The ones to watch: The Irish designers set to wow London Fashion Week

As Irish designers showcase their designs at London Fashion week, Carolyn Moore meets the graduates set to be the next big names in fashion.

A few months from now, Ireland’s fashion colleges will release into the world their latest round of graduates, and speculation will begin as to who among them has the potential to become the next significant voice in Irish fashion.

Some will opt to begin their careers here at home, while others will move abroad, and any number of factors, from talent to luck to pure perseverance, will determine the level of success they go on to achieve. 

But despite the tremendous talent exiting our colleges each year, the fact remains that without the support to propel them onto the international stage, many young Irish designers will struggle to make the impact of Simone Rocha, Richard Malone, or Jonathan Anderson – all highlights on this week’s London Fashion Week schedule.

“It’s difficult for young Irish designers to make the leap from a local to an international platform,” says stylist and fashion consultant Aisling Farinella. 

With a career spanning almost 20 years, Farinella’s varied experience leaves her well placed to understand the challenges faced by designers. Studying for an MA at an international level is “a real advantage” she says, but that opportunity is beyond the grasp of many of our graduates. 

That’s why, in 2016, the Kildare Village Fashion Bursary was founded to help make that dream a reality for the inaugural recipient, Clare designer Michael Stewart.

Stewart was one of eight emerging Irish designers showcased at In The Fold, a London Fashion Week event staged as part of ID2015, a year-long celebration of Irish design. 

As ID2015’s Fashion and Textiles Advisor, Farinella was charged with developing a programme to promote Irish fashion at a local and international level, and when In The Fold was conceived, she secured the support of Kildare Village to help take the project “to the next level”. 

That support marked the beginning of a burgeoning relationship between Kildare Village and the wider Irish design community; one that ultimately led to the development of From The Isle. 

A cultural initiative to demonstrate Kildare Village’s ongoing commitment to nurturing and supporting Ireland’s creative sectors, From The Isle expanded its remit to include a lucrative fashion bursary when Stewart – having secured a place on the Royal College of Art’s prestigious MA course – approached Kildare Village for support.

“From The Isle was about engaging with Irish culture and giving something back to the creative community,” Farinella explains. 

“When Michael was accepted into the RCA, he couldn’t afford the fees or living expenses, so on his own initiative, he approached Kildare Village for support.

“By coming on board with In The Fold, Kildare Village had recognised the need to support emerging talent, so under the umbrella of From The Isle they were open to addressing Michael’s need for educational support. There isn’t a fashion masters here in Ireland, so supporting an Irish designer to complete one abroad was key.” 

Stewart was awarded €15,000 to complete his two-year MA in Fashion Womenswear Design at the RCA, the most prestigious fashion masters in the world. 

When he showed his widely acclaimed graduate collection last summer, AnOther magazine declared him nothing less than “the future of Haute Couture”, and his designs were photographed on Solange Knowles by the legendary Peter Lindbergh.

“Proposing the bursary, having it awarded to me, and seeing it continue to help other students has been a really important thing to witness,” Michael says. 

“It’s about realising the power and value you have to offer, and taking control of a situation by asking for support that allows you to continue to grow.

“I think Kildare Village’s willingness to support Irish design is very genuine. The cultural, economic and social benefits of initiatives like the bursary will have lasting impact, in Ireland and internationally.” 

Stewart was further supported to showcase his collection at an industry event in Dublin’s Douglas Hyde Gallery, because as Farinella explains, “We’re fostering an ongoing relationship, so there is a real legacy there. Michael Stewart is an incredibly talented designer, so if he goes on to be head of Céline in ten years, that crucial support from Kildare Village will always be part of his story.” 

In 2017, the bursary became part of another promising young designer’s story when Dundalk’s Andrew Bell became its second beneficiary. Bell had been making waves on the Dublin fashion scene since his graduation from NCAD in 2014; now, having been awarded €25,000 to cover the £9,500 course fees for his two years of study, he too is set to be catapulted to international renown when he graduates in 2019.

“I’m excited to follow in Michael’s footsteps and continue the legacy Kildare Village have offered Irish designers,” says Bell. “The MA has been a whirlwind of experiences and opportunities already. I’ve met and worked with people from all over the world; it’s really broadened my horizons as a designer.”

Since the bursary was announced, the RCA has confirmed a considerable increase in the number of applications from Irish students.

“We’re thrilled to have such a significant contribution from Kildare Village, to support creative talent from Ireland,” says the RCA’s head of fashion, Zowie Broach.

“The RCA nurtures designers from across the world, and this enables talent from Ireland to follow in the footsteps of towering RCA graduates such as Orla Kiely and rising stars such as Danielle Romeril.” 

“The standard of Irish students is really high,” Farinella says.

“RCA want them, but it’s a huge undertaking financially. Establishing the bursary has given Kildare Village the opportunity to create a lasting legacy in the story of Irish fashion and do something wonderful for Irish design.” 

With four candidates securing places on the course for 2017, Farinella explains, “RCA are responsible for choosing the most talented student to get this. They’re the professionals; they can identify the talent. From Kildare Village’s perspective, it’s essential that the bursary is about genuine financial need, They have to have the potential to become a modern voice for Ireland and Irish fashion.”

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