Ciara McDonnell meets the Irish designers making waves on the sartorial world stage


Meet the Irish fashion designers making an impact around the world

Ciara McDonnell meets the Irish designers making waves on the sartorial world stage

Meet the Irish fashion designers making an impact around the world

IRELAND has produced some of the fashion world’s most eminent stars, from Paul Costelloe to Philip Treacy to John Rocha and Louise Kennedy. It takes a special talent to make it in the style capitals of the world, and a new generation of Irish designers are showing that their vision, coupled with their cultural heritage, can bring fashion to new heights.

The Globe Trotter

Drawing on a childhood spent travelling around the world, Zoe Jordan focuses on clean lines, fresh palettes, and masculine elegance. Her KNITLAB collection was launched to huge success last year, solidifying her as a star on the rise.

“As a child, I was immersed in the world of motor racing, with adventures across the globe. I’ve lived in New York, Dublin, Andalucía, Hong Kong, and London, where my studio is buried in the heart of Chelsea. I studied architecture and then went on to work as a fast-paced bond trader. I like to create modern, urban separates and hard-working pieces that empower women. I have an international audience, who are attracted to the brand’s season-less style. Each collection is designed with multiple climates in mind, to reflect the lifestyle and expectations of a transglobal consumer. I aim to create effortless pieces that focus on rich textures and clean lines, playing with proportions to affect a confident, often androgynous, shape. Creating a wardrobe of interchangeable separates is a crucial design factor in my work. KNITLAB has been a big game-changer in evolving my collections. The defining characteristics of KNITLAB echo the main collections, particularly in the trademark cut-outs. In March, I also launched a men’s KNITLAB:XY collection. I’ve had a lot of interest in it from women, so it has morphed into more of a unisex collection — the knit you buy the man in your life, with the intention of stealing it back for the ultimate ‘boyfriend’ look! Our growth in the last year has been phenomenal. We saw the turnover of the business more than double and this is largely down to the introduction of KNITLAB in June, 2015. We saw our business at our key London and Dublin department stores double, working closely with retailers to improve awareness and boost sell-throughs.

“We also launched in America last summer, with Saks, across ten key cities. We now have 28 stockists across the US. I think it’s vital to have a solid foothold in America — it elevates a brand to a meaningful international level. I like to see strong, assured individuals wear my clothes. They are people who, regardless of their traditional roots, will always be cultural hybrids, thanks to their sense of adventure and travel. The Zoë Jordan girls are defined by who they are and what they have experienced, not by what they wear.”

The Atelier

Hailed by Vogue as one of the industry’s rising stars in 2015, Wexford man, Richard Malone, is one of the most exciting designers to come out of Ireland — and the fashion pack knows it.

“I knew I wanted to work in fashion, and I knew the best place to be was Central Saint Martin’s, in London. It’s interesting that there are so many Irish designers of prominence internationally now as the industry back home has yet to catch up. With more funding and more visibility, it has the potential to be incredible. I really think Shelly Corkery, and her team at Brown Thomas hit the nail on the head. The store is a luxury department store, which feels personal, and boutique-like, it’s super customer-focused, which isn’t the case in other major cities. I would say my design aesthetic is quite directional, with a real focus on cut and process, often quite sculptural, but always surprisingly wearable. It’s a very honest depiction of where I’m from and my skillset, what I’ve picked up along the way. Each season, I push myself, and my studio, to create something exciting.

“I never try to change who I am as a designer. Where I’m from and my working class background has always been a really important part of it. I can’t talk for all Irish women, but my Irish private clients and customers from Brown Thomas are very excited by fashion, the real stuff not the branded crap. I don’t think my customer is crazy about brands; that’s one of the sad things about fashion, now. People like to wear something obvious. It’s like a status thing, with no sense of self, whereas fashion should, inevitably, be an expression of one’s identity or personality, and buying the megabrands basically annihilates that concept.

“I like seeing real women wearing my clothes. I’m forever saying no to celebrity lends. It’s not my thing and I think it’s pretty tacky. It means nothing in this weird, Instagram-obsessed world we’re in; I hate anything false. It’s much more exciting seeing a woman who’s invested in a piece and then integrated into her wardrobe or life and really enjoys and appreciates it. I would honestly rather sell ten pieces to those women a year than a hundred to every Kardashian or Kardashian wannabe.“

The Vintage Diva

As art director of Buandiva, a vintage store based in Italy, Niamh Dwyer is realising her dreams of creating a fashion ‘silk road’ between Italy and Ireland.

