On the Front Line of Fashion

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There has been a proliferation of Irish designers on the European fashion scene over the last two decades. Conor Power talks to one of Ireland’s most successful home-based designers who has recently survived the madness of a hectic Paris salon.

In French, Première Vision means “first vision” or “first viewing”. In the fashion industry, the Première Vision event in Paris represents the opportunity for those whose livelihood depends on it, to have an initial long look at the colours and fabrics that are literally going to form the raw material and basis for the trends over the coming year.

The September Première Vision this year saw an estimated 56,000 fashion industry people descend on Paris over a four-day period to bring themselves up to speed at this vital event in their calendars. It’s certainly not a time for ordinary folk to plan a trip to Paris as hotels of every class and location are booked solid.

Deborah Veale was among the fashion faithful who travelled from Ireland to this Mecca event in the French capital. She has been at the forefront of fashion design in Ireland for the last 14 years or so – an independent designer who has managed to carve out successful career for herself by relying on her own resources and creativity.

A finalist in the Late Late Fashion Awards in the early 1990s, she was named “Woman of the Year Fashion Design Award” by Tatler magazine in 2007. Her creations have been worn by many Irish media personalities and political leaders, including President McAleese.

Her third-level training in and subsequent graduation from the NCAD in Dublin, she believes, gave her valuable exposure to various aspects of creativity in all the other art forms in that college.

“Fashion designers are as open to the vagaries of the market as anyone else,” she says of the shifting sands of world fashion trends, “as to grasping fashion that’s ‘on the minute’. To a certain extent, the globalisation of trends has meant that chain stores have caught up with fashion. This is because of certain magazines, internet and fashion television. But in terms of creativity and unusual new developments, then it’s at shows like these where you can only see it.

Keeping a Close eye on Trends at Première Vision

“You get people travelling from everywhere in the world – Japan, USA… everywhere – to events like Première Vision. We would be working a year in advance, so you need to go there to get ideas for colour and fabric. So you could be wandering around the fair and see people like Diane Von Fürstenberg or whoever… Everybody goes there to work off that influence. In a sense, the real people who are dictating fashion trends are the fabric manufacturers and weavers.”

Perhaps it’s from watching films like Robert Altman’s “Prêt-à-Porter” or “The Devil Wears Prada”, but the very mention of such high-profile fashion events can often conjure up images of a lot of sniffy fashionistas strutting around with their noses in the air and their enormous egos bumping into one another. Is it anything like that in reality?

“Well…yes and no. You’ve got a mixture of everything in there. You have fashion designers who work for chain stores, for example. They’re responsible for huge budgets, so if they buy the wrong colour, it’s not just a few metres you’re talking about because they would be buying thousands of metres of fabric at a time. Then there are the very high French fashion labels such as Balenciaga and they’d be buying 50 metres of superb fabric at €100/metre.

“So, yes of course you do get people who are a bit sniffy. After all, you’re talking about a business where it’s all about what you look like. You go to Première Vision and it’s all about fabulous-looking people dressed in black.

“Italian men tend to be more vain, more groomed… more anything than anybody else there – even more so than French men.”

A Section of the Crowd at Première Vision

Deborah herself keeps her eyes open at Première Vision, concentrating on “looking at the fabric colours that are coming in and looking at the influences. I’m also possibly looking at buying fabrics for certain things.”

I imagine that in a pressure-cooker environment such as Première Vision salon and in an industry where there’s an extraordinarily high importance in sussing out the next trend, the temptation must be there amongst certain fashion houses to literally follow the likes of Chanel, Von Fürstenberg and Lagerfeld around the place, picking up “inspiration” from their discerning tastes.

This phenomenon, says Deborah, “has been known to happen.” She cites the 2008 book “Fashion Bablyon” by Imogen Edward-Jones as a piece of work which outlines such corner-cutting practices in the fashion trade very effectively. “It describes very well what you just said there. It’s a real bible for the underside of the fashion business.” The book takes you through six months behind the scenes with a fictitious British designer and up-and-coming fashion house.

“But,” Deborah points out, “what a high-end fashion designer is looking for and what somebody else is looking for are two totally different things. My daughter came with me to the last show. She’s now a trainee buyer with Primark in the UK and she was going to the salon looking for inspiration in the area of colours and fabrics in the area of lingerie. So, there are all types of buyers who are not necessarily after the same thing.”

Meanwhile, Deborah Veale, like so many Irish designers of her generation who evolved in what she terms as an “explosion of creativity” over the last 15 years, is still in pursuit of the buzz that she gets from creating within the context of a solid business plan. In recent years, she has been branching into different lines, including bags, shoes, accessories and a jewellery line that was launched in April 2009.

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