Irish designers are taking over the high street. How do we know? A little investigation work has uncovered not one, but six Irish designers have been snapped up by UK retail giant River Island alone. Here, they tell IMAGEdaily how they’re making their mark in the cutthroat world of fashion and contributing to the colourful offerings in our wardrobes.
Ann-Marie Rigney, 28, is originally from Shankill, Dublin, but moved to London nearly six years ago after winning the River Island design bursary through NCAD.
What does an average day entail? Each day is different and you have got to be prepared to run in heels. Multi-tasking is a must.
Biggest career highlight to date? Designing with Rihanna.
Where do you see yourself in five years time? I just recently designed my own wedding dress and would love to have a hobby designing bespoke ones, whilst also staying in the fast-paced fashion industry.
What advice would you give for anyone wanting to join the team? Keep your head down and be eager to impress and you will go very far. The pace is fast so always have your running shoes with you.
What’s your favourite thing about your job? Working with a variety of skilled people that you learn so much from.
What do you think is the secret of the Irish success in River Island? River Island has a brilliant way of nurturing young designers and making them grow.
Lucy Moller, 33, is from Killester, Dublin, but has been living in London for the past seven years, since winning the River Island NCAD bursary in 2006. Her hard work paid off and six weeks into her placement she was offered a permanent position.
What does an average day entail? Every day is different – I could be travelling for inspiration in New York, Tokyo or Seoul or I could be spotting street trends at festivals, preparing for meetings in the office, presenting new collections to the directors or sketching new ideas. No two days are ever the same.
Biggest career highlight to date? My biggest career highlight was launching the Chelsea Girl Collection in 2011 and having a dedicated Chelsea Girl pop-up shop in Selfridges.
Who is your biggest career inspiration? My design director at River Island Naomi Dominique; she has three children and is at the top of her game in one of the toughest industries in the world. She is hugely inspirational; I don’t know how she does it.
What advice would you give for anyone wanting to join the team? Show your true personality and design style, everyone has their own signature design style and that is what we love to see in young, fresh talent – if you try to design like someone else it will show in your work.
What is your favourite thing about your job? Being creative every day – forecasting future trends and making my ideas a reality.
What do you think is the secret of the Irish success in River Island? All the Irish graduates who have come to River Island from the NCAD bursary scheme are all incredibly talented in their own ways, but they are also highly adaptable, humble and eager to learn and work hard. These skills combined are without doubt the secret to our success at River Island.
What’s your signature style? My signature style is quite modern but classic – I wear a lot of jeans with tailored pieces, statement necklaces and pops of bright lipstick.
Roisin Fallen Bailey, 23, is from Donabate in the northeast of Dublin. Roisin joined River Island nine months ago after winning her place through a competition her college ran, based on the Chelsea Girl brand.
What does this job mean to you? This is an opportunity to be a designer in probably the most influential fashion capital. It is a chance for me to do what I love and enjoy what I love.
What does an average day entail? An average day for me involves working closely with the pattern cutters and production so the samples we make are made in the best possible way. I also work very closely with external trim suppliers and overseas suppliers with regard to embellished garments, and of course, designing for the next season and researching on blogs constantly.
Biggest career highlight to date? The first thing I designed when I arrived was put straight into stores. That moment really boosted my confidence.
Where do you see yourself in five years time? I can probably still see myself working in London, hopefully still for River Island. Seeing the rest of the Irish girls working their way up in River Island is really inspirational and it really makes you want to work harder and get further.
Who is your biggest career inspiration? Probably my Dad – he has always said from the beginning that I would end up somewhere exciting.
What advice would you give for anyone wanting to join the team? Just be yourself really. River Island love a personality and everyone on design is like one big family so if you’re up for a laugh, in between doing your work, you will fit right in.
What do you think is the secret of the Irish success in River Island? Probably the hard work and banter – you can’t beat Irish charm and banter.
