Is there still such a thing as Sunday best? New TV series has answers

Fashion: TG4’s Snáithe explores Irish fashion past and present through the eyes of designers, historians and experts

Sybil Connolly, Ireland’s first internationally successful female fashion designer, with one of her creations in Merrion Square

Sybil Connolly, Ireland’s first internationally successful female fashion designer, with one of her creations in Merrion Square

 

A groundbreaking new series on Irish fashion, Snáithe (meaning thread), begins next Wednesday, February 14th, on TG4 and runs for for six weeks. Conceived, created, managed, produced and directed by Ciara Nic Chormaic, a graduate of Irish and Celtic studies from NUI Galway and a freelance producer of art and history documentaries for the past 10 years, the series marks her debut as a director.

“I come from a family in Cork, all girls interested in fashion as a way of self-expression,” she says when we meet in Dublin. “I had been thinking about our fashion history and how to present that story on screen and make it interesting. I love research and finding stories.”  

The series is thematic rather than chronological and the first episode addresses the question of whether or not Ireland has a fashion identity, the second how dress and textiles inform contemporary design and the third explores the idea of “Sunday best” and how that has changed. The hat, for instance, has gone from Sunday Mass to festivals. “The series explores our fashion identity through the eyes of contemporary fashion designers, historians and fashion experts and is presented by Ciara O’Doherty, an Irish-speaking fashion blogger,” says Nic Chormaic, who met O’Doherty through a mutual friend “and discovered that we were on a similar journey”.

Director of Snáithe Ciara Nic Chormaic, left, with designer Orla Kiely
Director of Snáithe Ciara Nic Chormaic, left, with designer Orla Kiely

Rich history

Nic Chormaic wanted to shine a light on hitherto unexplored aspects of Irish fashion and its rich history. “People overlook fashion and the significance of clothes and what they say about us as a people. My team would not have had any interest in fashion before, but now have a whole new appreciation of it. There are amazing creative minds at work in the industry today who reveal an attachment to Irish heritage,” she says. “It is a really exciting time for design now, there is calibre and confidence and a lot of designer are looking back, but creating something new – that has become clear.”

The series skilfully weaves a thread through the past into the present, fusing the work of contemporary designers with key moments in Irish history. There are contributions from Orla Kiely, Natalie B Coleman, Una Burke, Richard Malone, Helen Steele and many more

Behind the scenes at Castletown House, Co Kildare filming the opening scenes of Snaithe for TG4
Behind the scenes at Castletown House, Co Kildare filming the opening scenes of Snaithe for TG4

Anne Bernstorff (who created the Ros Tapestry), an artist and expert on textile history, was a revelation, with her knowledge of 18th-century dress bringing Dublin society of that period vividly to life, as does Ruth Griffin on her fashion history tours of the city, according to Nic Chormaic. “You only have to scratch the surface and you find a rich history of clothing and design underneath – even from street names. Not many people would know that Weaver’s Square, for instance, was associated with silk weaving in Dublin and it is exciting how designers are drawing from that. Maybe that has not happened before.”

Certainly, this is the first comprehensive, intelligent, interesting exploration of Irish fashion supported with interviews, archive footage and photography. “I wanted to show real people and how they dress and create a visual strand throughout the series. I had to work out how to construct a narrative within each programme that would make it interesting. Does Ireland have a fashion identity is quite an abstract question and to shape that and layer it with contemporary design meant that you are constantly back and forward trying to find a link between the past and the present. And those links are there.”

Where the old inspires the new - a creation by Irish designer and RCA MA graduate Michael Stewart photographed in the Burren in Co Clare
Where the old inspires the new - a creation by Irish designer and RCA MA graduate Michael Stewart photographed in the Burren in Co Clare

Snáithe begins at 8.30pm on Wednesday, February 14th, on TG4. The series is funded by TG4 and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.

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