Clever pretty things
FASHION: DEIRDRE McQUILLANtalks to Amanda Pratt about the inspiration for Avoca’s autumn look
IT COMES AS no surprise that Amanda Pratt, creative director of Avoca, admits that Paul Smith is her greatest hero. Like him, she doesn’t go down the traditional route for anything, preferring to find her inspiration from all sources, particularly old fabrics and patterns. Elsa Schiaparelli (who was a customer of Avoca in the 1930s), another designer famous for her individuality, is a revered figure.
Pratt’s ability to combine different colours, textures and patterns in a wayward, artistic way marks out her style as very much her own whether on a box, a cup or in a fashion garment.
“It’s to do with knowing when something is too much or knowing when it’s too little, it has to do with balance,” she says, sitting on the floor in her office, knee-deep in clothing samples.
“I always start with fabrics because that is my great love,” she says, admitting that she haunts the VA in London several times a year.
“I was always in love with beautiful old clothes that have some resonance. I don’t like throwing things away. I love the history in fabrics.” Her creative responsibilities don’t just end with the fashion collections she designs every year – spring 2013 is already out of the way and winter 2013 in progress – but includes everything from scarves to homewares, samples of which crowd the shelves in her office. Ninety per cent of what Avoca produces in these areas is exported, mainly to northern Europe but also further afield; the company has just received a €56,000 order for socks, for instance, from Anthropologie in the US and there is growing interest from Japan.
“The countries whose fashion really excites me are the UK and Japan,” she says.
Her scrapbooks in which she gathers ideas, images and fabrics for each season are a key to her design approach.
“I work on it at night at home, sitting in front of the fire when I have mental space. And I am completely paranoid about it. If I can’t in the book, I can’t do it in reality.” The winter collection shown here, would have started on these pages.
I comment on the buttons, always a noticeable feature, the latest made from old watches. “Most people think of a button as something that just does something up – it is usually the last thing a designer thinks of, whereas I think of it like a piece of jewellery that adds something happy and unexpected. Buttons were special to our ancestors and were often a mark of position. I see them as surprising details.”
That element of humour and surprise has endeared her to the Japanese market and Japanese magazines sit on a rack alongside French Vogue and others. “I love the Japanese aesthetic and their lack of fear of being different, particularly Japanese women. They like naivety rather than sexuality. We have been exporting there for the past four seasons, which means that at retail, Japan is selling €1.3 million worth of Avoca product.”
Now the giant Itochu Corporation, one of the world’s biggest, which brought Paul Smith, Vivienne Westwood and Jil Sander amongst others to Japan, wants to open an Avoca retail shop in the country. Pratt is heading there next month – she is already taking lessons in Japanese – and if successful, the venture will mark a major development for the Irish company which has seen a big jump in exports since September 2009 as well as a 64 per cent increase in online business in the last six months.
Here in Ireland, however, most people associate Avoca with its café and shops, the newest of which has just opened in Malahide Castle in north Dublin. “Because of this, we are not really seen as an export business,” says Pratt. “I can’t think of any others in Ireland doing what I am doing and exporting. We are not seen in Ireland as being a design-driven house and the area that I am passionate about is design. There is so much innovation going on here and to think that another nation like Japan, whose people are so different, would think that Avoca would be exciting, would be a dream.”