“I moved to Italy in the 1990s, after studying English literature at UCC and DCU. I’ve always been interested in fashion, and after 23 years of collecting vintage clothing from Italy, London, and Ireland, I set up a vintage/design shop, called Buandiva, in the Tuscan city of Pistoia. I work as art director at Buandiva with my two founding partners: Simona Capecchi, who works in 123ART, in Florence, and Monica Naninni, who works in high-end real estate. Simona and Monica are also avid collectors, and our combined collections formed the original stock of Buandiva.

“The challenge has been to source authentic vintage clothes and give them a contemporary look. I place little value on clothes taken from a previous era without reinterpretation. “I look at previous fashions as if I were an industrial archaeologist. I think about the patterns used, the hand-tailoring, the printing methods, and the care given to the textile manufacture of the past, as compared to the present. The decades from the 1950s to 1980s were a golden era for Italian fashion production. My job is to exploit the mastery of these workers and update their artefacts for the contemporary world.

“I would say to anyone who wants to start a vintage clothing business, come to Italy and meet the real connoisseurs of Italian fashion. People like my invaluable Giuseppe Nanni, who has a vintage stall in the local outdoor market. Giuseppe has such an eye for what’s coming around that corner that Zara regularly dispatch a photographer to take visual notes. It’s not unusual to see a version of Giuseppe’s pieces hit the mainstream stores three or four years after they’ve been on sale in his market-stall.

“Pistoia is a wonderful, elegant city, but I hope that this will be my last year in Italy. My dream is to return home and to make Buandiva the centre of my working life in Ireland. “I am delighted that Tom Mulcahy and Caitlin Howard, at The Retro Workshop, in Washington Street, Cork, have decided to sell my clothes. All the clothes modelled on my website will be sent directly to The Retro Workshop, so people can check them out online, even before they see them in real life.”

The Shoe Queen

Footwear designer, Anita Flavin, from beginnings as a buyer for high street giant, Office, to becoming art director of world-renowned footwear company, Ennio Mecozzi, is on the cusp of the ultimate achievement — the launch of her own brand.

“When designing, I set the scene by visualising who the woman is that will wear my designs. I think about where will she socialise, what events she will attend, where she will shop, what will inspire her, how she will feel when she slips my designs onto her feet, what occasion she will wear her shoes to, and how she will style her look.

“I carry a journal with me, constantly devising a wish list for each season of designs, patterns, colours, and textures that inspire me. I find inspirations everywhere I go and in everything I do. Inspiration can come from simplicity. For example, I love nature and the colours of the autumn leaves, petals of flowers. Also, places of worship, for example in the patent windows. “I love visiting museums and looking at works of art, or visiting different cities and observing the architecture of buildings. Once I return to Italy at the laboratory, I source ideas on my wish list by visiting the leather tanneries, heel and accessory houses.

“A woman decides on the shoes she will wear as a reflection of how she wishes to interpret herself to the world, just how present-day world fashion icon, Amal Clooney, did on the day she chose to step out in my designs at an international, high-profile court case in Egypt. “When designing these shoes, I had Amal in mind and I had styled them with the same look that Amal chose to wear them with. My heart still beats when I see my visions and dreams turn into reality.

“I find Irish women are very glamorous and they take great pride in themselves and they love their style. “Even their everyday look is well-polished and they put event into their overall appearance, from top to toe.

“I am finalising my own label, Anita Flavina. After working in luxury and fashion for over 25 years, at last I have put my name on, and taken ownership of, my own brand.

“I have been in Italy working with our suppliers and setting up our team.

“I have worked out of Italy for ten years on footwear labels, and throughout this time I have become well-established and respected within the footwear cartel.

“Anita Flavina will have a really personal feel about the brand and our social media, and my new blog will appeal to everyone who wishes to embrace the divine feminine and is interested in different cultures, lifestyles, fashion, and, of course, footwear.

“This is the first step of my new journey. At long last, after many years of hard work and determination, I am gratified to be in a position to unite women ... to embrace her empowerment and elegance in stepping out in my designs.”

More in this section


The best food, health, entertainment and lifestyle content from the Irish Examiner, direct to your inbox.

Sign up