‘Making Kim Kardashian's dress consumed every hour’
Irish pattern-maker Ina Marie Igoe gets a thrill from working with designers like Marc Jacobs in New York
‘My fondest memory is my first runway experience, seeing something I had created on the runway, and seeing it up on Vogue afterward and featured in magazines. It was such a fantastic feeling. I just knew then I wanted to do this forever.’
Helping some of the world’s top fashion designers to bring their visions to life is just part of her job for pattern-maker Ina Marie Igoe. Born and raised in Dublin, she also spent some time living in France and the Middle East as a child, before training in fashion in Limerick. Igoe (31) lives in Manhattan in New York.
How did you become interested in fashion? Did you know from an early age that fashion was your future?
I got interested in fashion at about 12. It coincided with my family moving to Paris because of my dad’s job with the Irish Army. My sisters and I were attending a French secondary school where I had to take a mandatory art class. I just got really into it and my creative side started to develop. I hadn’t been in any way creatively inclined before that.
Where have you trained?
After the Leaving Cert I did a year’s portfolio course in Bray Senior College – it was an amazing formative year with my instructor Annette Vella. After that I started my degree in Limerick School of Art and Design. The core year is exploratory and, although I enjoyed some of the other disciplines, I knew I really wanted to do fashion. I felt like I had won the lottery when I got one of the 26 places on the fashion course.
Why did you choose LSAD, and what was your experience like there?
LSAD I felt had more momentum going for it in the fashion department. For a relatively small course, and with less resources available than in Dublin for example, it was churning out competition finalists and winners, and creating quite the stir.
The fashion degree was unbelievably taxing: the hours you put in and the sheer standard that is expected from each student. The fashion department at LSAD instils drive and discipline in its students. It’s this beautiful go-getter mentality that is a fantastic thing for employers to see. I’ve worked and interned with many people and it sets you apart from so many others.
Why did you decide to move abroad?
When I graduated in 2010, I had already spent two years working in Paris for Anne Valérie Hash, a ready-to-wear and haute couture designer. So I had this huge experience with a major fashion house that put on runway shows four times a year – and the mastery of what was going on in that house was astonishing. I loved every minute of it. Ireland doesn’t have that history or that level of a support structure, so it just wasn’t available to me in Ireland.
What took you to New York?
Initially I thought I would head straight back to Paris after graduating. However, somehow the idea of the J-1 visa for a year took my fancy. You hear a lot of people saying they would love the chance to live or work in New York, and so I figured I might as well go. Paris wasn’t going anywhere so I would just postpone that plan a little.
Tell us about your work. What does it involve, and some of the big projects you have worked on?
I work for an external pattern-making studio. We provide a pattern-making service to mostly high-end designers such as Oscar de la Renta, Jason Wu, Proenza Schouler, Gabriela Hearst and Marc Jacobs, but also some middle market labels too. We get sketches from the various designers with anywhere from a little to a lot of direction. We make the pattern and then have it sewn up as a prototype. We then have a fitting with the designer and see the garments on a model. From there the design, proportion, fabric and fit might change. So we set about making the required adjustments to the pattern. There is a real science behind pattern-making. Every change in a pattern will affect some other part of the pattern, so you are constantly going back and forth between things trying to make all aspects harmonious.
I worked on a couple of Proenza Schouler gowns a few years ago. They went on to be worn by Emilia Clarke at the Golden Globe awards and Diane Kruger at The Met Gala in New York. I also worked on a Proenza Schouler dress that Kim Kardashian wore to the Council of Fashion Designers of America Awards. That dress consumed every hour of my work day for more than two weeks.
I think my fondest memory though is my first runway experience, seeing something I had created on the runway, and seeing it up on Vogue afterward and featured in magazines. It was such a fantastic feeling. I just knew then I wanted to do this forever.
Can you describe a typical day?
A typical day starts at 10am (thanks boss!) and finishes about 7-8pm. It can be earlier depending on how busy we are. Fashion is seasonal so it goes from dead quiet to all-out madness. Fashion Week in February is by far the busiest time. Last February we worked seven days a week for five weeks, until about 11pm every night. Designers are showcasing winter collections so everything is lined, using heavier fabrics. There is more outerwear so everything takes longer to do, but the time we have to do it is shorter.
Who inspires you?
People who have had long careers in the industry. It is a tough and draining industry – with sometimes questionable demands on you. So for people to maintain the love of what they do really inspires me.
It is very hard to find success and maintain it in this industry. Designers can have their moment in the limelight only for it to last a hot second. Designers who don’t sway too much with trends but just keep on creating beautiful clothing and maintaining a specific aesthetic are a huge inspiration.
Louise Kennedy was a brilliant example of that, and I saw this very early on in my experience working for her. Other designers such as Dries van Noten, Céline, Miu Miu and Simone Rocha are doing the same.
Has your environment been an inspiration?
I think New York is inspiring me to be better and better at what I do. To succeed. Whereas when I lived in Paris it was a lot more of an artsy romantic kind of inspiration.
Is there one project that stands out for you?
I think my fondest memory, and in a way my most exciting project, was my first runway experience at Anne Valérie Hash, and seeing something I had created on the runway – and seeing it on Vogue afterward. It was the spring 2008 haute couture collection. It was such a fantastic feeling. I just knew then I wanted to do this forever.
Why do you want to stay in New York?
The industry here is a lot different to Europe. Over here it is a real business: churning money, four collections a year, trend driven. It’s a machine. Whereas in Europe it seems to be a lot more about the craftsmanship and the creative process. And I think it is good to work in both sides of it. Fashion in New York is very fast, no time to pause – and I feel I would like to get a certain level of success over here before I move on. It’s a personal ambition as much as a professional one I think.
Has the visa situation in the US been challenging?
The whole visa thing is such a pain. I see why it is necessary, but it really is very hard, and it’s not the nicest feeling to not know an outcome that will affect your whole world. It’s very stressful to be honest. And then there are some people who seem to breeze through the whole thing, who have a totally different experience. I had no idea of how complicated it could be.
Do you consider yourself an “Irish” designer? Or do you see your influences as being more international?
I consider myself Irish in everything I do, not just my work. I take great pride and am very happy about being Irish. I think there’s something very special about our country, and about Irish people. I think the main way being Irish has influenced me is that it has given me great drive. We are a small country and not internationally known for our fashion industry, so there is more reason to want to prove yourself, to show your skills and your worth. I think this is a major advantage because, as a result, we don’t become complacent about what we do and where we want to get to.
“Irish design” I think is well-regarded abroad. Of course there are a lot more people making waves in London, such as Simone Rocha, and Danielle Romeril.
I think Irish design is a funny phrase though. Unless you are creating something synonymous with Ireland and its natural resources, I think design is design, with the designer just happening to come from a particular place. It is a wonderful thing to be an Irish designer or pattern maker but I don’t think it is something that will or should necessarily define the work you create.
Where do you see your career taking you?
For the time being I would like to stay in New York and to work in-house for a major fashion house. In New York I mostly have experience of working for smaller companies and I would like the experience of working at a bigger company, being part of a bigger team.
Down the road I would also like to be closer to my family in Dublin. Myself and my sister, who is also in New York, are very close to our family. Our parents could not be happier we are both doing well in our chosen industries (my sister works in film) but we know they would love if we were a teeny bit closer, to visit more often. Living abroad makes me appreciate my super-supportive family, and where I am from. There is nothing nicer than stepping through arrivals and feeling that crisp Irish air.