They may not be household names but these five Irish people work behind the scenes at some of the world’s biggest fashion organisations. From high ranking positions in Vivienne Westwood to Dries Van Noten,charts their rise
Emer Hickey — Head of Couture, Vivienne Westwood
If you’ve recently admired a celebrity on the red carpet wearing custom Vivienne Westwood, chances are you’ve unwittingly been admiring the work of Irish designer Emer Hickey. Having joined the brand’s London studio eight years ago, since 2016 Emer has been Head of Couture at their New York office, dressing everyone from Angelina Jolie to Nicole Kidman to Meryl Streep in Westwood’s signature draped cuts.
“Every day is different,” she says. “In the morning I could be in the fashion district researching fabrics; that afternoon preparing design proposals for a private client; and in the evening fitting a VIP for a high profile event like the Oscars or the Met Ball.”
The daughter of a trained pattern cutter, she admits her interest in fashion was almost inevitable. “In my younger years I tried to fight it, but in the end it chose me.” Student internships — including one with British couturier Giles Deacon — gave Emer her first taste of a life in fashion. “Being from Ireland, I knew I was going to have to leave to gain that luxury exposure, so as a student I worked at design houses in New York and London,” she says. “That insight was invaluable; something college can’t teach you. Being away from family and friends was a sacrifice, but I took any opportunity to build my career.” On graduating from NCAD in 2008, she moved to London to study pattern cutting at the London College of Fashion, and she credits her “equal skillset in the technical and creative” for her rapid rise. Aspiring designers should solidify their skills in pattern cutting and sewing, she says, and remember: “There are always new and better techniques, so never stop learning. Soak in the knowledge of your predecessors and learn from new generations who can bring alternative ideas to the team.”
Daniel Roden — Design Assistant, Marc Jacobs
Marked as one to watch when his graduate collection won Brown Thomas’ CREATE bursary in 2015, NCAD graduate Daniel Roden used the prize to support his move to Paris, where he’s lived and worked since. There’s a quintessentially Irish story behind his leap from graduate to design assistant at Marc Jacobs, which came about when an old school friend met Jacobs’ design director Aisling Luddon on a beach and passed on her contact details.
“I’m so grateful she mailed me back!” Daniel recalls. “But even without that introduction, I would have been drawn to Paris. It’s the only city with a high concentration of luxury houses, and that’s the aspect I’m interested in.” After contacting Aisling, he “sort of fell into” his job in Jacobs’ Paris research studio, and the experience was eye-opening. “My first week there I was on a plane to Switzerland to visit a fabric mill. To go, to be taken seriously and see their phenomenal archives was incredible,” he recalls. “As a student, no one gives you their time, but when you’re with a fashion house, suddenly all the doors are open to you.”
Researching and developing the creative direction of the Jacobs runway show, Daniel’s role was nothing if not varied. “It was a small team, so I got to work on different projects that you wouldn’t necessarily get to experience in a bigger company with a more compartmentalised role,” he says.
With the company restructuring, the Paris studio closed in December, and a move could be on the cards for Daniel. “There are few moments in life when you can just go anywhere,” he says, advising aspiring designers to adopt a similarly open mind. “Just start. People finish, take a year out, and all of a sudden life takes over. Start — even if it’s just talking to people, it’s never too soon.”
Patrick Scallon — Director of Communications, Dries Van Noten
If you’ve caught the documentary Dries on Netflix, you’ll likely have caught a glimpse of designer Dries Van Noten’s stylish, erudite Director of Communications, Irishman Patrick Scallon. While he didn’t set out to work in fashion, fashion found him when a move to Brussels for a job with the European Commission led to a chance meeting with Martin Margiela. “He asked me to help out for three months when their communications person left,” he recalls. “I stayed for 17 years.” As the company evolved, so too did Scallon’s role. “They ended up growing and becoming a lot more structured, so I went from doing press to being more of an art director of all things communications,” including, he says, less tangible things “that weren’t directly related to clothing, but were expressions of the brand and the company.” In 2008, he took his vision to Dries Van Noten, where, from his base in Paris, he oversees the brand’s international communications. “One of the reasons Dries is quite success is that we walk that line of not being too well known,” he explains. “People feel we’re not overly branded, so it feels like a personal choice; something they stumbled across rather than something that was pushed down their throat.” For a niche brand, generating awareness while maintaining an air of exclusivity is a strategic balancing act, and the one constant in Patrick’s day is fielding demands on the designer. “Most of my time is spent turning things down rather than making things happen,” he says.
