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Ireland’s Latest Tiger: Dublin Fashion Week

Godfrey Deeny
August 30th, 2006 @ 4:59 PM - Dublin

Yasmin Velloza or Yana K don’t exactly sounds very Irish, and they are not. But they and other more prosaic Gaelic names starred in this week’s Dublin Fashion Week, the premiere style forum in Europe’s most dynamic economy.

If anything sums up just how cosmopolitan Ireland has become it’s DFW, a three-day fashion salon staged in The Fitzwilliam, one of the better smartly appointed boutique hotels that have sprung up in booming central Dublin.

While a good deal of the offer featured fairly formulaic fashion for the newly rich Irish women, DFW did highlight some designers of distinctive and individual talent.

One name to watch is Eileen Shields, a shoe designer of genuinely originality.

A 33-year-old who attended FIT in New York and designed footwear for Donna Karan, Shields is a former nominee for the Best New Line in the VH1 Fashion Awards. Now based in Ireland, Shields eponymous line of fashion forward, though thoroughly wearable, shoes looks certain to guarantee a bright future.

“I like edgy and beautiful, not edgy and weird,” Shields told FWD.

Her use of leather aged like ancient club chairs, Japanese style wedges and quirkily conceptualist shapes all made for a great collection.

Shields sells in several score of boutiques internationally, including Harvey Nichols in London. On the opening day of the three-day DFW, she added five new accounts from boutiques in small Irish towns like Listowel, Mullingar and Westport, in the latest example of the roaring Celtic Tiger economy.

No real surprise then that Shields, who counts Halle Berry, Eva Longoria, Samantha Morton, Courtney Cox Arquette, Drew Barrymore and Andie MacDowell among her fans, won the season’s key prize, the Accessory Designer Innovation Award, sponsored by Brown Thomas, Ireland’s premiere department store that, quite frankly, compares favorably with anything in Paris or Milan.

Dublin Fashion Week’s organizer and Ireland’s former leading model Sonia Reynolds, estimates that the event racked up orders in excess of 1.5 million Euros, an impressive sum, particularly when the current UK airport restrictions blocked London buyers attending.

“It’s a great time for Irish fashion. Lots of young talent has emerged and there’s finally a local market to support them,” explains Reynolds, a dazzling freckle-faced beauty - think Nicole Kidman in permanently excellent lighting.

Mirroring Dublin’s booming financial sector, whose top executives learnt their stuff on Wall Street, many of the best new names in Irish fashion cut their teeth on New York’s Seventh Avenue.

Take Helen James, a graduate of Ireland’s principal fashion school, the National College of Art and Design, who spent a decade in New York, cutting her teeth with Donna Karan, Club Monaco and Victoria’s Secret, before launching her own line here in 2000.

James specialty are obis – Japanese fabric belts, which she creates in combinations of suede, metallic leather and silk. Her other great idea were shrugs featuring spidery ink imagery, ideal for an exotic evening moment.

An Oriental influence permeates the ideas of James, whose father was curator of Dublin’s Chester Beatty Library, a famed repository of Eastern art and design.

Dublin, which used to be the most homogeneous city ethnically in Europe, is now a polyglot potpourri of nationalities. Same thing with its fashion.

The season’s best draper was Eilis Boyle, the scion of an Irish father and Spanish mum, who presented her second collection in Dublin this week.

A novel mélange of Korean layering, rare Japanese fabrics and a 19th century lady like silhouette, Boyle’s mini collection was really rather beautiful.

“I like understated elegance,” smiled Boyle, who studied fashion in Madrid and traveled extensively before taking the plunge with her own label. Made between Dublin and New Delhi, the collection will also be shown in Pret-a-Porter season this October at Paris sur Mode trade salon.

We also liked Kate&Ava, a fresh-faced duo of Kate Reilly and Ava Cassidy who graduated from Dublin’s Grafton Academy, this city’s tailoring specialist college. Their feminine take on cocktail chic did contain plenty of sartorial elements like flat pockets and mannish lapels. Made entirely of various silks and devoid of prints, their mini collection had a cool, clever voice. There’s an important collection in their pipeline.

For more red carpet moments, we recommend Jennifer Rothwell, another SA alumni, who did stints with Calvin Klein, Katayone Adeli and Norma Kamali. Made in top-notch New York factories, Rothwell’s dripped color silk sheaths and saucy turquoise cocktails had plenty of pizzazz. Plus her Marilyn Monroe “Seven Year Itch” white flirty dress was the hottest look of the local season. Pity no one wore it to the Emmys this week; it would have topped most of the clobber on display in Los Angeles.

The hippest designer showing her wares was Joanne Hynes, a master’s graduate from London’s St Martins, whose school finale was snapped up by Fred Segal LA.

Everyone from Natalie Imbruglia and uber model Jacquetta Wheeler to The Corrs and Zoe Ball has worn Hynes’ posh rock glam.

Last year Hynes won the DFW’s top prize sponsored by Brown Thomas and this Friday she shows in a joint Irish catwalk show in the Irish embassy in Paris.

Plans are to introduce several catwalk events for the next Dublin season, though this will only happen if young designers here have the courage of their convictions.

They need to further mimic their brothers in the city’s burgeoning real estate and financial sectors and invest in their own runway moments. The talent is now definitely here; the catwalks call.

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