WE SHOULD take the news that Limerick is about to become a global fashion incubator as a gigantic fillip to our national pride.
In 2012 the Limerick School of Art and Design’s Fashion Department was ranked as one of the top 50 fashion colleges worldwide, the only Irish college to be included in the list, and now it’s announced exciting plans for the opening of the International Fashion Incubator Limerick.
Every year, thousands of determined students polish their work to perfection and compete in a rigorous interview process involving portfolios and presentations.
Their aim is to win a place on one of the small number of fashion-design degree courses at LSAD.
Whether they dream of becoming the next big name on the catwalk or simply want to satisfy their creative spirit, their time, sleepless nights are spent honing that portfolio, their golden ticket into the world of fashion.
“The fashion department in Limerick School of Art and Design is placed in the top 50 courses in the world on which to study fashion and LSAD has the largest graduating class of any fashion programme in the country. Its graduates have 100% employment in the industry,” says James Greenslade, head of LSAD.
“Some of our graduates work as leading designers in some of the biggest fashion houses in the world while other graduates create highly coveted unique pieces which have been used in costume design for movies like The Hunger Games and have been commissioned by stars including Lady Gaga and Rihanna.
“LSAD is the also the only Irish college to be invited to participate in London Fashion Week.”
For years, we’ve been stuck in the habit of beating ourselves up about being underdogs: frequently brilliant at radical design, but somehow genetically incapable of turning it into business, while the mere notion of our being able to produce luxury goods of an internationally desirable calibre seemed so unattainable as to be laughable.
I don’t know what psychological turnaround it took to see our designer industry in a different way, but all these things have changed.
In a transformation that has less to do with an overnight miracle and more to do with a decade of extreme hard work and self- critical reorganisation, Limerick’s fashion graduates have set up an array of serious businesses.
Ten years ago, the despairing moan was that everyone was leaving Ireland to show abroad: nobody talks about designers defecting anymore and the concept of IFIL is very exciting; it’s based on a fashion incubator model that exists in fashion centres like London and Paris.
“What we want to do with IFIL is nurture young fashion designers emerging from LSAD. These young designers will be mentored by designers with international standing who have graduated from LSAD and who will participate in the IFIL Designer-in-Residence Programme,” says Greenslade.
“In IFIL, young designers will have the space and resources they need to create great fashion, while at the same time benefitting from the oversight and experience of established designers whose careers started in LSAD.”
LSAD is quite a unique fashion school. The work their students produce is highly commercial, they have built a strong reputation for knitwear design lecturers and students are successfully getting their feet in the door of an industry that is notoriously exclusive.
There is slightly less emphasis on the academic than other schools, but, interestingly, they have had a number of their recent graduates go on to do an MA in Fashion Writing at the Royal College of Art in London, as well as having several of their graduates accepted into the prestigious Saint Martin’s MA in Fashion.
Judging by the numbers of alumni who successfully start their own businesses, LSAD’s courses are world-beating and that’s without the counting the legions who go on to employment in international fashion houses.
Students have headed from Limerick to New York to intern with Marc Jacobs and Opening Ceremony, others to Berlin and London and even as far as Australia to Colette Dinnegan. What is often missed, though, is the extent to which the fashion school is educating the world too.
The college has a long history of student sartorial and an alumni list that included Joanne Hynes, Danielle Romeril and Úna Burke.
Talking to the fledgling designers gives some idea of how their careers take shape. Natalie B Coleman creates enchanting clothing which inhabit a dreamy world of memory and storytelling.
Since establishing her label in 2011, her designs have been worn by Angela Scanlon, Lily Cole and Suki Waterhouse.
Born and raised in Monaghan, this LSAD graduate emblazons t-shirts with bold slogans like ‘Holding out for a hero’ and her label has been featured extensively in fashion magazines.
Mary J Blige has one of her butter soft leather jackets.
Mutya Beuna from the Sugarbabes wore a glittery two-piece suit during London Fashion Week.
Natalie says fashion has been a lifelong love affair. “I always loved clothes and dressing up since I was very small.
“When I was six I had a little pink fisher price sewing machine and was obsessed with how a pretty dress could transport me.
“I loved studying at LSAD.
“Anne Melinn is an extremely inspiring lecturer and I also was lucky enough to have Joanne Hynes tutor me.
Fellow graduate Danielle Romeril studied arts at UCD, but left after a year to go to the Limerick School of Art, and on to the Royal College of Art in London for her MA.
She learned from UCD that she couldn’t do something she wasn’t completely interested in, and from Limerick that she would never do anything other than design.
“At about 15 but it seemed like a scary thing to want to do, like a job for someone else, it seemed like the job that you could only be born to do.
“As if you would have some sort of marking and everyone would know. ‘Ah! She is going to be a designer and a great one! The next McQueen.’
“Because of this ridiculous notion of mine and due to a lack of support in school for portfolio development I took the long way to LSAD via politics and psychology in UCD.”
She has happy memories of her college time.
“I’d be working until 11.30pm when your friends would arrive at your flat and drag you away from your desk.
“You’d have two quick drinks and head out to Costello’s, a Limerick indie institution, to dance until the small hours.
“Then you’d be up early and into college for some intense studio design development and tutorials.
“It was the definition of burning the candle at both ends.
“The years spent studying fashion at Limerick were my formative years, I found the best of friends and learnt a lot about who I was, I also worked myself to the bone and lost a lot of weight but I am very thankful for my time there and to the department for igniting my ambition,” she says.
Danielle was head-hunted to work for Alberta Ferretti in Milan, which wasn’t her thing, so she started her own luxury label in 2012. She is now selling in ten countries.
Úna Burke had barely finished her MA in fashion artefacts from Central Saint Martins in London, when she was commissioned to design garments for superstar, Lady Gaga.
“LSAD was very tough; deadlines were tight and very frequent but that’s how the industry works so this realism is important,” she says.
Her flesh-coloured leather outfits, bound with brass, screws and fetishistic implications, certainly look almost other-worldly, which is probably why Lady Gaga just had to have eight pieces commissioned for her global Monster Ball tour.
“After I graduated from LSAD there were not all that many fashion jobs back home so myself and my friend Colette used to make our own opportunities, getting involved in every competition and catwalk show possible and making garments and accessories for pop-up shops all while holding down full time admin and retail jobs.
I know that my hardworking Irish upbringing is what made me have the drive to make it all happen.”