What’s your signature style? Skinny black jeans, a plain T-shirt and a big necklace.
Clarisse Walsh, 24, from Letterkenny, Donegal, won the NCAD River Island design bursary in 2011. Her creativity and design flair was acknowledged, when after her three-month placement was up she was kept on permanently.
What does an average day entail? We discuss what new sketches we need to put through and sketch up a few new ideas for the next season. We’re really lucky to have an in house pattern-cutting studio so later in the day we might review some toiles with the pattern cutters, make amendments and decide on the fabric we want to see the style in. We will also have meetings with our buying teams to look at the future range and fit garments on our fit models. Biggest career highlight to date? Having one of the jackets I designed in the SS13 Ad campaign.
What advice would you give for anyone wanting to join the team? It’s a great place to work and everyone values your opinions and ideas so don’t be afraid to express them.
What is your favourite thing about your job? Getting to do what I love everyday and seeing my designs in store.
What do you think is the secret of the Irish success in River Island? We are all hard workers and team players and really appreciate the opportunity to work here.
What’s your signature style? It tends to differ every day, one day I’ll go for a minimal modernist look and the next, a rock look.
Sile O’Shea, 26, from Pettigo in Co Donegal has been working with River Island since she won the 2010 NCAD bursary.
What does an average day entail? An average day could start with a fitting session. This is where we see initial samples and fit them on a model. It’s here where we tweak the garment to ensure the design has been followed and that it fits the body as specified. After a fitting session I have a design update with my buying team, where we will analyse our coming collection, what fabrication washes we need to develop with our fabric mills. In the afternoon I will sketch some rough concepts for new styles. When I have selected an option I use CAD to draw it and specify all details and measurements. I select the denim wash/fabric branding/metal wear and finishes.
What has surprised you the most about being an Irish girl working in design in London? London is a bit of Mecca for young Irish designer and a lot of people I went to university with are all based here now.
Biggest career highlight to date? Having my designs featured in British Vogue
What advice would you give for anyone wanting to join the team? Enthusiasm for the product is very important – I enjoy the buzz of working with people and bouncing ideas off each other. It’s hard work, but the results are super rewarding.
What is your favourite thing about your job? The journey of seeing something develop from a rough pencil sketch into a finished garment that someone on the Tube next to you is wearing.
What’s your signature style? Eclectic – some days it’s trainers and boyfriend jeans other days, heels and vintage dresses. I don’t like pinning styles down – fashion should be free and fun with no rules.
Claire Lynam, 22, from Ratoath, Co Meath is the newest addition to the River Island design team. She won the NCAD bursary in May and will be starting her placement in the UK retailer in September.
What inspired your winning design? As it’s River Island’s 10th year of the NCAD bursary initiative we were asked to take inspiration for our outfits from themes of celebration and occasion, keeping the River Island customer in mind. Using celebration as a starting point, I began to explore the tree and tree plating as a means of marking an occasion. The notion of duality is very important to me as a designer. Sheer dusky black and metallic colours created a tonal palette, perfect for that special occasion.
What does winning the bursary mean to you? It is my greatest achievement to date. For my design to be acknowledged by such a prestigious high street brand is just amazing and I feel very privileged to be given the opportunity to work alongside the River Island design team where I will gain insight into the inner workings of a bustling design studio
Are you excited to go to London and start working? I am really enthusiastic about the move to London, it will be a new and invaluable experience to work in one of the principal fashion capitals of the world, and fresh from college will be a great kickstart to my fashion career.
What are you hoping to bring to the design table? I hope to bring new ideas and techniques, along with my strong technical skills and work ethic to the design table where I endeavor to make a valuable contribution to each task.
Who is your biggest career inspiration? Alexander McQueen. He pushed the limits of what people expect from fashion, creating dramatic garments with even more extraordinary concepts.
What’s your signature style? I like to combine sophisticated and casual pieces wearing clothes that readily translate from day to evening wear.
By Rosie McMeel