In these uncertain times, heritage and authenticity have become the buzzwords, writes DEIRDRE MCQUILLAN
N o one does the garçonne look better than British designer Margaret Howell. Her boyish suits, duffel coats and languid trousers in heritage fabrics appeal to women more into personal style than fashion trends. Their easy-going androgyny has a sophisticated sexual allure that many can carry off with assurance and confidence. Recently a dedicated fashion follower I know who usually dresses in the most feminine, girlie attire appeared in skinnies and a tailored tweed jacket and looked terrific. Tailored jackets with clean lapels give an immediate shape and authority to any outfit and her new look made her seem just as feminine but with a more powerful charge.
Fiona and Mark Cummins who run the Margaret Howell Irish flagship shop, 99b in Rathgar, say their typical customer would have bought Howell in London or Paris before discovering the Dublin shop.
“They are mostly people working in the arts and creative industries who have their own style and who are not necessarily interested in fashion as such, but more conscious of good-quality clothing and who like the idea of timelessness,” says Fiona.
Howell’s refreshing reconfiguration of traditional tailoring and workwear is part of her signature, pared-down style. “I am always attracted to honest, functional design,” she has said. “And I am as much interested in the quality of make as in the garment itself.” Her support of specialist manufacturers, heritage weavers and knitters has been central to the development of her business, now worth £60 million (€71.7m). In the winter 2012 collection, there are tweeds from Magee in Donegal and linen from Ulster Weavers. “There’s something quite deep about that [connection with the land and natural colours] that attracts people,” she says. The winter knits, for example, are from the Shetland Islands, the flannels are by Fox Brothers, who go back to the l8th century, and the kilts are from a company making Scottish regimental kilts.
Girls in tomboy dungarees, leggy trousers, mean shorts or tough street gear are nothing new, but with heritage and authenticity now buzzwords in fashion, classic styles are becoming more exciting for a younger market. Howell’s understated clothes in quality fabrics shown here, with others such as Dries Van Noten and Acne, styled in the same spirit, come into their own at times of uncertainty: reassuring, hard-wearing and a counterpoint to transitional trends and disposable fashion. They may cost more, but are destined for a longer life.