"I'M overwhelmed by the response, says Mary Gregory. "It has almost been too much for us to cope with." As Pat Kenny can confirm, the recent showcase Irish designers at the Point, was a memorable occasion, but from Gregory's point of view its aftermath has been especially unforgettable. Her clothes made a striking impression on everyone who saw the show and the result has been a torrent of fresh orders and interested inquiries from both old and new admirers. "I don't know how many of them even heard about the showcase," the quiet spoken designer remarks, "but we've had at least 30 telephone calls from Northern Ireland and London."
It's not as if Mary Gregory is a flew name on Ireland's fashion circuit. A founder member of The Design Centre back in 1984, her work can still be found there as well as in a number of other Irish retail outlets. In part because she prefers a low key profile and also due to the subdued nature of the clothes themselves, Gregory is one of those labels known only to the fortunate few. But given the response to her latest collection, that situation could now change as she acquires a broader customer base.
Long term fans are likely to be surprised by this sudden rush of interest because Gregory's spring/summer range is a natural successor to her previous work. As usual, there's a severely restricted palette, minimal use of pattern, a fluid line and a fondness for subtle seaming details. This time around, the colouring is based on slate blue and silver, with plenty of white. The metallic tone is advantageously employed for wonderfully rich fabrics such as a silk, viscose velvet, silk faille shantung and silk organza. Individual garments in the collection used all of these, while they turn up as well in fine bands on Gregory's long lightly darted white silk crepe dresses. Her cropped knits use a silver viscose yarn jackets are made in either a gently glazed linen or else viscose crepe, while silk chiffon is also employed for sleeveless tops and lining on otherwise diaphanous organza skirts.
Hand painted details - another Gregory hallmark - turn up regularly. For this season, the designer has taken her inspiration from Botticelli's painting of Primavera in the Uffizi Gallery. As a starting point, she had an enormous blue linen wrap woven with the design of this painting: specific details then turn up in painted panels on many of the garments. Rarely are they allowed to dominate. Instead, they just appear sporadically: down the side of a dress, for example, or as a small square on the sleeve. "I normally wouldn't go in for as fine a detail as this," says Gregory whose Usual preference is for more abstract designs. "But I just love the purity of the three Graces' lines." The hand painting has been done by artist Lorraine Bowen who at the very start of the season spent a week working with Gregory.
In all, the entire collection numbers little more than 40 pieces, all of which work perfectly together and, as previous buyers of Gregory's work will be pleased to hear, with former seasons from her as well. If anything marks the latest range apart, it's the absence of tailored work except in a handful of jackets. "We would be known for our tailoring," she admits, "but this time I wanted the collection to have a more fluid feel." That fluidity is emphasised in the cut of her dresses, as well as the employment of silk crepe and velvet. As viewers of the Point show will remember, the models wearing Gregory's clothes seemed almost to float down the ramp. This is what gives her collection its unique allure. Hurry to see it now before she has a chance to return all those telephone calls.