The Irish in Paris


WHILE John Rocha is the only Irish designer to stage a show in Paris during January, a considerable number of other fashion labels from this country travel to the city for the international menswear trade fair SEHM. Held in the vast Paris Exhibition Centre at Porte de Versailles, attending SEHM can be a daunting experience, but it provides an excellent opportunity to get an overview of current and future trends. For Irish menswear manufacturers, it also offers a chance to meet buyers from across Europe, which is why the fair has now become a firm fixture for over 30 of this country's export driven businesses.

One regular SEHM attender is Jonathan Richard, a long established Irish company which used to make only hats and dressing gowns but, thanks to keeping an eye on how menswear has been changing of late, is now diversifying into a broader range of unstructured garments (see top right).

By avoiding tailoring, Jonathan Richard didn't need to embark on too radical an overhaul of its image, which is traditional and relaxed but not too casual. The fabrics are all natural - linens, light wools and cottons - and the shapes perfect for men looking for weekend clothes with a strong Irish identity.

That has also been true of the work produced by Pat McCarthy, another Irish name who was showing at SEHM last week. When he launched his own label a couple of years ago, McCarthy's designs clearly belonged in the tradition of country clothing. Over the intervening period, in response to demand from his customers at home and abroad, he has gradually modified his collections to reflect contemporary urban style. There's less heavy tweed and more button down check shirts and soft leather coats in his latest range, which still has chunky knits but now they're in colours such as burnt orange rather than autumnal brown (see centre right).

Knits, of course, are the stock in trade of Inis Meain which could be found as usual at SEHM. Here too, bold colour was seen in plentiful quantities, along with gorgeous horizontal stripes and vertical bands of cable stitching. Inis Meain has never been afraid of using expensive fibres such as alpaca, used for zip fronted cardigans and high Vneck sweaters. No wonder its stand at the fair was so popular; the combination of bright tones and luxurious materials proved totally alluring to international buyers at SEHM (see bottom right).