Leading Irish women in the fashion industry  – How it feels to be in their shoes.  

Shauna Graham, Contributor. 

Fashion is an art within itself. Miuccia Prada described a fashion statement as, ”the first step out of poverty… it is one of the first things you do to elevate yourself… when you get dressed you are making public your idea of yourself.”

For many of these young artists who create elegant and feminine products for their customers, and giving the customer a chance to get involved in their creations, this statement would definitely support the notion of fashion expressing identity and individuality. As for fashion itself, there seems to be a light-hearted take on its potential effectiveness as an art form, with many believing it to be simply materialistic or to show off one’s wealth and status. For others it can take its natural place among other areas that help shape individuality and taste like art, passions, history and culture. (Anna Wintour, Huffington post, 08/04/12.)

I believe in this perception of fashion, as a person who takes a keen interest in certain styles and brands. I wanted to discover the people behind the brand in my own country. There are many high-profile women across Ireland who continue to shape and craft the innovative designs of the industry. They also prioritise the customer, and how to market garments to potential audiences across the globe. This article focuses on very successful business women in Ireland who credit themselves as taking an active role in the industry. They take a variety of roles as fashion designers and photographers. I want to share the effects some of these inspirational individuals have on this aspect of modern culture.

Particularly how they have influenced and contributed to this delicate form of art over the years, and who helped shape their career from afar or closer to home. This will show how, ”fashion is an extension of our relationship with one another.”  It also seeks to show how both well-known and independent artists have rose to fame, with their individual crafts and mediums to capture a new generation of women.

Emma Curtis: 

 An inspirational talent who has graced the fashion platform, since graduating with a degree in fashion, textiles and design with business management. Proving that beauty and brains do make for a powerful combo in the industry, and that degrees can prove to point young people in the right direction for their projected career paths. Working closely with designer Liz Christy, a fellow designer working from Co. Monaghan, helped shape her own interest in the industry from a young age. She had taken a fellowship with Liz, who she has deep respect for till this day, as a designer who makes, ”the most fabulous hand-dyed woven scarves” and could learn from during her summer months of college. She believes that fashion has to be an aspect of life that works both as form of art and commercial venture. As she states that, ”fashion is an endless art, but you need to think of the commercial end too. You need to sell your product. You have to be able to make a living.” A customer-focused business woman, she realises that the needs of her clientele have become a priority sometimes over her vision as an artist.

The biggest challenges in the industry when first starting out, according to this rising star would be the textile element where, ”you need to source quality fabrics at affordable prices.” Therefore, the major challenger of the independent designer or label would be the companies who favour mass-production over individuality and unique products. If the customer prioritised life-time quality pieces to add to their wardrobes, then it would be an easier world for the independent star. There’s also the problem of securing funding for these visionaries to begin new projects in the future. Her own inspiration comes from nature for use of colour, and architecture when concerning the structure and shape for her many designs. She has had great success last year with the ‘ladies’ day out at the races’, with many of her customers winning best-dressed at a range of events. She looks forward to a year of many more successes in this year’s version of the event. I predict that she’ll have much more success in the future with her vibrant designs, that will continue to build upon her brand and the recognition she deserves for her hard work.

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Emma Curtis. Photo Source: Emmarie Facebook page.

Nor Lisa:

 A budding artist from a very young age, she has always loved creating things by hand. Therefore, when she re-evaluated just exactly what she wanted to do as an artist, as a fellow fashionista this career path seemed to be the way to go. She draws inspiration from the powerhouses in the fashion world such as, ”Gucci for their embellishments and creative textiles, Versace as it tends to make the most vibrant and bold prints which are easily recognisable, and Kate Spade of New York for their quirky but classy bags.”

The fellow business woman and fashion designer that she takes true inspiration from, and I would promote myself, would be Vivienne Westwood. The punk designer who has always lead the industry rather than followed in her unique designs and stand-out pieces. Vivienne really speaks to our designer in question. She likes to see fashion as more for the art aspect but has to consider the commercial aspect too, as do all designers as she, ”wouldn’t be able to survive if I didn’t consider the commercial aspects also. I am lucky that my own style aesthetic is naturally sellable.” She naturally speaks to the customers through her own elegant yet sexy designs, and takes the hands-on approach of embellishing each product herself. Every piece she creates is unique for the customer who receives it, providing a truly one-of-a-kind experience for every individual out there. Her biggest challenge as a designer is facing again the massive corporations who can get garments mass-produced on such a large scale, and shipped across to every outlet in the world. Also securing regular customers who want these niche but luxurious pieces are essential to survival, in that cold and cut-throat corporate world out there.

Lisa states that, ”knowing I’m not adding to these piles of mass-produced garments gives me such fulfilment. Making pieces that clients will cherish forever makes all the hard work worth it.”

The Nor Lisa brand also focuses on catering for women of all shapes and sizes. She has created garments that flatter the figures of all individuals since the beginning of her brand. Lisa feels strongly that, ”brands should be making garments for everyone, and it should be the consumer’s choice to wear it or not.” Looking ahead, as the artist approaches the new year her ambitions to travel, and seek further inspiration from these adventures for her designs. She aspires to get her work published on a front cover of a fashion magazine in September, as a birthday gift to herself. I believe this is entirely achievable for a pioneering woman in the industry, who takes all types of women into account in her creation process.

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 Model Paule Leila Mellado. Photo Source:  Nor Lisa Facebook. Photographer Francesco Rocelin.

