The Irish Invasion


Following the recent success of young Irish fashion designers at London Fashion Week, it’s time to re-evaluate our standing on the international fashion scene, writes Sophie Lioe


Forget knitted Aran jumpers and granny cardigans; Irish fashion has come a long way from traditional knitwear to become a melting pot of cutting-edge talent and innovative design. Although renowned for our creativity on most fronts, fashion was never our strongest department. Overshadowed by our British and American counterparts, Irish design talent struggled to be seen through the midst of more vocal fashion hotspots. The Irish fashion and design landscape however, has changed beyond recognition in recent years thanks to the talents of those such as J. W. Anderson, the bright young star of London Fashion Week, and Simone Rocha – the daughter of the household name John Rocha – who is making waves in the fashion scene in her own right. New talent is right around the corner.

Simone Rocha has proved to be an emerging star with the talent to take on her father’s prestige and image, and carve out a name in her own right. The twenty-three year old Dublin-born designer graduated from NCAD with a BA in Fashion, before going on to gain an MA from Central Saint Martins. With these qualifications and success knocking on her door before she had even finished college, it was clear that Simone Rocha was certainly not being shafted as a result of her father’s fame in the same field; she has real talent and the industry is recognising it. From being chosen as one of Selfridge’s “Bright Young Things” of 2011, to Lady Gaga posing in her designs on the January 2012 cover of Elle, it looks like nothing will stop this Irish talent.

Her show at this year’s London Fashion Week, where she debuted her Spring/Summer 2012 collection, was her first solo showing that did not encompass the mentorship and platform of Fashion East, the programme run by Lulu Kennedy which seeks out young, up-and-coming designers and helps them build a solid foundation through a collaborative process under Kennedy’s watchful eye. Graduation from this, and producing a critically acclaimed show proves that the other Rocha is big news for 2012.

Although her father made his name with his affection for traditional Irish fabrics and his distinctly Celtic connections, his daughter appears to be taking that design aesthetic to a new level and a new audience. Her father even stated in a recent interview in The Independent that: “I think Simone’s view of fashion is quite different to mine in that there is a more youthful element, and it’s more edgy,” yet her clean lines and sleek tailoring are a testimony to her father’s aesthetic. In any case, she is showcasing Irish talent to the world, and as her profile soars, so too will Ireland’s design reputation.

J. W. Anderson, although not a household name yet, has become one of the most celebrated talents to come out of Ireland and make one very distinctive mark on the international scene.  Although based in London, Anderson’s origins are something he is clearly proud of.  Born in Magherafelt in Northern Ireland, the twenty-seven-year-old studied at the London College of Fashion and had his first show in London Fashion Week way back in 2007.

Since then he has caught the attention of more than a few industry insiders and become the poster child for raw, young talent on the fashion scene. Although still regarded as being a boy with time to mature and grow in front of him, his success so far has ensured that his name has staying power, as reactions to his most recent collection have proved. A Vogue review highlighted that “Where Anderson is on much surer ground is as a compiler and editor of pure and simple garments with a minimal reference (or two) in the language of street style,” and a solid connection between the brand and its customer. He also aims to make his brand one that is accessible to a greater audience, and not restricted to those with an overflowing pocket. His brand is flying the flag for a new generation of home-grown talent, putting Ireland on the fashion map yet again.

With these two emerging design talents on the road to super-stardom, set against the backdrop of ever-present heavyweight Irish names such as Philip Treacy, Paul Costello and Orla Kiely, Ireland is certainly churning out talent, which is proving impossible to ignore on the international front. With London Fashion Week being invaded by increasing numbers of Irish designers, the future looks good for regaining our reputation for creativity and showmanship.

The collapse of the Celtic Tiger has resulted in Irish designers depending more on the international scene to survive. This is the notable advantage of this economic downturn, as it is making the Irish fashion industry more visible worldwide. Coupled with a new wave of talent, this is exactly what is needed to re-establish confidence in our very worthy national fashion scene.