Acclaimed Irish couturier Maria Lola Roche talks to Katie Devlin about the relevance of couture, her foray into street wear and the ethos of Irish design.
MARIA Lola Roche is not someone who can be easily defined. Simultaneously holding the job titles of couturier, artist and mezzo-soprano, her design portfolio reflects that same tendency to at once achieve and surprise. The first Irish designer to receive a top five nomination for the prestigious international Designer for Tomorrow Award — whose jury boasted Tommy Hilfiger — and having unveiled her debut couture collection at Berlin Fashion Week in 2014, Roche’s star has been steadily on the rise ever since.
This year, she was the only Irish designer selected to launch the multinational luxury fashion company Première Vague; an online store that aims to give a platform to some of the world’s most exciting and promising designers. “More than ever before, there is huge pressure in the industry to create new and fresh ideas at a rapid pace. Not supporting young designers is like trying to grow plants without watering the seeds,” she says of the project. Roche went on to add: “you’ll find any label not looking to the youth and finding out their voice is sinking very quickly and not keeping relevant to now.”
“Most of the trends in fast fashion have been developed from couture on the runway. Not many people are aware that what they are wearing has directly been inspired from designer labels.”
She knows what she is talking about. As a couturier, Roche is well accustomed to the attention to detail, time and commitment that goes into creating high quality pieces; something that today’s fashion fanatics seem to disregard all too quickly in the current see-now, buy-now industry. She, however, remains confident that the art of couture, as the bedrock of design, cannot be in danger of becoming irrelevant.
“Most of the trends in fast fashion have been developed from couture on the runway”, she explains. “Not many people are aware that what they are wearing has directly been inspired from designer labels.”
Fast fashion, by its very nature, operates on a continuous cycle of fast and cheap, meaning: “there is not much room for creativity or being the forefront of design. I suppose this is why there has been a lot of collaborations with high fashion labels and affordable labels” she muses. Roche refers to, among others, H&M’s yearly partnership with a high fashion designer to create a high street middle-ground: “couture houses are like hubs of creativity.”
So naturally, Roche knew that if she were to venture into a more affordable, everyday line, she would do it her way. “My main love in design is couture, as it’s complete artistic expression and not many limitations. In saying that, not many people can afford couture, so an affordable luxury street wear line lets people have access to the label, support the label and be a part of the movement.”
Utilising traditional design pieces and hand drawn prints, inspired by classic fisherman tattoos, street-wear the Maria Lola Roche way means not having to compromise on style or quality: “we wanted to create a line that was in keeping with the house’s known avant garde sophistication air; a line that aims to inject some of the aforementioned into the everyday wardrobe of the modern woman.”
Roche’s clear focus ensures that despite the change in direction for her, the heart and soul of her label remains unaffected, as does the modern woman she designs for. “The Maria Lola Roche woman is a strong, ambitious, independent woman,” she observes. “She is always initiating change, helping the less fortunate — she is continuously learning and working on improving herself and becoming a better person.”
“We wanted to create a line that was in keeping with the house’s known avant garde sophistication air; a line that aims to inject some of the aforementioned into the everyday wardrobe of the modern woman.”
For Roche, this kind of distinct direction comes from a strong faith in her own vision for the label as well as an openness to new ideas: “I always follow my gut instinct, but my inspiration always changes — it’s everywhere” she admits, likening the craft of design to “a language I always had.” Continuing, she reveals that: “I would generally collect photos and things that inspire me, begin developing, drawing, experimenting and draping to tease out a theme. My process has always one purpose; to create my version ‘new’ and ‘now’.”
The concept of both ‘new’ and ‘now’ is prevalent across the fashion industry of today, and nowhere more so than here in Ireland, where designers are constantly striving to push the boundaries with their bold and original work. “Our contemporary style isn’t really visually grounded,” she says, reflecting on the spirit of Irish fashion. “What’s similar to most Irish designers is that we focus on our uniqueness; we all venture in uncharted waters.”
While the waters may indeed look uncharted for the next generation of Irish talent, Roche believes that the opportunities available here are just as valuable as those found elsewhere: “the Irish are renowned around the world and are at the top of their game in many industries, especially the arts. Most of my own success so far has happened living in Ireland, so it’s what you make of it.” She added: “there are many great organisations giving young designers their first break here, so it’s refreshing to see them believe in our young talent pool.” The near future is already shaping up to be an exciting time for Irish fashion, and no doubt Roche herself is leading the charge.
Creative – Antolovic & Solarevic
Photographer – Kristijan Antolovic
Stylist – Andrija Solarevic
Model – Emma @ NotAnother Agency
MUA – Ellen Chen