The Irish woman who embroidered dresses for Kate Moss and Catherine Deneuve
Rebecca Devaney embellishes gowns for designers including Dior, YSL and Chanel
Embroidery work for YSL Met Gala 2018 by Rebecca Devaney
Tomorrow, November 25th, is St Catherine’s Day, traditionally celebrated in Paris by unmarried embroiderers and milliners, under the age of 25, working in the fashion industry, while decked out in yellow and green. Though she won’t be among them, an Irish embroiderer making a unique name for herself in haute couture in the city is Dubliner Rebecca Devaney who works for a host of big names – Chanel, Dior, Fendi, Givenchy, Thierry Mugler, Valentino, YSL – and on many of the gowns for the Met Gala. Among the dresses she has embroidered have been those for Kate Moss and Catherine Deneuve.
She explains that, in France, if you train as an embroiderer, you learn to master techniques: “you are a craftsperson, not an artist and they don’t have that combination of art and craft that we have in Ireland. They could not believe that I could draw and embroider,” she says when I meet her during Paris fashion week. “People have no concept of the time that goes into it,” she adds.
From Dundrum and a literary background – her grandmother Josie founded the Dundrum Bookshop and her father works for Penguin Books – she says she was “kept in a box on the shelf” as a child and grew up around books and literature, “so my artistic practices are informed by Irish poetry”. A love of France started early – she studied history and geography through French at school.
Devaney “fell in love with embroidery” while at NCAD, where she received a BA in Art & Design Education and an MFA in Textile Art & Artefact, and the Thomas Dammann Junior Memorial Trust award to research every aspect of hand embroidery in Mexico. The resulting collection of textiles, photographs and interviews was exhibited in Ireland, the UAE and France. She qualified as a haute couture embroiderer from the celebrated Parisian embroidery school (now owned by Chanel) Ecole Lesage in 2018 and has been working in the industry ever since.
Involved in the current Embellishment exhibition in Belgium, which runs until March, she is contributing to a book on Rebe, the husband-and-wife team who collaborated with Dior on embroidery and were subsequently written out of history. The book was commissioned by Hubert de Givenchy and will be the subject of a forthcoming exhibition at the Palais Galliera in Paris in 2021.
Devaney has a blog describing her work, and gives guided tours through the luxury textile district of Paris describing the history of haute couture and the artisans who create it while visiting traditional haberdasheries that still supply the embroidery ateliers today.
She will be returning to Dublin in December, and will be lecturing and giving demonstrations in NCAD, Griffith College and the Cork Textiles Network. rebeccadevaney.ie