Sunday 18 August 2019

Sublime femininity


Cotton/viscose dress with belt, €299, Helen McAlinden
Cotton/viscose dress with belt, €299, Helen McAlinden

I t will seem incredible to contemporary readers, but executive dressing - the specialised wardrobe required by women in authority who want to feel feminine and modern - was first identified by New York designer Donna Karan in New York in the late 1980s. Since then, many designers have cut their teeth in this discerning market, including Miuccia Prada; Phoebe Philo when she was at Celine; and our own Helen McAlinden.

For over 30 years, Helen, whose design aesthetic is 'Italian elegance meets New York savvy', has catered to the working woman who loves style, expresses her femininity and wields her power judiciously.

Not only that, Helen has always led with the attitude that just because an item of clothing is Irish-designed and European-made (including the fabrics), doesn't mean working women should feel the effects in the price: by designer standards, Helen McAlinden is affordable. Compared to Max Mara, for instance, alongside whom I think she would sit very nicely, one could purchase a three-piece Helen McAlinden ensemble for the price of one Max Mara dress.

"The truth is, I am a minimalist," Helen tells me when we meet in her flagship store in 20 South William Street, in the heart of Dublin's fashion quarter. "I believe in simple clothing that fulfils a practical function, made in good fabrics. I don't believe in frou-frou-ing things up. I don't believe in fuss. I don't think serious women do, either.

"Our customer is a woman who knows herself. She has specific needs. She wants to be noticed for herself, not for what or whom she wears. The woman wears the clothes, rather than the clothes wearing the woman. Our customers are leaders, women in the Dail, chief executives, consultants, lawyers. She doesn't want people talking about whom or what she is wearing. She is about what she says and does."

Since she launched her online store, Helen McAlinden has come to realise just how big her fan base is: she now ships entire wardrobes worldwide, from Singapore to the United States.

Summer is a notoriously challenging season for fashion, as it tends towards a lot of "frou-frou" and less substance. Helen McAlinden's collections are the exception; she is to be admired for it. For her, summer is business as usual - style that functions. On our pages today is her gently 1930s-influenced high-summer line, made in linen, cotton and viscose, designed to navigate in comfort and elegance humid days and work environs, evenings out and needs beyond. Effortlessly. Beautifully. Perfectly.

Photography by Emily Quinn

Styling by Grace Moore

Fashion edited by Constance Harris

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