Brown Thomas Create showcases the best of Irish design

Brown Thomas is celebrating Irish design talent with its Create exhibition – and it’s finally coming to Cork. Rachel Marie Walsh meets the one to watch, designer Richard Malone.

Brown Thomas Create showcases the best of Irish design

The Brown Thomas Create project, which gives a platform to cutting-edge Irish craft, fashion, and accessories, opened across every floor of the Dublin department store last month. This fifth and most extensive exhibition lets visitors shop a mix of 65 established and nascent brands.

Four of the featured fashion talents will migrate to Brown Thomas Cork for a special pop-up event beginning August 21.

Wexford designer Richard Malone’s avant-garde pieces are sure to be in great demand, having featured in several influential titles this year, including Vogue and Marie Claire.

“I love his dresses, the soft, close to the body silhouette that is quite contemporary but still feminine at the same time,” says Brown Thomas Fashion Director Shelly Corkery. “I also love the way he plays on prints with stripes and checks.”

His quilted gingham ‘Puffer’ dress was recently modelled by Lorde in Dazed and Confused magazine and is currently the best-selling part of his Autumn 2015 collection.

He feels the rebellious young singer really suits his brand. “She is fab. I’m usually quite strict about celebrities wearing my designs but she’s a strong woman with such a great message for women in the music industry.”

The Central St Martin’s graduate has strong messages of his own, particularly regarding sustainable fashion and social responsibility.

“A lot needs to be done to educate consumers. People go into stores like Primark and see the cost of a garment in only monetary terms, not thinking about the children of mothers [in developing countries] falling asleep at their sewing machines over ridiculous hours and conditions they endured producing something that will hardly be worn.”

Richard Malone clothes are entirely handmade and meticulously finished. He keeps a design studio in Wexford but feels forced to do production in the UK.

“We need to invest in a production industry in Ireland. Even I, who only do small production, have nowhere to do it and I do want to produce here. I want to create jobs here as my brand grows but the circumstances make it impossible.”

He points out how valuable fashion production is to the British economy (£26 billion, according to the British Fashion Council). “Ireland is ignoring the export potential of fashion, especially given the award-winning design talent that is coming out of this country.”

Malone himself won design prizes from Deutsche bank that helped to finance his final year at Central St. Martin’s but he had to work punishing hours to fund the first three. His talent and industrious nature impressed staff at Louis Vuitton, where he spent a year of his education and was later offered a full-time role.

His irreverent graduate collection caught the attention of several other major brands but he turned down job offers abroad and continues to chart his own course.

“You don’t need to be every department store in the world to have a successful business. The bulk of my orders are from private clients and I feel like I’m growing the business in the right way. I don’t have to produce loads for stores and just leave stock there, it is more about making a very special, directional piece for each woman.”

The Richard Malone woman is smart with her money.

“I’ve got a lot of clients who know an off-the-rack designer dress is roughly the same price as a made-to-order piece. They see more value in something that’s made just for them and will last for years.”

He speaks with great sympathy about the pressure Instagram culture puts on women to look trend and label-aware.

“So much of fashion is communicated through filtered Instagram pictures and blogging by people who just want to be seen. My brand is a lot more discreet and I think people respond to that.”

Millennial females (born between 1982 and 2000) can certainly have anxiety about appearing in the same clothes too often on social media, a feeling that is driving fundamental changes in the way they shop.

The “Instagram effect” on young women is a great boost to fast-fashion brands that adapt their marketing and promotional efforts to the photo-sharer, as well as sites like Pinterest and Facebook. “Buy” buttons make it easy to shop through Twitter.

Zara gifts clothes to popular bloggers. Topshop saw sales rise after monitoring the online response to new trends during London Fashion Week and making relevant products available immediately.

Even luxury names like Burberry and Calvin Klein start campaigns like #ArtoftheTrench and #MyCalvins to encourage buzz-fuelling selfies from happy customers.

Analysts cited in a recent Financial Times report say Instagram is working on ways to allow shopping directly from its app.

Malone banned cameras from his Autumn-Winter 2015 installation at Old Street Station in London earlier this year.

“There’s a great need to teach people about clothes and the value of buying one beautiful piece, ignoring the tabloid message to change how you dress every couple of months. The presentation was really about the clothes rather than trying to sell a brand. I wanted to engage women – with the finishing and the cutting – on an intellectual level rather than assuming they’ll buy anything with a label.”

He’s also very critical of the stress unsustainable fashion puts on the planet.

“I don’t think you can even call yourself a contemporary brand if you’re not thinking about sustainability.” His materials are often gleaned from other companies’ waste.

“At Louis Vuitton I saw the team was subject to a lot of restrictions – they can’t use inferior materials because they’re a luxury brand– but fast-fashion brands can make use of cheap materials for products that won’t last, and will likely end up in a landfill somewhere.”

The fine Italian silk in his graduate collection was fabric Louis Vuitton would have disposed of without his intervention. His reliance on found materials enhances his creativity.

“Up-cycling can be quite restrictive sometimes but making your resources work is part of what design is about. It has to be considered and you must make the best of things.”

Malone’s clothes really connect with women because they literally begin with women – original interviews and photographs get him in a creative frame of mind.

“I’ve always been quite fascinated by real people, I’m always drawing people. I never go off and look at fashion history, I’m more about making something that’s completely new.”

He’s aware that avant-garde designs can be intimidating and is constantly working on making inventive pieces appropriate for anyone.

“I don’t use boning or stiffening, I want my designs to be super-comfortable as well as super-directional. I think comfort is a way of making avant-garde pieces more accessible. You can machine-wash the dress Lorde wore and it is really comfy but it is also something a lot of people will find fresh and surprising.”

Next season’s collection will be very pro-woman.

“I’m thinking of inviting female artists to create the set and the clothes will be focused on strong female personalities.”

Don’t confuse “strong female” with a turn towards the androgynous. “No woman should have to dress down who she is to feel empowered.”

CREATE Pop-Up is at Brown Thomas Cork from August 21 to September 21.

CREATIVE TYPES

Designs by three other hot fashion talents will also be available to buy from the Create pop-up installation at Brown Thomas Cork:

Aisling Ahern’s marvellous millinery is informed by a background in architecture and fashion design. Her signature pieces fuse traditional millinery elements with unconventional techniques, resulting in directional, luxurious creations.

Clean lines and a minimal shape are predominant characteristics. In 2012, the Dublin-based designer was chosen as winner of the first “Who Wants to be A Milliner” competition.

Jill De Búrca’s highly covetable ready-to-wear is all made by hand and detailed with intricate embroidery and digital-printing. Despite the apparent craftsmanship, the clothes remain very wearable with an on-trend sports-luxe edge.

Prior to the launch of her eponymous label, she embroidered and embellished for Stella McCartney, Armani, and a host of other luxury heavyweights. Gorgeous pieces currently available at brownthomas.ie include a selection of sweaters and jackets bearing insect-inspired appliqué.

Maria Dorai Raj’s handmade jewellery combines superb craftsmanship with modern design that often reflects elements of her Irish-Indian heritage.

A veteran of CREATE 2013 and 2014, Maria returns to showcase two beautiful collections - a fine jewellery collection called ‘Celestial’ and a high fashion collection named ‘Maille’. Key pieces include a multi-chain bracelet and ring-threaded drop-earrings.

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