People to watch in 2016: Fashion

A crop of Irish graduates are forging successful careers in the notoriously fickle international fashion industry. Here are some to watch out for this year


Gráinne Walley


Walley (21) is a final-year student at NCAD who is applying hand-crochet methods to oversize chunky natural yarns – linen and wool – in a very creative way for her graduate collection inspired by a childhood visit to Clare Island. She already has a following for her work and a business acumen that began at the age of 11 when she started making dresses for the girls in her Dublin school.

She has worked as a sales assistant in Cos and BT2 and served an internship with John Rocha and later Simone Rocha in London. "When I graduate I would love to learn new skills and work with a menswear designer in London or here in Ireland and then apply for a master's degree – that's my dream." Her collection draws from her heritage and her roots, "but I love bringing unpredictability to my work and love it when people touch it."

zSinead O’Dwyer

Armed with a BA in fashion design from the ArtEZ school in Arnhem, the


, O’Dwyer returned to work with the US designer

Alexander Wang

in New York having interned with him two years earlier. She grew up in Tullamore, is the daughter of acclaimed silversmith Kevin O’Dwyer and spent a year on a visual arts programme at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in 2007. Working with Wang she has learned about the fast pace of fashion but says the future of fashion will be a reaction to such speed, and be more about collaboration, “not turning out hundreds of collections a year and involving big factories in China”.

Her new collection takes uniforms as a starting point. “I wore one for 14 years, so my new work is a mishmash of references from those formative years and the uniform is the basis for exploring concepts of identity.”


Fintan Mulholland
Knitwear designer

Mulholland (25) from Belfast completed his master’s degree in fashion knitwear design from

Nottingham Trent University

in September having already secured a BA in textile art design with fashion from the Belfast School of Art. His BA collection sold out. He has already earned five awards for his work and a

Paul Smith

scholarship to Tokyo. His collaboration on costumes for an event in Florence was acclaimed in Italian



“With knit there is so much involved in each step of the process. It’s a single yarn and you are creating something from that – I like the idea of a shape coming from the structure itself,” he says.

He lectures in the Ulster University in knitted textiles and is sourcing production for his next collection.


Aoife Mullane
Textile designer

Mullane, from Bray, Co Wicklow, and a textile graduate of NCAD, won the SDC International Design Competition in London in June worth £1,000 with a collection judged “subtle, beautiful and classic”. Her “Nest” collection of textiles for interiors – screen-printed cushions and upholstered chairs – was part of Create at Brown Thomas and she is applying for grants to develop her business further.

Mullane is part of the Print Block Collective in Dublin and has been commissioned to create textiles for a Dublin beauty salon, but her ambition is to sell her own fabric by the metre. Her mother, Susan, owns Milan & Co fashion boutique in Bray and Mullane grew up with a huge interest in textiles and design. Bray seafront is a constant source of inspiration; her silver-foil screen prints were prompted by the metallic flecks in the rocks there.


Aidan Walsh
Model and dancer

Walsh (18) from Barefield, Ennis, Co Clare, made headlines in October appearing on the cover of Italian


youth edition, photographed by celebrated duo Mert Alas and

Marcus Piggott

. Walsh, who is studying at the Bird College of Dance in London, was spotted by an agent two years ago, kick-starting a career as a model.

Since then he has appeared on the cover of UK style magazine Man About Town, is the face of a Pull & Bear fragrance, appeared in Another and Wonderland magazines and is just back from an editorial shoot for Office magazine in New York. Next month he will walk at menswear shows in London and Paris and is juggling all this with his final-year dance studies.

He started dancing aged seven and at 16 moved to Eastbourne to study ballet and contemporary dance. “My ambition is to work in commercial musical theatre, making music videos or with modern dance companies. In modelling everything is last minute, but that’s the fun of it.”

Crystal ball - the expert's view of the year ahead
Alex Milton, professor of design at NCAD, programme director ID2015
The internationalisation of Irish fashion design will be big this year.
"It is no longer insular, inward-looking. Young designers have an international education – many more are doing MAs abroad. Irish fashion is still rooted in making and material. What is fascinating is that combination with craft, using it as a jumping-off point in a fresh way."
He believes there is new thinking about investing in fashion. "Because we have met targets and have business support, people realise that fashion is not a gamble, but a sound investment. At Showcase, the Crafts Council will mount a special presentation to highlight the brightest and the best of Irish knitwear made in Ireland."