The notion of being from this year’s graduating class can carry mixed connotations. Mostly because, once it is said, it is true. ‘You are one of this year’s fashion graduates.’ Until you’re suddenly not. And a whole new year is ready to assume the mantle. It is harsh, it is cruel but, it is true. Sort of. With the Bachelor’s in the bag and the cap and gown discarded, the leavers are bound for the big bad world. Talking to Laoise Carey, Caoimhe Hill, Rachel Blackensee, Ellie Connolly and Colin Burke, I get a sense of vision and future which has a lot more longevity than just this year.
Get ready for gender neutral clothing, sustainable fabrics and farmhouse curtains – school’s out forever for this year’s NCAD Fashion Graduates.
“I don’t know how I ended up here,” ponders Caoimhe Hill. Thankfully Hill’s tone is a one of wonder as opposed to that of crippling regret. “As a child I was always cutting up magazines and drawing images of clothes, bui it’s nothing I ever took seriously. Down in Kinsale nobody is talking about going to Art college.”
The Cork native recounts the time between then and now, “I was lucky though, my mam is into art, so she encouraged me to do my portfolio. So I did and then a year later I arrived at NCAD. As soon as I arrived down to Dublin, it was just amazing. It was so vibrant and I loved it straight away.”
Though she skipped over the settling in part, through her final year collection, Flotsam & Jetsam, Hill shows that there definitely is love to be lost for her hometown. “Kinsale has been my starting point, so when I began designing the collection, I went back home. From there, I looked at the landscape. I looked at the fisherman gear and took constructs from that and I looked at the beaches and incorporated the sandy palette into my work.”
The result is an industrious one. Fishermans’ knots intertwined with minimalist structures and delicate hints of nature. Hill’s work possesses a functionality, with many of the garments open to reconstruction. She views the design as being an entrance to sustainability, something she wants to promote through her designs, although she is wary of the possible uphill battle.
“Maybe we need a new word for it [sustainability], though I think people are becoming more and more aware of it.” Idealistic but with the grounding of reality, Hill hopes to continue working with fashion in a similarly sustainable manner in the future. “Obviously I can’t afford to super choosey yet but, definitely in the future it is something that I would like to implement into my work.”
Caoimhe Hill came in first place in the 2017 River Island Bursary competition and will be interning with the company over in London this autumn.
“I’m not really interested in the whole fashion thing.” While it may not seem like the most promising take away from a three year degree course, Rachel Blanckensee’s aversion to things à la mode, doesn’t distance her from the industry. It simply means that in terms of fashion, her focus is not on fads but, on functionality. An element which was inspired by her love of maths, shapes, constructs – all of which she played into her graduate collection.
“It [maths] is the basis of my collection. I always loved it in school, but left it behind after my Leaving Cert. During college I feel like I was ignoring it for my more creative side, but in 4th year I tapped into it again and realised that it was something that should work alongside my collection.”
What worked for Blanckensee was Built 45, a gender-neutral collection whose pieces, with their detachable features and adaptable constructs, lend themselves to all manner of garments. Mechanical materials, if you will.
Wearable among genders and fitting to a degree of varying styles, Blanckensee’s collection is made to be accessible. An idea which she says stems from family life, namely with her brother, Sam Blanckensee who is transgender.
“Gender and identity has been always been a topic in my household. I wanted to create a gender neutral collection to encourage the idea that clothes don’t have to be gendered. Tailored yes, but not specifically gendered. I wanted this collection to cater for non-binary people. And for everyone, but to really include people who identify as non-binary.” The young designer is pronounced in her words. She continues, “The model I used in my lookbook is non-binary. I wanted to be genuine throughout my collection. Not to be seen as creating unisex clothing, simply because it is in right now.” Sticking to her guns with regard to the fashion thing, she sees it as being no hinderance to her creations, when choosing truth over trend.
“Some people tried to stir me away from creating a gender neutral collection, saying that it might stop my creativity. It didn’t. It fuelled it.”
Rachel Blanckensee is one of the finalists for the 2017 River Island Bursary Award.
“I just want to keep on making. Keep creating.” Though there is a definite element of simplicity to Laoise’s hopes for the future, be assured, her graduate collection is anything but. Inspired by her home experience and contrived from recycled materials salvaged from antique stores and her Aunties curtain rail, Carey brings past and present together in her zeitgeist like garments.
