of which is fashion — 600 students are interviewed for 150 places. By Easter of their first year, most students know which area they are going to specialise in and they then begin to do so. In their second year, they develop their first mini collections and they visit London and Paris.

In third year, they do a project called “who am I”, where they start to identify the type of designers they admire and would possibly like to work with. In this year they have the opportunity to go on work experience, or internship, for up to six months.

Talking to the students about their work experiences was like travelling around the world's top fashion directory — Alexander McQueen, Marc Jacobs, Nanette Lepore and Sharon Wauchob were some of the names that just tripped off their tongues.

Of the 31 students I spoke to, at least three had been offered paid jobs with their former internships. Considering how the fashion industry consumes the talents of young students for free, this is testimony to how good those students are.

“When they come back from work placement, in the September of their final year, it is like they are all grown up. They have identified what they never want to do again and what it is they really want.”

For instance, one student did an internship with Glamour magazine and worked on covers with Sarah Jessica Parker and Rihanna. She now knows that magazines, styling or publishing, are the areas where her future lies. “They have a certain way about them, our students,” Anne told me (and I agree). “They can design, make the pattern, sew the garment. They are well liked in the industry. They are hard workers.

“As a designer you need to know what you are talking about when giving instructions to your team — be it seamstresses, pattern cutters, assistants. You have to be able to do it in case no one else can.”

The world of fashion is far from glamourous. Orlaith Carroll worked at Alexander McQueen last year. She told me he was rigorous, but generous about helping you understand.

He kept to a nine-to-five day, but the interns all did at least 12 hours a day and, “You felt guilty if you worked a seven-day week that you took the day off!”

“I think about 20 per cent end up directly in the business as designers,” Anne explained. “Many go on to be creative directors within companies — Theory and Nautica are both headed up by LSAD graduates. Several go into costume design such as in theatre, or art, as did Una Bourke. Quite a few go into styling or buying, say for Dunnes Stores, Penneys and Topshop.”

Another student told of sewing machines, beds and sinks all being next to each other. It sounds like the sweatshops we hear of in Mumbai. But this is a London firm and a well-known label we are talking about.

“We all give out and bitch about it but it is consuming. You don't wake up in the morning and say, ‘I want to be a fashion designer’.

“Like actors — it's in your blood. You are not in it for the money. You just have to do it.”

The LSAD Show kicks off at 8pm, tickets are €30 and can be bought from the Limerick tourist office or from Ticketline, tel: (061) 319-866.

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