Fashion is a fickle mistress. In an industry predicated on newness, timing is crucial to maintaining a profile that is both relevant and exciting; not least for a designer whose name has yet to open any doors. For haute couture specialists, the success rate is riskier still.
Dubliner Maria Lola Roche, who has been shortlisted as one of the top five emerging names in the prestigious Designer for Tomorrow competition is all too aware of this. Hosted by Peek & Cloppenburg Düsseldorf and its online shop, Fashion ID, the award aims to provide individual and long-term sponsorship of up-and-coming design talent, an international platform for their creativity and valuable insights into the machinations of the fashion industry.
The prize? Personal mentoring by 2014’s patron Tommy Hilfiger, provision of a studio, production of a collection, sponsorship acquisition and his or her solo fashion show at the next Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, Berlin.
It’s understandable how much is riding on this for Roche — a recent fashion design grad from Griffith College and the first Irish designer to compete as a finalist. Chosen as one of the top five from 270 European entrants by a panel including heavy hitters from Vogue and InStyle magazines; not least Mr Hilfiger, the 29-year old could potentially have the head start she needs should her name be called at the July 9 Berlin Fashion Week award ceremony.
Her nominated collection, Poetry of Dissection, takes inspiration from the body with corsetry, visible boning and a skeletal avant-garde architecture. “One organ that really fascinated me was the ribcage,” explains Roche. Despite the dark rigour of her aesthetic, the execution is positively theatrical and beautifully arresting. “I love the 1950s, Film Noir and actresses like Maureen O’Hara,” she says, citing other influences from Isabella Blow to David Bowie; James Joyce to Francis Bacon.
For an haute couturist like Roche who spends countless hours perfecting the exact angles and structure that comprise one individual piece, the importance of support — both personal and professional — is undeniable. Tommy Hilfiger’s 30 years in the business will no doubt be a boon; especially as the winner will have the opportunity to work with his label’s design teams in New York and Amsterdam with additional mentorship given for their own capsule collection.
“It’s really scary,” she admits, “because when you’re courageous and decide to exclude all of the rational thoughts about security, wages, your pension; you just have to go with your gut. It’s as simple as that.” Having the added backing of her parents has helped her enormously. “My mother and father are amazing. They completely support me 100 per cent and they believe in me. Just to get that support is so important. I’m so lucky.”
But there’s a lot more than luck at stake here. Roche is a good bet and no stranger to accolades, having won the 2012 UCD Young Designer of the Year and finishing as a finalist in both the 2013 Vodafone DIT Student and Peroni Nostro Azzurro Design Awards.
It’s ironic given that she originally pursued a degree in Accounting in HR and a Master’s in Advertising. While completing her post-graduate degree she took a night course in fashion design at Grafton Academy before completing a full-time degree at Griffith College. Despite initially rejecting her creative impulses (she’s also an accomplished artist), her total immersion in her craft is evident, as is her humility.
“My dream is for a fashion house,” she reveals, “but really at the end of the day I want to help other artists. I have that business background now and I think everything happens or a reason. That’s what I am excited about as well.”
In the meantime, Roche is focused on enjoying all of the experiences the Designer for Tomorrow competition brings. “I’m going over to Berlin on July 4 for a Grazia event to open up Berlin Fashion Week and I get to exhibit one of my pieces. I’m really excited about that,” she enthuses. The finalists then undergo another examination, have their portfolios examined and present their fashion show on July 9 where the winner will be announced.
So just what is our Irish hopeful hoping for? “Berlin has given me a taste of what I want,” she says. “For me, I want to change the world. I want to be part of a revolution.” Mould breakers — these aren’t so much the profiles we remember, as those we can’t forget. My money’s on Roche.
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