“My collection really started last summer when I went travelling. I was in the Tate Gallery and came across a photograph by photographer Boris Mykhailov. In it were these bathers in vintage swimsuits by an industrial lake in the Ukraine. There was something about the photo that I just loved. It started me off thinking about vintage swimsuits, then materials and garments and then the collection just went from there.”
There, as it happened, was a good place to be, as Carey had already been a long-time collector of vintage clothing and materials. “I’ve always had a big interest in old things,” says Carey, “so when it came to final year, I wanted my work to focus on looking to the past and making it into something contemporary.” With a father whose interests include collecting old tribal art and an aunt whose farmhouse curtains were there for the taking, Carey had no shortage in source material. To that she applied futuristic visions of the old Irish countryside and of victorian style silhouettes. And her craftsmanship, which, it should be noted, is well beyond graduate level. This is clearly evident in her weaving techniques and appliquéing details.
“I love the making side of things. In the future I would love to work with an amazing designer, somewhere small and be really hands on.” While her debut collection, suggests a compatibility with design as well, Carey considers herself a maker.
Laoise Carey is the winner of the 2017 Brown Thomas NCAD Bursary award. Looks from her collection are currently on display as part of Create in Brown Thomas.
“I wanted to make it personal. Speaking to my lecturers, they said that that was a really good way to keep yourself motivated in a collection, to make it personal. So I did, my collection is inspired by my grandmother.” What may seem like an unlikely muse for some, is the entire basis of Colin Burke’s fashion collection, his late grandmother, a woman who was, by all means, immersed in the industry herself. A buyer in renowned Galway department store, Anthony Ryan’s, Burke explains that though his grandmother loved the sartorial, the interest skipped a generation.
“None of her kids were into fashion at all. It’s a bond we shared. I interviewed her a lot towards the end of her life and it all came through in my collection. My colour story, the fabric I used, they all linked back to her. The colour story is one the first things to notice about Burke’s collection. He chooses a Daffodil yellow noting this was his grandmother’s favourite flower. The fabrics, which take a softly structured draping form, are thick and blanket like, reminiscent of the kind of blankets his grandmother would have once made for her home.
Possibly the most dreamy thing from an already dreamy collection is the digital printing on the garments. “I went to my grandmother’s friend’s house. She lives in an old farmhouse just like my grandmother did. I took a photo their and printed it onto some of the pieces. I just felt like it was something that hadn’t been seen on clothes before, and it deserved to be.”
Burke incorporates a true sense of home into his work, something which is not too far off real life. When discussing plans for the future, Burke admits that “I’m a real homebird, I haven’t gone away before, but if I want to find out what I want to do and get some proper experience, I know I’m going to have to go away.”
Colin Burke is the runner-up of the 2017 Brown Thomas NCAD Bursary award. Looks from his collection are currently on display as part of Create in Brown Thomas.
“I feel like in fashion design you have to go abroad, to really gain an insight into the industry. Like working for a big design house or at fashion week, Ireland doesn’t have really have that.” Graduate number five, Ellie Connolly, discusses the idea of prospects of, or in this case the lack of, being a fashion graduate in Ireland. Not confined to fashion, this is a thought that crosses the minds of most Irish graduates, regardless of whether they come from a creative discipline or not. While, across the board, there is no right or wrong answer to the question of home and away, for Connolly if she wants to continue working in fashion, the future is pretty much set.
“I think my designs would work well abroad,” explains Connolly, “the vibe is high fashion, I can see them worn in New York or Paris.” Indeed Connolly’s collection has a distinct opulence to it. Vessels of tulle and leather, there is a definite exotic romanticism to the garments and yet the inspiration is very much homegrown.
“I called my collection Passion in the Kitchen, it is based on my parents’ relationship. Mum and Dad own a restaurant back home, it’s where they spend most of their time. I wanted to bring that to life through my designs, so for fabrics I relied heavily on lace to emulate doilies and used leather which I laser cut to represent broken plates.”
Inspired by home and with designs on a foreign market, despite Connolly’s plans to jet off, the young designer is still very much grounded in terms of what she wants and what she needs to experience first. “I would absolutely love to establish my own brand, but definitely not yet. I’m still very much at the beginning, still finding myself.”
Ellie Connolly is one of the finalists for the 2017 River Island Bursary Award.
Words: Sinéad O’Reilly
Caoimhe Hill – Photo by Donal Talbot
Rachel Blanckensee – Photo by Karl O’Reilly
Colin Burke – Photo by Aron Cahill
Laoise Carey – Photo by Ayesha Ahmad
Ellie Connolly – Photo by Alex Hutchinson