Emerging in her own right after a decade stint with John Rocha, Ros Duke is ready to brave the world and do her first interview.
“This is very strange for me. This is actually my first interview,” says Ros Duke. Having graduated from NCAD in 1998 and having worked steadily and successfully in the fashion industry ever since, it came as a surprise that this was her first one. Duke has designed with the best, is well regarded in her field and a fashion week veteran, but if you go down the Google route, you will only find one website and four fashion collections. Well, not only a website and definitely not only four collections. A quick look through RosDuke.com offers sophistication, simplicity and textures so well executed that you may well find your hand reaching out to the screen in front of you to try and cop a feel. Even through a screen, the garments express an accessibility, albeit a slightly opulent one. They present as somewhat of a parallel to their creator.
So how does a designer hide in plain sight? The answer? As part of John Rocha’s design team. “I just had completed a course in Central Saint Martin’s in Innovative Pattern Making, upskilling from my design degree, when I started working with John. At the time I was freelancing in knitwear and patterns making and then I got the call. It was just great from then on. I loved the industry, loved doing fashion week twice a year, creating patterns for the main lines and the runways, it was all so exciting, I stayed there for 10 years.”
Duke explains that she left two years ago, not, as I assumed, to conquer the world with her own self-titled fashion, but instead to take something of a break. “Within the two years, I had had two children, and to be honest, I just felt that I wanted to slow down. I was approached by Griffith to teach, so I went for it. I enjoyed it and still do, but at that time, I thought that maybe teaching would be enough for me at least while the children were small.” Duke pauses and laughs before admitting that, “Of course it didn’t really work out that way.”
“When I left JR and began just teaching alone, I felt a hole. This was something which I really hadn’t expected to feel, because, honestly, before that I was exhausted. The cycle of fashion is so fast and intense, two seasons a year, travelling back and forth and then fashion weeks on top of that, it’s a lot. And I suppose I had been doing it so long that I thought that I would relish teaching on its own. But, though it is something that I really enjoy, being surrounded by creative people and feeling the energy from it, I still felt a hole.”
And so she began to fill the hole. With scarves.
“I had always been knitting anyway when I was working in John Rocha, it was a nice antidote to pattern making. Pattern making is all about structures, garments and shapes, whereas knitting to me always felt purely creative. When I began I wasn’t even making anything in particular, just developing fabrics and making things for my friends and family.”
These things evolved into scarves, which sold quite well for Duke online. She continued and was encouraged not only to enter Brown Thomas’s Create but to add some garments to her lot. The encouragement was welcome, though Duke admits that she “had a bit of resistance at first. I was unsure if I wanted to get back into all of it again.”
The resistance let up. And Duke was once again designing, she definitely wasn’t getting back into all of that again. This time she was solo. Something which she dubbed similar to doing her first interview with Totally Dublin – “very strange.”
“I kind of didn’t speak about it for a long time. It’s only really recently that it feels likes it’s actually happening, that I have my own label. The whole time I was almost convincing myself that is wasn’t happening, but, evidently it was.”
It was and it continues to do so, with Ros Duke’s SS17 collection triumphing in its latest form and with the label itself becoming progressively more recognisable. Though it is, by no means stringent, and, in just four seasons, can be no way definite, a signature is still apparent throughout the label’s collections. An obvious freedom which comes along with going her own way, Duke explains that she “was over 15 years working for successful designers. I loved being part of the team, making something happen, but ultimately, it was always someone else’s vision.”
Now creating her own concepts, Duke notes definitive differences, in going it alone. “It can be slightly daunting”, she admits. “One of the main differences that I found is that you are working in a vacuum, something which I really wasn’t used to doing in the past. At the start it is great, you are getting so much work done, but then when shops get involved and there are orders to be filled, it can be quite difficult to do all these things on your own. There is no one to have a conversation with about it or just to bounce ideas off. It can be quite challenging, but you work it out.”
Like she worked out this first interview, a step in a more public direction. Different from designing in her vacuum and totally different from designing under another label. But despite any strange feelings at the beginning, Duke states that her motivations for promoting the label and, in turn herself, are purely part of the design process, necessary for any creative.
“In terms of putting myself out there, yes it still feels really weird. But it’s kind of similar to why I design, it’s because I have to. When I produce pieces, it’s not that I’m not looking for a response or affirmation, I’m doing it because I’m actually compelled to do so.”
And may she continue to do so. Dukes compliance has seen the creation of four intricate collections, may she be be compelled to create some more.
Words: Sinéad O’Reilly
Images: Simon Walsh