- 05 Apr 19
Inspired by women throughout Irish history, Alison Conneely’s superb designs have enjoyed wide acclaim.
When I speak to designer Alison Conneely, she’s en route to Paris for a runway show. But her passion first emerged growing up in Connemara, which she describes in evocative detail.
“The landscape of my playground growing up was a dramatic yet isolating canvas,” she reflects. “There was vast wind-swept moorland; harsh Atlantic shoreline; isolated hawthorn trees; and narrow, winding roadways. I always tried to imagine characters walking through this wilderness, whether away from, lost in, or coming back to it. I understand now that the characters of my imagination, as an island-dwelling youth, were informed by a storytelling generation. There’s a pining for an era, where people once populated the landscape as famine hungry peasants, spailpins, banshees, and other wandering souls. I wondered if there could ever be new archetypes imagined. What it is to be an Irish woman in the present, threading through a mythological past, stitching a more reflexive future?”
Conneely takes inspiration from women throughout Irish history, stretching back thousands of years, “to Queen Meadhbh of Connacht, to turn-of-the-century Celtic Revival ambassadors – Maude Gonne, Lady Gregory, and Lilly and Lolly Yeats, WB’s overshadowed sisters. The old, the new, the brave and understated, I make for the heroines of today.”
Conneely studied fashion design and pattern cutting in Dublin and draping in St. Martin’s in London. She won the Future Makers Award for her collection Bella’s Faul, which was based on memory, her grandmother and her townland Faul. In 2016, she was chosen as design representative for the National Museum of Ireland under the 1916 Centenary Commemorations.
History and place always play a huge role in Conneely’s design process. Her latest capsule collection was inspired by a visit to the UNESCO world heritage site, the Skelligs off the Kerry coast and made famous by Star Wars.
“Formerly a sixth century monastic settlement, this 350 million-year-old Devonian Sandstone Island is now a popular pilgrimage destination for soul searchers,” she explains. “For hundreds of years, the rock island was home to a tribe of monks, and a sanctuary for a spiritual, elemental existence of devotion, honey-making, fishing, meditation and survival. Twin conicals of rock soar 230 metres above the sea. The collection embodies the strident, humble, serene, graceful and empowered wisdom that years of focus and dedication reward. Bardic characters such as the Poetess and the Druid emerge as quiet power, personified on beautifully handcrafted garments of silk and woven wool, aiming towards the unsung sublime.”
The contemporary, structured form of Conneely’s pieces are interspersed with subtle textured panels, presenting glimpses of mystery, depth and layers, playing with her beloved themes of time and place by presenting us with prisms of possibilities.
Conneely has an evolving relationship with her fabrics and shapes, which she likes to feel organic.
“Each material brings with it its own joys and challenges,” she says. “We are a luxury slow fashion brand. We work with artisan textile mills in Northern Italy and Ireland to weave our fabrics. We do not change the silhouettes every season – we develop them. We may introduce a new material or develop a unique tailoring method – we work intuitively and build on what we developed before.”
Alison Conneely’s commissioned designs for the United Nations will be launched later this year. Until then, her pieces can be bought in Bloomingdales, NYC; Havana, Donnybrook; Kalu, Naas; and Granny’s Bottom Drawer, Kinsale. You can also visit her at alisonconneely.com or see her Instagram at @alisonconneely