Paving fashion-forward paths since their pre-teens, three creative wunderkinds chat industry reinvention and the power of fresh perspectives.
“We’re outsiders, challenging how the system works. We’re digitally-savvy, and really emphasise diversity in our work.”
Exactly one year (and twelve issues) ago, I wrapped the first instalment of this fashion editorship; a spread I had tentatively commenced in a Porto apartment, punctuated by a five-hour road trip, and concluded once ensconced in central Madrid. Typing the final few paragraphs from a lacklustre hotel room, the creative thinkers I had chosen to spotlight were anything but: dynamic art directors and vibrant designers laid their accomplished portfolios bare, alongside fashion graduates with boundless ambition and promising collections to boot. At this stage, eleven years had passed since my nine-year-old, school-uniform-sporting self was first touched by fashion’s sheer spectacle — and with that, the splendour of its craftsmanship — but its recurrent effect, on me and many others, held true: a colourful portal through which to escape settings bereft of inspiration.
This sartorial, visual sense of escapism isn’t a recent invention. Creative-director doyenne Grace Coddington, weathering an insular 1950s childhood in northwest Wales, would pour over copies of Vogue delivered three months out-of-date. Nevertheless, there is no doubting that digital progressions, for better or worse, have bolstered the means through which youthful crops of creatives can connect; exploring industries which, without such platforms, would be perched beyond their pubescent grasp. I began scribbling my first fashion commentaries aged thirteen, halfway into a two-year tenure at Italian middle school. I published blog posts on weekends and class-free afternoons, soaking up the sagacious prose of Tim Blanks (during his style.com roost) and the late Vogue Italia visionary Franca Sozzani.
Paul McLauchlan (20) kickstarted his blog, the perennially-thriving Sanguine Style, at precisely the same age but, while my earliest entries were peppered by a rotating cast of emoticons, it’s hard to imagine his thoughtful writings ever blemished by smileys. Two years before Sanguine Style dawned, he began honing his skill-set by “offering commentary on what stars were wearing on the red carpets, inspired by Catherine Kallon’s Red Carpet Fashion Awards blog and Susie Lau’s Style Bubble. I think my first exposure to the world of fashion was through The Devil Wears Prada. But, subconsciously, it was probably something I picked up from my grandmother — she was a fantastic seamstress and knitter.” In both figurative and literal terms, McLauchlan began courting acclaim that stretched miles beyond his County Cork perch.
Around the same time, a Galway-based Eoin Greally (20) was enjoying his first flirtations with fashion photography; consuming magazines á la Coddington, whilst plotting ways to supersede his fashion-free habitat. “I think I got my first camera when I was 12, for Christmas. Beforehand, I had stolen and broken my mum’s digital camera, which I had unsuccessfully tried to hide! Growing up in the rural West of Ireland, I didn’t have many things around me that were particularly fashionable to photograph. There were creative people around, but nobody I knew was deeply interested in fashion… I remember my career guidance counsellor in school saying she had never advised someone with my interests before.” An undeterred Greally launched into self-taught photography sessions, snapping any willing subject that crossed his path. “Because of the lack of subjects available to me in the West of Ireland, I had so many ideas and almost nobody to execute them with… This must be the biggest, most taboo secret of my life (!) but I used to take my sister’s Bratz dolls and use them as models. I got to creatively experiment as much as I wanted, starting to understand how photos and posing worked, which helped me comprehend the main tools and techniques I use today.”
An indisputable girl wonder, Aoife Dunne (24) started spearheading her multi-hyphenate career (creative director, stylist, set designer, installation artist) ahead of reaching adolescence, propelling herself far beyond a life commandeered by textbooks and PE. “At the age of twelve I started an online magazine, which was my first real launch into entrepreneurship. I had over twenty contributors from all over the world writing for the magazine, who I had become friendly with through an online forum. Looking back, it seems crazy to me how I managed to design the logo, the style of the magazine, coordinate all of these writers, ‘edit’ the content, create the visuals and then promote each issue at such a young age – I definitely used the Internet and online community as an escape from my routine-driven school life”.
