Photo credit: Joanna O’Malley

The future is now. Izzy Forde evaluates UCD Fashion Show’s Young Designer of the Year finalists and the importance of Irish design.

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THE UCD Young Designer of the Year competition has returned once again, bigger and better than ever, and boasting the very best emerging creative talent. This year the Fashion Show is in aid of Jigsaw – The National Centre for Youth Mental Health. Their mission is to alter Ireland’s preconceptions of mental health and to provide support to young people who may be facing challenges.

Formally known as Headstrong, Jigsaw has re-designed itself with a new name, which acknowledges the effort of their staff and volunteers. A fitting addition to this competition, which recognizes the exceptional craftsmanship of young aspiring Irish fashion designers and their creations.

The Young Designer of the Year Competition is open to all students or recent graduates of fashion or design-based disciplines in third-level institutions across Ireland. The competition offers contestants the opportunity to showcase their own creative designs on the catwalk of the UCD Fashion Show, one of Europe’s largest student-run fashion shows.

“UCD fashion show has an excellent reputation and is one of the biggest highlights on the calendar for emerging fashion designers to profile their work.”

With London and New York fashion weeks looming, there is no better platform for the designers to launch their brand. “UCD fashion show has an excellent reputation and is one of the biggest highlights on the calendar for emerging fashion designers to profile their work,” says competing young designer, Michele Munnelly.

While we may think that this emerald isle is microscopic in comparison to the fashion capitals of the world, Ireland has become a design island, which continues to produce incredible young talent. Munnelly has created a piece that portrays her love of memories by constructing her very own textile diary, which reveals her journey of creativity. “I did a ton of sampling, trying to find the right medium and process that would do justice to my concept,” explains Munnelly. Between the colourful printed portraits and long white train of pockets, she has undoubtedly nailed it.

The fashion show takes place both on February 15th-16th in the Astra Hall, and King of Snapchat, James Kavanagh, will be the guest MC on the opening night, making it even more of a ‘gorge’ event. The finalists will be judged by Maria Lola Roche, a previous winner of the contest, and Claire Garvey, a Dublin-based fashion designer who specialises in bespoke pieces. Having attended the semi-finals at Everleigh Gardens in early February, the judges certainly have their work cut out for them with the eight chosen finalists.

“The pieces are innovative, aesthetically impressive and wildly fun. And while fashion has always celebrated individuality, this competition has reached a whole new level.”

The pieces are innovative, aesthetically impressive, and wildly fun. And while fashion has always celebrated individuality, this competition has reached a whole new level. Kirsten Durand-O’Connor created a particularly intriguing pink piece, which played on the evolution of the ‘naked dress’. “The naked-dress screams ‘look at me’ which is what I used as my quote throughout my design,” explains Durand-O’Connor, about the inspiration behind her ensemble.

From the creative process to the finished product, one can’t help but feel a Jeremy Scott vibe with her unique blend of humour and precision. Her design is playful but powerful, and the piece would not be out of place on any major runway or campaign.

To get a behind-the-scenes look at the finalists’ designs, head over to the UCD Fashion Show official Facebook page. This rise of young talented Irish designers shouldn’t come as a surprise, however. Let us not forget the gifted Aideen Gaynor who was named Brown Thomas’s “Designer to Watch” at last year’s NCAD graduate fashion show. Her collection of oversized swing coats in bold colours and patterns was second to none. The timeless pieces by Gaynor proved that fashion has no curfew.

“Her design is playful but powerful, and the piece would not be out of place on any major runway or campaign.”

Another exciting newcomer to Irish design has to be Dee Mangan of Kinsale Leather, who was named Irish Accessory Designer of the Year 2016. Minimalists will love her simple structured bags. In an interview with The Gloss magazine, Mangan explains how she wanted to create an accessories line “with pieces that a woman in Paris or New York would wear.”

The Irish design scene continues to grow with Irish textile and fashion designers collaborating at this year’s Showcase – Ireland’s Creative Expo, to create an explosive fashion show of contemporary and unique designs. Fashion guru, Peter O’Brien, worked together with Mourne Textiles to create a stunning collection.

Needless to say, 2016 was an exceptional year in Irish design but after viewing the pieces made by this year’s Young Designer of the Year finalists, the future of Irish design looks even more promising.