His advice to aspiring designers is “not to take the image or values of a brand as a reflection of how things are on the inside. As an industry we understand that new blood is important, but I would advise patience. People think all you need is your elbows and chutzpah and you’ll get there, but it’s important to learn the craft, be that in communications or in the studio.”
Isabella Davey — Showcasing Executive, British Fashion Council
A degree in Art and Classics might not seem the obvious start point for a career in fashion, but for the British Fashion Council’s NEWGEN talent spotter, Isabella Davey, fashion and art have always been intertwined. The daughter of art conservators, she was frequently behind the scenes at major exhibits, and early exposure to an array of cultural influences — from the costumes of the Russian Ballet to the Warhol pieces her mum worked on — fed her love for fashion. Working in vintage shops in her teens, she “came to love fashion through the past it surmised and the cultural relevance it had incurred,” she explains. At 20, a summer in London saw her working alongside designer Claire Barrow, “an eye opening experience, seeing London through the eyes of a young designer right in the thick of it”. Though she wanted to be a magazine editor, and continues to write for publications like LOVE, Twin, and V Magazine, her taste of the London design scene led to further work with emerging designers like Danielle Romeril, and fashion curator Gemma Williams. “My experience of small design businesses gave me valuable insight into the needs of emerging designers,” she recalls. “Then a job came up with the British Fashion Council, and I’ve been there ever since.” Along with two other Showcasing Executives, Isabella creates London’s Fashion Week schedules, working closely with designers and their PRs, producers, set designers and stylists. “My speciality is emerging talent, so I project manage NEWGEN and the Fashion Arts Foundation,” she says. “The hours are long, you’re a point of contact for so many people, but it’s an incredible role that’s allowed me to work with some utterly inspiring individuals.” Her advice to aspiring designers is simple: “Work hard, and be nice to people,” she says. “And when you’re going through hell, keep going.”
Laura Weber — President, New York Embroidery Studio
There’s no such thing as an average day for NCAD textile graduate Laura Weber, who manages a team of 48 at New York’s busiest embellishment atelier. Having started as a hand beader, fresh out of college in 2012, after walking in off the street and asking for a job on her first day in New York, Laura rose rapidly through the ranks, becoming creative director, then president.
“I manage everything, from the business, to the team, to a very long list of clients,” she says, explaining her phone is never far from her hand, and “a normal work day is 16-18 hours. That’s average in New York — the work ethic here is something to be reckoned with.” That day could involve whipping up anything from show stopping designs by the world’s biggest designers, to custom creations commissioned for the likes of Rihanna and Lady Gaga, and Laura was responsible for hand beading the emerald Calvin Klein dress worn by Saoirse Ronan to the 2016 Oscars. “We do everything but sew the garment,” she explains, “and we have a wide range of clients from around the world. They come to me with ideas and I try to materialise their vision. We’re known in the garment centre for our quick turnaround — we make magic happen.”
Set on a career in fashion from a young age, having secured her place in NCAD, Laura was devastated when a car accident left her unable to complete a first year assessment, and she ended up in textiles. “It was a happy accident,” she says now. “I landed in something that was perfect for me and my personality — I loved surface embellishment, but I’d never though of it as a career path.” “People don’t realise how many avenues into fashion there are,” she says, advising aspiring designers that “it’s a vast industry and there are so many routes into it. Work hard, and don’t take no for an answer”.