While this trio of wunderkinds occupy different facets of the fashion industry (Dunne, in particular, staggers an array of mediums within her work), some defining characteristics tie together all three. Alongside their shared thirst for creative graft, the Internet has summoned a life-changing gateway into their careers — without it, McLauchlan says, his body of work wouldn’t exist — and has combatted the fact that, away from computer screens, they didn’t encounter creatives of a similar age. Dunne is especially vocal on this subject, praising the positive side of digital platforms as a means “of connecting with like-minded individuals”, comforting her in times of creative isolation. She willingly charts that sense of insularity through her recent work, In Lacuna; a large-scale digital installation spawned from “inherent dissociation of digital simulation from the physical world… A huge sacrifice that comes with being an artist is your relationships. It’s too easy to spend days on end in your studio with no human contact — a balance I’m still working on!” Even as he frequented London Fashion Week from his early teens onwards, scoring his first feature on Fashionista aged sixteen, McLauchlan remained reasonably guarded about his teenage “hobby” — having shared Sanguine Style with a handful of close friends, he went public with his peers at the end of secondary school. “I never really connected with others my age who engaged with fashion as a career or a hobby… I’m not against making friends through fashion, but I like the idea of having a world separate to it.”
In the space of several years, each of these industry-goers has procured an array of carefully-chosen projects, their output garnering domestic and overseas gravitas. In the first half of 2019, Greally swiped backstage-photography gigs across LFW — clocking up some interesting clients to revisit come September — whilst shooting and assisting on campaigns and shows, stockpiling credits with Joanne Hynes and Helen Steele. Landing the lead editorial for Stellar’s July issue, his portfolio is set to skyrocket — a recent project saw him style and shoot Ferdia Gallagher, the 19-year-old head-turner who walked in Celine’s inaugural menswear show. McLauchlan’s industry capital is nothing less than cemented: what started as “purely a personal passion project” has catapulted him into The New York Times, Vogue Italia and Twin Magazine, to name but a few. To list what Dunne has achieved by twenty-four would merit the entire magazine’s worth of word count, so focusing on endeavours yet-to-debut is a safer bet: by the end of this year, she’ll have magicked more solo shows in Dublin, Paris and Vancouver.
Having myself commenced article-writing at the age of seventeen, I was keen to capture varied viewpoints on youth and industry. Did these trailblazers don adolescence like a badge of honour, Tavi Gevinson style, or did they seek to conceal it; fearing their fifteen-year-old selves, however astute, simply wouldn’t be taken seriously? Dunne falls into the latter category — a perspective I readily relate to — and felt forced to lie about her age for years, “because I knew that employers / collaborators would have huge reservations about being directed by a sixteen-year-old kid. I was honest about my age at 21, when I had developed an extensive portfolio.” Conversely, McLauchlan was more transparent in his approach, considering his only age-centric impediment to be that, “I [couldn’t] just pick up shop and move to London to work in a newspaper or magazine.” When Greally began interning in Dublin, his age and experience-related worries were soon put to rest, largely thanks to his venue of choice: the inclusive, pioneering NotAnother Agency, who has long-championed its legion of young contributors.
“In other environments, it can be hard for established industry professionals to embrace young people at first, but you have to start somewhere — NotAnother had an excellent way of showing me that. They fully understood where I was coming from, having started their own companies at such a young age.”
This mindset is seconded by Dean Ryan McDaid, co-founder of NotAnother, who regards mentorship, most refreshingly, as a two-way street: “A lot of people in creative industries feel that experience is more important than raw talent, that they have nothing to learn from younger generations. Some of the people that Ireland loses — talented, young creative artists deciding to move away — achieve great success internationally, whilst getting little-to-zero look in when they were here. It stagnates the Irish creative industry. It keeps us in a cycle.” Beyond our shores, the industry-at-large has placed importance on nurturing creative youth, but it would seem this island still has to play catch-up. “I think we bring a fresh perspective to the table,” states Greally, reflecting on the industry-wide benefits of embracing new generations — boosting employability, by consequence, for teenage prodigies. “We have a different view on the world than what the sector’s veterans [possess], because we’re outsiders, challenging how the system works. We’re digitally-savvy, and really emphasise diversity in our work. Thanks to [those values], the fashion industry is finally opening up.”
Words: Amelia O’Mahony-Brady