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Ireland: 2017’s New Hothouse of Fashion

By Jackie Mallon

Dec 23, 2016


U.S. Vogue’s January cover star, Ruth Negga, whose leading role in Jeff Nichols’ Loving is winning Oscar buzz, launches a year that looks set to spotlight Ireland’s formidable presence in fashion. Born to an Irish mother and Ethiopian father, Negga was raised in Limerick, Ireland’s third-largest city––which incidentally also produced Pulitzer Prize-winning author Frank McCourt and legendary rock band The Cranberries.

In storytelling and music, Ireland has always punched above its weight, there being no shortage of poets, playwrites, fiddlers, warblers and barfly bards. But its fashion credentials have often been eclipsed by neighboring England. The fact that many of Ireland’s finest show at London Fashion Week or move away for work might perhaps lead to some misunderstandings about where exactly these healthy specimens were harvested. 2017 should clear everything up.

Earlier this month at the British Fashion Awards, Ireland was represented in both the Menswear and Womenswear Designer of the Year categories. Northern Irish Jonathan Anderson was nominated for his label JW Anderson but lost out to Craig Green (Anderson was also nominated for International Accessories Designer for his work at Spanish house Loewe); Dubliner Simone Rocha, however, won in her womenswear category.

Irish Fashion Royalty

Of course, Rocha hails from what could be considered an Irish fashion dynasty in that her father John Rocha, Commander of the Order of the British Empire and British Designer of the Year 1993, created shows that were a highlight of London Fashion Week for several decades. When asked by Numero Magazine if Ireland has an influence on her work, she says, “Sure it has! The Irish landscapes certainly influence my sense of textures and textiles, as well as my love of story-telling: I like all my shows to evoke an era and a place.”

Although Anderson and Simone have become elevated figures on the international stage, despite being in their tender early thirties, there is already a new generation emerging on their heels.

Richard Malone from Wexford is a graduate from London’s Central St Martins school who in 2014 won the LVMH Grand Prix Scholarship and in 2015 was the only fashion designer to be included in the BBC’s Young Artists Day initiative celebrating the best of young artists working in the U.K.

Malone has said, “I think there are a lot of interesting narratives in Ireland that people overlook, because it’s such a small place, but there is actually so much to do with identity and dress there in terms of codes.” He cites traditional event dressing as a starting point––holy communion, confirmations, weddings––along with workwear seen on the building sites where his father works, and fisherman’s dungarees. He admits he misses seeing these working class points of reference since he moved to London.

Danielle Romeril, who also shows at London Fashion Week, says she looks to “off-kilter fabric combinations and unusual surface textures” that recall home. She received NEWGEN recognition and was nominated for this year’s WGSN Breakthrough Womenswear Designer of the Year.

Lady Gaga, Kylie Minogue and Grimes are among the musicians who have been dressed by Sorcha O’Raghallaigh who creates bespoke one-of-a-kind fantasy garments, crowns and embellished accessories from her studio in London.

Irish Style on Tour

Wicklow-born singer Róisín Murphy has made a welcome international return this year with her avant-garde sensibilities and a new album, Take Her Up To Monto (named after the historic Dublin red-light district), which she will tour well into 2017. Eclectic and bold, with a penchant for wearing pieces by experimentalists Gareth Pugh, Jacquemus and Vetements, Murphy remains arguably the only contemporary figure who can wear a construction worker’s reflective vest and a hat in the shape of a Ronald McDonald doll and still evoke Marlene Dietrich.

After Galway model Emily Butcher walked exclusively for Gucci and starred in their subsequent ad campaign she moved to NYC this summer. We will watch to see how her career evolves in the upcoming year.

Ireland Unshackled

At long last the winds of diversity have blown ashore and torn down longstanding institutions. Gender fluid model Ivan Fahy breaks bounderies and emboldens questioning youth of this onetime Catholic stronghold which in 2015 became the first country to legalize gay marriage by popular vote. On top of an extensive modeling portfolio, Fahy has branched into activism and given TedTalks. Musically, the country is also benefitting from a multiculturism that was nonexistent a mere two decades ago; the island can even boast an unexpected growing rap scene which pairs African beats with a heavy Dublin drawl, centering around a group of African-born, Ireland-raised artists such as Rusangano Family, Emcee A and Rejjie Snow whose video for “All Around the World” featured rising red carpet starlet, Lily-Rose Depp.

It’s The Way You Tell It

And fashion has even infiltrated one of Ireland’s traditional and loftiest domains: literature. At the end of March, Dublin Castle and the Alliance Française will host the 18th Franco-Irish Literary Festival and the theme of the three-day event will be “Narratives of Fashion”––through panel discussions, readings, film screenings, the concept of how fashion appears in literature will be enthusiastically examined by a selection of notable Irish and French writers, journalists and magazine editors.

While the face of Ireland is briskly changing, the Irish can always be relied upon to bring it back to storytelling.

By contributing guest editor Jackie Mallon, who is on the teaching faculty of several NYC fashion programmes and is the author of Silk for the Feed Dogs, a novel set in the international fashion industry.

Photos: title image from Sorcha O’Raghallaigh’s website; Vogue Facebook; Richard Malone SS17 Catwalkpictures; danielleromeril.com; Sorchaorraghallaigh.com; Róisín Murphy Facebook; Gucci Facebook; IvanFahy.com; Rejjiesnow.com