Like it or not, Irish style is still defined by its knitwear. The needles might not clack quite so vigorously around the fireside anymore, but native designers are proving that heritage skills can be interpreted in fresh and exciting ways with high-grade yarns and state of the art computer expertise.
(Left: Men's turtle neck sweater in Claiocha, a new pattern inspired by Aran stone walls, €380, by Inis Meain from Galvin for Men)
This season, Irish winter-knits are going to appear in a broad range from reworked fishermen’s sweaters by Inis Meáin (selling in Paris, New York and London), to the zany graphics of Electronic Sheep, and the Eileen Fisher-style languid cashmere hoodies of Lucy Nagle.
The long-line silk skirted knits from Sphere One by Lucy Downes make elegant evening wear, while her chunkier ribbed sweaters are deceptively lightweight. Honor Fitzsimons is fearless with slubby textures or fine tuck-knits, while Heather Finn draws inspiration from the Galway castle she grew up in for her colourful creations shot through with metallic threads. Elsewhere, cute knitted accessories keep Hanora K, Linda Wilson and Áine in thriving online businesses.
(Left: Bluebell navy bodice with silk dress, €475, Spere One from Brown Thomas, Havana, Juju Greystones and others.)
At the luxury end, the yarn defines the softness. Cashmere and superfine merinos are used by Edmund McNulty for his sophisticated menswear, while the less expensive long-line knits in mohair mixes by Carolyn Donnelly for her Dunnes Stores collection, or the more traditional cabled sweaters from the Sweater Shop, won't break the bank
Irish knitwear designers are also making strides abroad. Ciara Walsh is head of knitwear design at Marc Jacobs in New York and Clare Costelloeheads the knitwear at John Varvatos in Manhattan. The handknitting patterns of four Limerick IT students will be published in Landlust, a German magazine next month.
The new, dedicated, fashion knitwear and knitted textiles course headed by Liz Spillane, the first of its kind in the country, promises to further Limerick IT’s reputation as a centre of excellence for knit and push the boundaries of its technical possibilities. This month, students engage on a live project with Electronic Sheep, upcycling their samples into new products which will go on sale in Oxfam. These graduates will be ones to watch.
With Celine and Stella McCartney’s head to toe chunky but supersoft cable knits and Calvin Klein’s new takes on the twinset – trends bound to be copied – knitwear is right back in the fashion spotlight on every front this winter.