Aisling Duff (A.E. Duff) explores the relationship between storytelling and fashion, drawing inspiration from the confessional poetry of Sylvia Plath, for her Hives collection.
Ingrained in our heritage, Irish knitwear has stood the test of time in terms of viable, homemade craftwork. In the last 100 years we have seen it reworked and reimagined, reflecting the changing times. And yet despite its creative development, despite its years of progression, there is an unmistakable image of Irish knitwear, whose mould it just can’t break, and that is, the Aran Jumper. While my personal disdain for this mass of bánín white textures, woven intricately to insulate and irritate our bánín white skin, can be and should be ignored, the idea that Irish knitwear consists of this one garment cannot. This notion is a backward concept that sees the Irish moving into the 21st century all while still dressed bog-appropriate. And, while as a country we still battle between the traditional and the fundamental, one thing that has moved on is our knitwear. I think so, and so does Aisling Duff.
The brains and operations of A.E Duff, a conceptual label of contemporary Irish design, Aisling Duff’s designs revolve predominantly around knitwear. But unlike other certain unwanted traditions that seep into 2017, when it comes to Duff’s Irish knitwear, there isn’t an Aran in sight.
“I see A.E Duff as a fresh take on knitwear.” Duff’s statement is simple and it is true. It doesn’t overreach, despite the youth of the label or the youth of the designer. Duff’s work is fresh. It is modern and it is playful, something texture heavy knitwear can often lack and young designers can often find difficult to master. Not long out of university, during her studies Duff took on the task of studying a joint degree of Fashion Design and Art History in NCAD, a combination, she says, plays heavily into A.E Duff.
“There is a big focus on storytelling in my work. Studying Art History, I focused on film, and fashion in film. I studied how things were portrayed through different mediums. This was then incorporated into my fashion and visual work. For me, everything is about storytelling and textures and designs are my chosen mediums.”
This portrayal can be clearly seen in Duff’s 2016 collection Hives, a homage to the poetess, Sylvia Plath. The collection is a host of heavy duty knits in obscure silhouettes softened by candy-coloured tones. Duff explains the narrative. “I was inspired by Plath for her portrayal of a woman’s point of view. Her work is really romantic but with dark undertones. This really intrigued me and was something I wanted to incorporate into my own work.”
Whether you are a Plath fan or not, there is a poetic sense to Duff’s work, if not in its use of colour, then in its essence of layering and texture. She continues, “Plath frequently references bees. She speaks about how pretty they are, their ability to make honey, their buzzing, but at the same time, their anger. Hives was inspired by this, although I interpreted the meaning slightly differently. As opposed to just bees, I thought of it as hives on your skin, that bumpy feeling feeling when you break into a rash. This lead me to think of thick textures and definitive structures, I saw these as my dark undertones made romantic by the soft colours I used.”
Poetic licensing aside, with a host of separates and accessories, A.E Duff does bring a very wearable brand to the table. “I love my aesthetic but comfort is also a really big thing for the brand. I love when someone puts on one of my pieces and feels relaxed. That’s the whole point. I don’t want a situation where a customer is struggling or feels strapped in, I want my garments to be breathable.” An element, she assures, is here to stay within the label, “I would love to further explore the realm of functionality in fashion. Last season I had fold-up bags that were detachable, in the future I want to explore this a little bit more.”
Functionality is something that is touched on more than once, but this time in terms of seasons. I ask how a knitwear label can make its way through the Spring/Summer season. After we both make the obligatory ‘Well, it is Ireland’ remarks. She explains, “It has a lot to do with colour. I am generally drawn to bright colours anyway, shades like this last season to season, so that’s what I tend to use. Going forward, however, I am really trying to rethink what knitwear is, bags, bracelets, vest tops etc. Establish a brand that works through the seasons.”
When asked about moving A.E Duff forward, on a grander scale, the young designer expresses leveled positivity, spurred on by the support she has received since graduating. “I’ve gotten amazing feedback since I left. People have taken an interest in the brand. I feel like Ireland, and Dublin in particular, is really supportive of young designers. When I graduated, I felt kind of deflated, but people have been so supportive, encouraging me to move forward. I mean fashion is tough and it always will be but just have to keep going. Keep furthering it to keep people interested.” And without an Aran jumper in sight, may A.E Duff continue to keep us interested. aeduff.com
Words: Sinéad O’Reilly