So, I’m in the Irish Times today, talking to Rosita Boland for Irish Lives.
If you’ve got a copy, give it a glance. I’m talking ethical fashion, subculture and how family can inform your personal style.
– From wig.ie
In the past ten years or so, Irish people have done their best to up things in the style stakes. Designers such as Simone Rocha are making waves over the smallest pond and homegrown talent is finally finding a foothold – funnily, in the time period where Irish people have less disposable income than ever before.
Like a lot of young nations (style-wise, at least) we have yet to find a national fashion identity. Culturally and socially, we can’t be beaten. On the street, however, the Irish woman is not particularly easy to pick out. Simply put, she could easily be British (save the boos, you in the back).
We’ll leave the normal Irish males out of the equation. At this stage, even the Brits have grown out of bootcut jeans with brown loafers, paired with a short sleeved check shirt.
Why don’t we have a national style identity? With a sharp eye, it’s easy to spot a Parisian or a Londoner or a New Yorker. Why not us? Our heritage is rich enough.
This heritage is something that we as people should be tapping into. Post World War Two, Dublin was the fashion capital of the world thanks in no small part to our politically dubious neutrality. Lace, wool and linen were in high demand. Then came the resurgence of French couture and the inevitable Irish relegation.
It’s not like we should be traipsing around in Irish dancing costumes (and frankly my head is too big and my neck too small to carry one of those Curly Sue wigs anyway), but there’s a rich array of jumping off points. Brogues, for example. What was functional in the bog is now carrying a three to four figure price tag when designed by the aforementioned Simone Rocha. J.W Anderson has totally subverted the Aran knit, making the straight-up-and-down plaits a little more skew-whiff.
In 1909, there was a man called Albert Kahn. Unlike the rest of his incredibly rich peers, Kahn didn’t spend all his money on saucy music-hall shows and ridiculously big hats (my knowledge of the Edwardian era is slim to nil, as you can see). He wanted to create a photographic record of the world – in colour, which was then incredibly rare and tricky to produce.
The photographs he had taken by his teams of workers are remarkable. The process by which the photos were developed make colours even more lush and bright.
A photo taken of a woman outside a shebeen is the one that sticks in the mind when considering Irish dressing.
No shoes. A red petticoat and a white overskirt. A red cape lifted over her head and a scarf of many colours wrapped over her shoulders. She looks serene and unflappable, like most Irish women before the first G&T.
Ok, she’s not wearing shoes, but we can’t have everything. Even so, we should maybe be a bit more like her – shebeen and all.
What would you do with an extra €25,000? Would you pay off debts? Would you give it to the needy? Or would you just blow it on clothes?
That is the non-dilemma that the Irish government grappled with (all too briefly, I suspect) – like any good profligate, they chose the clothing option. If you’re going to go down with any ship, you might as well look good doing it. Back in July, the Department of Foreign Affairs issued a tender for 10,000 green silk ties to be made to mark Ireland’s presidency of the EU, which starts this month. They also issued tenders for scarves and pins.
The value of this commission is not known. On the RTE website, it’s stated that tenders average out at about €25,000. If this is the case then the unit cost is €2.50 per tie. This leaves very little for a profit margin – if the ties were to be made in Ireland. In effect, the government were pumping a little money into the economy, but its very possible that it wasn’t ours.
The Irish fashion industry is growing both at home and abroad, but the manufacturing arm finds itself gradually shrinking in the face of escalating costs and fewer skilled workers. We don’t sew anymore. We work in IT. We power social networking, search engines, vital hardware components. Like the Victorian Paddies who built London roads and carved Tube tunnels into being, the Irish are now paving the streets of Silicon Valley.
We need these people. However, we also need people who can sew and cut fabric to go along with those who have a creative vision or a good business idea that needs realising.
In the grand scheme of the National Debt, this amount of money is barely pressed peanut shavings, let alone peanuts. It’s a drop in the ocean. It’s an amount brushed away easily, as if disdainfully flicked from the wrist of a Russian oligarch.
While €25,000 would not be enough to kickstart an entire industry, it would be enough money to start a small at-home fashion manufacturing business. It would be enough to set quite a few people on their way to becoming self-sufficient, making a profit, employing and training more people and hopefully going somewhere towards healing ourselves as a country. They might even make a few green silk ties in the process.
Irish fashion – made in Ireland and sold around the world? That’s what we need to think about. We have the talent, much of which is hemorrhaging across the Irish Sea every week. Now, all we need are the tools of manufacture.
I often talk about the importance of fashion in airy-fairy terms; it’s self expression, it’s a creative outlet, it’s essential to our being. It’s all materially insubstantial. It’s impossible to refute, however, what an important (and ever-growing) industry fashion manufacture is. We need to carve ourselves a bigger niche – even if all we make is 25,000 units of a certain green tie.