Stamp Of Approval


FASHIONAn Post launches a set of stamps next week celebrating the work of key Irish designers, a generation inspired by the pioneering Sybil Connolly

IRISH FASHION will be specially honoured next Wednesday when a set of striking new stamps celebrating the work of six Irish designers will be issued by An Post.

The designers were chosen on the basis that they work under their own name, have their own label and have established an international reputation. The stamps were created by Ger Garland for An Post’s Prestige Booklets Collection and Prof Iseult McCarthy chaired the selection committee.

Paul Costelloe, Orla Kiely, Louise Kennedy, Lainey Keogh, John Rocha and Philip Treacy began their careers in the 1980s in an era before e-mail, social media and other modern communication methods. They are part of a generation that was inspired by the meteoric success of fashion designer Sybil Connolly. In the 1950s she used native Irish fabrics, such as tweed, linen and crochet lace, and conquered the international fashion world. When her pleated linen skirt was worn by Jacqueline Kennedy for an official White House portrait, it made her name and reputation.

That achievement proved that Ireland could play a hitherto undreamt of role on an international fashion stage dominated at the time by France, Italy and the US.

More importantly, Connolly’s design skills spread to areas such as interiors, crystal and china in a move that was ahead of its time and set a precedent for a successive wave of designers. She was a pioneer in every sense.

The growing confidence in Ireland in the late 1980s, on the cusp of the Celtic Tiger, was another key factor that encouraged young fashion students.

Though forever associated with Aran knits and homespun tweeds, the image of Ireland and Irish fashion is changing. It may occasionally draw on Gaelic culture and identity, and is often romantic in spirit, but the diversity of modern life plays an increasing role.

With native textiles in diminishing supply and manufacturing carried out almost exclusively in other regions of the world, what succeeds now in the competitive global marketplace are creativity, originality and business acumen. Irish fashion is a small but vibrant industry; it is about quality and points of difference and not about mass manufacture.

Many of these designers have pushed hard at the boundaries of their craft, such as Philip Treacy, with his flamboyant, inventive millinery, and Lainey Keogh, with her imaginative exploration of the possibilities of knit and crochet.

John Rocha has always embraced native handcrafts and fabrics in a distinctive way and, like Louise Kennedy, has shown his skill with crystal and interior design. Paul Costelloe’s reach has extended from fashion, sport and airline uniforms into homeware, jewellery and optics.

In terms of commercial success, Orla Kiely’s signature has gone beyond bags and clothing into lifestyle design and fragrances. Her collaboration with Citroën, to design a limited-edition car, will mark a first for an Irish fashion designer in the car industry.

Such crossovers into other areas, combined with modern technological breakthroughs, broaden the scope of fashion and pave the way for upcoming generations.

From these distinguished predecessors, who have shown that fashion design talent is more than just about frocks, others can draw inspiration and encouragement. Fashion may be fickle, but talent, skills and optimistic new ideas keep it vibrant and fresh as these gifted Irish designers have proved so convincingly and with such style.

The stamps are available from, the GPO Dublin or main post offices. Next year, a new series on Irish craftworkers will mark 2011 as the Year of Craft