Ana Kinsella looks at how Irish fashion's creative identity has been stamping its mark on catwalks and lookbooks the world over, thanks to a new generation of designers remixing their heritage into something entirely contemporary.
There are the luminaries, of course, who show and sell around the world while based at home in Dublin. John Rocha, for one, proves that you don’t need to reside in a global fashion capital to run an international label, doing it instead from a Georgian townhouse just off St Stephen’s Green. Rocha and his wife Odette have built a style empire on cool, minimal designs, often bringing Irish fabrics and techniques to new fashion frontiers worldwide.
Joanne Hynes has made a serious contribution to Irish style, not just in her lavish and fun clothing but also in terms of accessories. Collars, headpieces and necklaces, all with the same sort of ornate and lively feel, turn up high on the most-wanted lists of many savvy jewellery fans. Drawing inspiration from Ireland’s artisanal tradition crossed with her own travels in India and abroad, Hynes is a firm favourite among Dublin’s best-dressed women.
Making international waves
Of course, that’s not to say that some haven’t left these shores to carve out a niche abroad. Simone Rocha, daughter of John, has gained cult status among London’s girliest it-girls, thanks to sugary confections, pink lace dresses and trompe l’oeil brogues stacked on see-through Perspex wedge heels. Worn by serious trendsetters like Alexa Chung and Yasmin Sewell, Simone’s name has become a by-word for not just modern femininity, but also for the kind of design Ireland is best at: a blur of the modern with tradition, the slick and urban with the wild edge of the countryside. Rochas junior and senior are both available in Havana in Donnybrook, Dublin 4.
J.W. Anderson, is another one breaking down boundaries internationally. The designer from Derry-Londonderry, based in London, plays with deconstruction and gender in both womenswear and menswear. Anderson’s oversize knits, leathers and even dresses for men are showcasing a new, avant-garde take on Dublin’s more subversive culture and history. Nowadays, the notion that a designer who name-checks Samuel Beckett as a key influence might be stocked in Brown Thomas doesn’t seem so radical anymore.
And following in their footsteps, there’s a new generation making waves both home and abroad. National College of Art & Design-trained Alan Taylor’s menswear debuted at London Fashion Week this summer, winning plaudits for the use of heritage fabrics like Donegal tweed in tandem with tulle and mesh. Print maestros like Natalie B Coleman and Helen Steele have seen their painterly designs take off in countries as far afield as Saudi Arabia and South Korea.
And Una Burke’s leather objects and harnesses have been worn by Lady Gaga and Daphne Guinness. Luckily, many of Ireland’s cult independent labels have found a home and a stockist in smaller boutiques like Bow in the Powerscourt Centre, Costume on nearby Castle Market or Dolls on Emorville Avenue. Aran sweaters and tweeds may represent Ireland’s sartorial roots, but it seems like the future of fashion here is a little more radical than it is rural.