Megan Doherty: 

 A rising artist from Derry with a flair for photography since a young age. She has said that she has always had an interest in art and fashion. This lead her to experiment with many forms of art such as painting, but realised her true passion was photography. This was the closest medium she could get to film, and wanted to create scenes from movies that simply didn’t exist. She follows and incorporates her own particular style of fashion into her work. Doherty particularly favours ‘oldschool’ looks like that of ”90s and the grunge movement within it. She has said that her work is, ”celebrating that and trying to bring it back in a contemporary way.”

Her photography has been influenced by the works of Ryan McGinley, Larry Clark, Petra Collins etc. Each complete work of hers seeks to tell a narrative. This innovative photographer has already proven that she has a unique and appealing voice behind these pieces on display at her own gallery. Normally, she sets out with a goal or idea to achieve, models she employs add their own characters to the piece, and they play the scene as actors would. Photography for Megan is more of, ”a documentation of a fabricated scene” as she loves to explore the line between fantasy and reality in her pieces, with gorgeous dress detail and production work in toe.

Her latest venture has been her first photo book named ‘Stoned in Melanchol’, and I’d recommend checking out her facebook page for any up-and-coming projects that she may advertise in the future. She is a talent to watch and appeals to my own fascination with the grunge and punk scene.

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Megan Doherty. Photo Source: Megan Doherty photography Facebook page.

Grainne Maher: 

  This woman is an award-winning accessories designer and is especially renowned for her exquisite hat designs. She has moved from strength to strength as she originally had a home-based, online business to a concession with House of Fraser. Now with two boutiques operating and housing some of Ireland and the UK’s independent clothing labels. Her very own line of jewellery ‘Pluck and Devour’ take pride of place within the accessories store. She often exhibits her work at London Fashion week, and her pieces have appeared on TV adverts and magazine covers. Selena Gomez wore one of her pieces to the MTV music awards in Belfast which, ‘garnered worldwide attention’ to Maher’s work.

She wanted her newest boutique at Spires Mall, Belfast to be a house to nurture ”incredible independent Irish and UK-based designers who could bring something unique to offer shoppers.” (Grainne Maher) Therefore, Grainne’s vision was to help aspiring artists succeed in the world of fashion, and to help give them a venue to host their own creations. She is a lady who helped put Belfast on the map as a fashion artist’s hub for up-and-coming talent.

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Grainne Maher. Photo Source:  Grainne Maher millinery.

ONA by Agne: 

 This label is the most fresh of those talked about here while it only launched in 2016, and making its debut at the ‘West Coast Cooler Belfast Fashion week’ in October. This artist specialises in making luxury knitwear and home-wear from chunky merino wool. She has since built a local following.

”Agne has been inspired by her grandmother who knitted everything from chunky hats and scarves, to blankets and accessories, and all of these were coloured in various vibrant shades.”

Agne went on to display her work at ‘Love your home’, Belfast 2016 awards. She continues to inspire others through her homely yet modern designs and will continue to hone her own particular style in the future.

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Ona by Agne. Photo Source Ona by Agne Facebook page.


Lizzie Agnew: 

 Belfast-based fashion artist, Lizzie Agnew, again gives credence to others of her trade when she specifically works closely with the clients to tailor to their every need. She has devoted herself to the industry for over twenty years envisioning and designing her own beautiful garments. Her beautiful bespoke pieces are designed from the most luxurious of fabrics such as silk, taffeta and lace. Her well-known creations consist of wedding dresses, evening gowns, and frocks, as she tailors ”classic garments which can be treasured for years to come.”

Among her other services, she gives her time to long-distance and international clients providing an impeccable personalised wedding service. Reportedly, she has provided dresses to as far afield as San Francisco. It’s no wonder that this woman’s great achievements have been recognised in the form of prestigious awards such as ‘wedding designer of the year 2013’ and ‘business woman of the year.’ This woman is a well-grounded figure in the fashion world, and continues to lead the way in the illustrious wedding business to this very day from her Belfast hub.

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Lizzie Agnew. Photo Source: Lizzie Agnew website. 

Simone Rocha: 

 Described as, ”the hot new design to watch”after winning the ‘2013 British Fashion award for emerging talent in womenswear.’ Simone Rocha, the Irish designer, is still the woman to watch after following in the footsteps of her father, fellow fashion designer and Dublin-based, John Rocha. Simone carved out a name for herself that created a sharper and more minimal look when compared with her Father’s styles and trends. Her creations tend to have clean colour palettes, and uses experimental fabrics like wrapped cellophane and heavily embroidered lace. Rocha launched well-received tom-boy femme collections that have gained popularity with renowned stockists like Ginza-Colette in Paris. This store also featured her Autumn/Winter 2011 collection in its front window during Couture week. Also, among her many accomplishments, she launched a six-piece capsule collection in Topshop, which gained her more popularity when big names like Rihanna and Rita Ora were seen sporting her label. An impressive Irish woman who continues to take the world by storm with her innovative and interesting designs.

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Simone Rocha. Photo Source: Simone.rocha.com 

All of these fabulous women in the fashion industry have formed Ireland, and in particular Belfast, as an emerging hub for both well-established and raw talent, to shape their own styles and trends in our country. They have shown that through hard-work and a great customer-focused work ethic can really expand a small business into a global brand. This sets the heights for new designers following in their footsteps, and artists of all kinds who propel the fashion industry forward. An industry that has been crafted and led by strong and capable women who know exactly what the people want. They have demonstrated that creativity really does lie closer to home than we imagined for this particular art.

Published by The Gown Queen's University Belfast

The Gown has provided respected, quality and independent student journalism from Queen's University, Belfast since its 1955 foundation, by Dr. Richard Herman. Having had an illustrious line of journalists and writers for almost 70 years, that proud history is extremely important to us. The Gown is consistent in its quest to seek and develop the talents of aspiring student writers.

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