DUBLIN, Ireland — Since starting four years ago, The Design Centre has risen from its early digs in a basement off Stephen's Green to a spacious and lofty area on the second floor of Powerscourt Townhouse Centre, one of this city's most posh shopping retreats.
The reasons for the centre's rapid rise and astounding success are quite clear: Ireland's terrific young fashion designers, to whom the centre is dedicated. This place showcases the collections of about 20 innovative couturiers whose fine sensibilities, fresh approach and exemplary workmanship have been attracting a lot of attention, both locally and in some of the world's fashion hot spots.
At this year's Irish Fashion Awards show held in Dublin on Oct. 27, prizes for best dress, best suit, best separates, best evening wear and best knitwear--in other words, for five of the six fashion categories covered--plus the overall award for Irish Designer of the Year, were won by designers affiliated with The Design Centre.
And at Monte Carlo this year the coveted Christian Lacroix Linen Award went to Mariad Whisker, while the prestigious Fil d'Argent Award went to Lainey Keogh, both Irish designers affiliated with The Design Centre. The collections of both Mariad Whisker and Lainey Keogh, and their award-winning costumes, are shown and sold at the center.
In giving Marian Whisker, Lainey Keogh, Louise Kennedy, Mary Gregory and other widely recognized designers early recognition and opportunities, the center has encouraged, if not groomed, Irish fashion. Here, Irish designers have been able to continue their innovative approach to design, while they have constantly improved the quality of their product.
With the hard-won help of Ireland's Industrial Development Authority, The Design Centre keeps Irish fashion at the forefront by offering its wide range of established collections directly to the public at affordable prices; by showcasing the most promising and accomplished recent graduates of Ireland's various art and design colleges; by familiarizing foreign buyers with the work of Irish designers and encouraging them to come to see the collections and by offering marketing and organizational advice to designers whose collections are shown at the center.
Tourists who shop here have the advantage of buying beautifully made, high-style outfits that are still reasonably priced. In general, styles are on the cutting edge, but not so far out that they'll be in orbit by next season. Instead, the subtle invention is sure to please even conservative yet individualistic and style-conscious dressers.
Knits take on unusual shapes, fabrics are draped differently and bows, buttons or buckles are used to accent necklines, cuffs or skirt slits. There are delightfully different uses of traditional Irish linens, woven fabrics and tweeds, plus superb updates of traditional Aran sweaters done up in linen or cotton yarns.
Among the various collections on display, this year's award winners do stand out. Louise Kennedy, named Irish Designer of the Year, created soft-as-butter suede trousers ($340 U.S.) with slightly flared legs that taper at the ankles, to be worn with stunning suede bolero jackets ($570) with fringed edges.
These come in mix-and-match black and earthy olive tones. The loose-fitting gray wool coat dress ($430) has a deep shoulder-covering collar, plus sets of three buttons placed provocatively at the back of the collar and on top of a deep pleat in back. The tailoring on Kennedy's cashmere coats with sheared beaver collars ($475) is exquisite. These are real buys.
Mariad Whisker presents wonderful tailored waistcoats ($210) to be worn with high-waisted, ankle-length A-line flared skirts ($181) and see-through chiffon blouses with ruffled collars and cuffs ($138). All are in mauve, burgundy and pink tones.
In addition, Whisker's full-length coat, with a broad belt that ties loosely in back ($320), her double-breasted raincoat with a similarly belted back ($282) and her stylish gray wool suits featuring jackets with leg of mutton sleeves and flared skirts ($172 to $182) are extraordinary.
Glynis Robins, who won the Irish award for best knitwear, does hand-knitted, form-fitting basic black wool cardigans with broad chenille collars in khaki, burgundy or blue, selling for $283.
Lainey Keogh, the Christian Lacroix Linen Award winner at Monte Carlo, makes hand-knit linen and silk updates of traditional Aran patterned sweaters, but these versions have raglan sleeves and short waists done in ecru and earth tones for $435. Similar woolen styles sell for $282 to $362.
Mary Gregory was a founding member of The Design Centre. This season's Mary Gregory collection features a fabulous wool coat dress that fastens in front and back with crossover flaps anchored with buckles.