The rise of Danielle Romeril
Things are about to get crazy for the award-winning Dubliner, who is bringing her collection to London Fashion Week
Danielle Romeril, a young Irish fashion designer who is preparing to show at London Fashion Week. ‘Some designers feel like it’s a treadmill. For me it’s really liberating.’ Photograph: Alan Betson
Getting grilled by a panel of 18 fashion heavyweights was the easier part of winning the British Fashion Council’s NewGen scheme. The hard part begins on Friday, when London Fashion Week opens and Danielle Romeril takes her collection to market. Everyone will be looking at her and the six other young designers who have been given catwalk, presentation or exhibition space that usually costs more than €2,400, plus a bursary from sponsor Topshop. Romeril won the exhibition space, while her better-known Irish competitor, Simone Rocha, got a catwalk show (again).
NewGen is a big deal in a fashion capital renowned for nurturing talent. Alexander McQueen won it in its first year in 1993, when he was 24, and Christopher Kane and Derry’s JW Anderson have won more recently. Candidates have to prove they are commercial and conceptual, bold and deeply stylish, sparkling fresh but with the promise of longevity.
Everyone will be eyeing Romeril now: press, photographers and world buyers. Romeril says she is not great at schmoozing, and that, like most designers, she would rather be behind the scenes sewing buttons. But in the showroom, meeting visitors from Selfridges, Harrods, Harvey Nichols and Net-a-Porter, there is nowhere to hide.
“You sort of get nervous that you’re going to say the wrong thing,” says the Dubliner, who is now based in Dulwich. Five staff are preparing samples for the collection in the sweaty basement room, as machines whirr and rolls of fabric are measured and snipped. Romeril is working Wall Street hours: in from 9am until midnight every day. She loves the pressure, and says that if she is not proud of every last stitch, her nerves will show.
Fashion weeks are Darwinian affairs that require a slow, cautious crawl to get ahead. This is Romeril’s fourth fashion week (she’s done London and Paris), and she is versed in the unwritten rules.
“An important buyer does not want to be spoken with until they’re ready to speak to you,” she says. “They want to be left alone to have a look at your clothes. If they have looked at more than three pieces, then you can step in and say something about the brand. But up until then, they all hide their passes so you don’t know who they are.”
Romeril seems quietly self-assured, with large, watchful brown eyes. She was born in south Dublin (her name is French), to a “family of legal people”. She studied arts at UCD, but left after a year to go to the Limerick School of Art, and on to the Royal College of Art in London for her MA. She learned from UCD that she couldn’t do something she wasn’t completely interested in, and from London that she would never do anything other than design. She was head-hunted to work for Alberta Ferretti in Milan, which wasn’t her thing, and she worked for Amanda Wakely and Tyrone-born, Paris-based Sharon Wauchob before starting her own luxury label in 2012. She is now selling in 10 countries.
She hates the “pretentious” side of fashion, in which certain designers call themselves “artists” and designers don’t count until they are endorsed by celebrities. That desire for recognition doesn’t come from the designers, she argues, when I suggest it was good that the Duchess of Cambridge wore Orla Kiely.
“Certain brands pack their front row with celebrities, who they pay to be there – that comes from PR.” She wants normal women to invest in her garments. “The Danielle Romeril woman is full in spirit, a relaxed person who doesn’t worry about her hair too much, or match her nails with her handbag.” She defends using size 8 models, because on a tall, slender shape you look at the clothes, not the body. She loves the relentless demand on creativity that goes into making two collections per year. “Some designers feel like it’s a treadmill. For me it’s really liberating.”
London Fashion Week will be a trial, but just as hard as the panel-grilling and the showcasing is defining an aesthetic and providing buyers with a niche for their store they can rely on.
Downtown, urban appeal
Her label changes dramatically with each season, though running through it you find a downtown, urban appeal, with loose silhouettes and unusually crafted pieces. In the autumn-winter collection there are luxurious silk pleats, trapped lace, plastic, lots of white with pops of pink, apple, peppermint.
She is having a fling with a lenticular print made of small, layered dots or “lenses” that plays with the eye in a 3D effect. She came across it at a market in Dublin 8, in a 1960s picture of a moon landing, and she immediately sourced fabric from Italy.
“Because of the different layers of images on the fabric, the images are distorted as they’re moved. You eyes go fuzzy from looking at them.”
Her work will be noticed among the 150 other edgy exhibitors at Somerset House. The lenticular print reminded her of school pencil cases, and Romeril is creating a nostalgic art installation to display it in. “It will be like stepping back into a teenage girl’s bedroom. There’ll be a lot of patterns and vinyl on the walls.”
To win NewGen, Romeril had to be based in the UK. While she says it’s really great being Irish there “at the moment”, with sensations like Rocha and Anderson coming up alongside her, she didn’t have much choice.
“Most of my graduate class in Limerick moved there straight away because there aren’t that many opportunities for people who do fashion in Ireland.”
However, in fashion, being Irish isn’t enough to make you interesting. “I don’t think anybody stands out in London. You feel like a newbie for a very, very long time. It’s never more apparent than when you arrive at fashion week, and go – oh right, yes, I’m no one.”