Green evolution

THE IRISH fashion industry has suffered in the last three years: the demise of local manufacturing has made it increasingly difficult for small, independent designers to get collections made, consumers’ disposable income has been dramatically diminished and retailers are hesitant to experiment with new labels.

All in all a perfect storm for fledgling fashion entrepreneurs. However there are still brave souls trading through the recession, some even founding new labels and finding opportunities despite the pervading gloom.

The following four labels represent this admirable spirit: all are designed by Irish creatives (two of them based in London), all have a unique style and a devotion to their craft and all possess a passionate determination to succeed despite the obstacles.

Melissa Curry

Sligo-born jewellery designer Melissa Curry’s innovative designs are an expression of her diversity, skilfully blending a myriad of inspirations. There is the contrast of opposites: ethnic with modern, matt with brilliant, delicate with dramatic and all combined with a striking sense of colour. Her use of unusual materials is fresh and exciting, giving familiar shapes new life. The circle, her trademark, is an emblem of this regenerative power.

One of her most recent projects was a collection for the short film DAIS (a showcase of Irish design talent directed by Sonya Lennon), where she returned to her Celtic roots and drew inspiration from the Torc. Melissa worked with skilled artisans to complete her own oversized Torc and relished the opportunity to explore Ireland’s creative heritage: “The Celts were passionate and renowned internationally as exceptional artists in metal and jewellery.”

Other collaborations have included projects with Yohji Yamamoto, Phillipe Starck, Le Bon Marché, Galeries Lafayette and Liberty of London. She has also consulted for clients such as Toni & Guy, Swarovski and Absolut Vodka and is currently working on a piece for Moët et Chandon.

Melissa’s collection this season moves across five main themes: Rainbow Twist — vivid glass beads in sea blues, fuchsia, tangerine, yellow and lime with silver chains; Raspberry Whirl — a collection of transparent crystals mixed with raspberry agate and tiny gold details; Moroccan Heat — light turquoise stones mixed with grey agate finished with a ceramic orange flower and silver chain; White Lady — Neptunian white beads worked with Japanese cotton in light grays and In Blue — aqua, marine and agate stones contrasting with darker blue stones and bold square silver pieces.

Melissa’s stockists include Samui in Cork, Havana in Dublin, Emporium Kalu in Naas, JuJu in Greystones and Gladys in Tullamore.

Irwin And Jordan

Zoë Jordan (daughter of former Formula 1 manager, Eddie Jordan) and a former bond trader, cites Leonardo da Vinci’s dictum that simplicity is the ultimate sophistication as her inspiration. Her understanding of this philosophy underwrites her design aesthetic of sensual urban sophistication at her label Irwin & Jordan. With awards from Elle and the British Fashion Council, Irwin & Jordan is stocked in prestigious stores Harrods and Isetan, is a firm favourite of celebrities, Rachel Bilson, Alexa Chung and Jessica Biel and has been modelled by Helena Christensen.

Mixing Savile Row tailoring (her studio is adjacent to that famous address), contemporary cuts and heritage fabrics allows Irwin & Jordan to defy stereotypes and to blur the lines between dusk and dawn. The quintessential look is casual, understated eclecticism or effortless elegance with a hint of androgyny. Signature tailored jackets and slouchy waistcoats are layered over delicate lace T-shirts, dainty dresses and cropped silk trousers. Soft jersey is paired with sequin silhouettes to create a relaxed look that is subtle but never staid. Zoë has said: “You can do sexy without being showy. I don’t think you have to be revealing to be sexy.”

S/S 2011 is the label’s fifth season and the hallmark crisp tailoring and feminine silhouettes are interpreted in watercolour shades with hints of metallic textures. Fine Italian silks, French lace and British suiting all appear in a palette of ash, stone, tobacco and bronze creating a delicate balance of masculine styling and soft minimalism. Partnerships of silk with jersey feature in contrasting boyfriend shapes and bodycon pieces while tux jackets with shorts, flowing dresses and biker jackets in lace suggest a playful femininity.

Zoë Jordan’s refined design aesthetic combined with her keen business acumen bodes well for the fledgling label. There will be an Irwin & Jordan pop-up shop in Brown Thomas from February 28 to the end of March and it is also stocked in Diffusion, Clontarf.

Mia O’Connell

Mia O’Connell is the youngest of these designers, only graduating from the Limerick School of Art and Design in June 2009 and establishing her own label in January 2010. It’s a small high-end label fully produced in Ireland and the debut collection was sold in the Design Centre, Dublin, Elaine Curtis, Carlow, and Havana, Dublin.

Unsure of the next step to take after graduation, Mia began working on a project called the ‘eight and a half collection’. This project was intended to be an exploration of collection design that would also generate a following via a mailing list and a blog. The resulting collection attracted the attention of Eddie Shanahan and Constance Harris who encouraged Mia to start a label.

Mia O’Connell is clothing designed for a fashion forward woman who appreciates the feminine form but who differentiates herself with an edgy, avant guard style. The label uses high quality silk chiffons, crêpes, leather and silk velvets worked together to redefine boundaries while maintaining a soft and alluring aesthetic.

The Spring/Summer 2011 collection, like its predecessor, combines feminine soft tones and fabrics with a harder, more contemporary edge. A small capsule collection, available through private sales only, it has great emphasis on craftsmanship and creating beautiful one-off pieces. Although still a work-in-progress, Mia is working with layering up appliquéd lace and silk tulles over stretch chiffon. These fabrics will then be worked with chunky zips and suede, enduring Mia hallmarks.

Mia is hoping to start a Masters in fashion entrepreneurship at the London College of Fashion next autumn to compliment her design skills. She explains: “In order to bring my label where I want it to go I feel I need to gain more knowledge and experience in the field of business and entrepreneurship. One part of the job is to create beautiful clothing, the other half is to be able to sell it.” Contact her at

Tim Ryan

Born in Puckane, Co Tipperary, but based in London, Tim Ryan specialises in beautifully crafted knitwear design. His work has featured at Dublin and Paris fashion weeks as well as in Vogue Italia and ID Magazine. His knitwear is the result of a constant search for new constructions and juxtapositions underpinned by a firm grounding in traditional craft. All of Tim’s designs are ethically produced in Ireland, Britain and across Europe.

The Spring/Summer 2011 Collection from Tim Ryan is underpinned by skilful workmanship. His mission is to “celebrate 21st century glamour with a reference to the craft of the past”.

A self-taught designer, Tim brings a new interpretation to traditional knitwear. Alexandra Bourke and Eliza Doolittle have both worn his designs in their videos.

This season a “Mitfordesque” quality runs throughout his knits, that lie somewhere between practical modernity and a gilded age of frivolity. Half nylon, half cashmere cocktail dresses, cardigans with contrast peplums and cropped fringed jackets suggest an adventure, creating and exploring new identities, while three-colour gowns and liquid gilt draped dresses channel more ‘grown-up’ moments.

The Tim Ryan muse isn’t a woman struggling with her role, but one who relishes her ability to be exactly who she is — a woman who is totally comfortable in her own skin.

Tim is full of plans for his label: “To be honest 2011 is going to be a period of change for us, we are restructuring the whole business in order to properly take on the international market.”

The Spring/Summer 2011 collection is now available in Bow in the Powerscourt Centre, Dublin, Elaine Curtis, Carlow, Les Jumelles, Galway, and Samui, Cork, as well as select boutiques across Britain and Europe.

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