Knit one, weave one
Heritage brands and Irish tweeds are in vogue internationally, and Irish manufacturers are offering fresh and desirable designs, writes DEIRDRE MCQUILLAN
‘Irish design inspired by the past, living in the present” is the slogan of an ambitious new Irish company called Gonne Wilde, which makes its debut at the Showcase trade fair on January 20th in the RDS. Citing inspiration from the style of well-known Irish figures from the 1930s, the main thrust of the collection is the reinterpretation of the Aran sweater, “changing perceptions one jumper at a time” according to its website.
The sweaters come in chunky hand or machine knits in modern shapes and colours along with gilets and coats in handloomed tweeds from Eddie Doherty in Donegal and Hanly’s in Nenagh. There are also plans for new-look Connemara marble jewellery, like cocktail and Claddagh rings, to add to the mix.
The woman behind all this is Ruth MacGowan, who left Ireland 17 years ago to start a career in fashion, working for extended periods with Dunnes Stores, Hacketts in the UK, Polo Ralph Lauren in the US and more recently with the French company Façonnable in Nice. “I have an Irish diaspora attitude, and as a product developer what I want to do is put a Paul Smith-style twist on Irish heritage – to take conventional tourist items and make them look cool and desirable, not super trendy, but contemporary and wearable,” she says.
Her approach was to travel around Ireland on a long research trip, find manufacturers and “stretch their design capacities,” she says.
She’s not the only one casting a cool new eye on Ireland’s weavers and knitters. Helen McAlinden, taking part in Showcase after an absence of more than 10 years, will debut a small collection of urban tweeds and knits called HMcA, using Glen checks from Magee in Donegal and olive green Shetland overpane patterns from Foxford in Mayo. “It’s a very Dublin weekend look, with three different silhouettes,” she says.
Other new exhibitors include Helen Steele, launching her colourful duck down coats and jackets (shown recently on the Late Late Show), designers Sinead Doyle and Heidi Higgins, both known for their tailoring, and Green Mount Mills, a new label from the production facility for young designers called Fashion Hothouse in Harold’s Cross.
The increased fashion presence at Showcase is part of a Crafts Council initiative. It has organised a purpose-built fashion exhibition space and twice daily runway shows at the event. “We have been trying to make Showcase a centre for Irish creativity and this year we are including fashion shows for retailers – as you would see at other international fairs – who want to buy, which will allow them to interpret what they have seen before in a new way. It’s all about Irish design,” says Crafts Council marketing head Brian McGee. So far, pre-registration is up 400 per cent on last year.
But the most promising aspect of Showcase 2013 is the renewed emphasis on homemade Irish tweeds by young designers who are rediscovering their history, heritage and international desirability at a time when authenticity has become a buzzword in fashion. “Stars go in their eyes when they see these old brands,” says McGee.
“There is now recognition in the economic sense of buying Irish and that thread is permeating the entire economy,” he says. “What we are trying to do is inject a design element into long established businesses. The standard of product design is improving and people are recognising the necessity of being creative and doing newer and fresher things.”
Showcase takes place at the RDS from Sunday, January 20th, to Wednesday January 23rd. Trade attendance only. Further details, showcaseireland.com