- Lifestyle & Sports
- 11 Apr 17
Sexuality, gender and the exciting possibilities of fashion are explored in the work of innovative designer Conaill O'Dwyer.
Conaill O’Dwyer is at the forefront of provocative design, and his nuanced work on fashion, sexuality and gender is ensuring that he’ll be a household name in no time. Born in Firhouse, Dublin, O’Dwyer moved to Enniscorthy when he was 8, before returning to Dublin to study in UCD. Fashion and design was a passion that emerged later in life, though his interests during his formative years did awaken his love of all things creative.
“My interest in fashion didn’t really start until I was in my twenties,” he reflects, “and probably not even until I started in NCAD. My childhood was dominated by music and art history – I suppose my interest in art history brought me on the path to design. After a summer in Paris, I decided to apply for NCAD. When I got there, it was a natural progression into design and the fashion department.”
For his graduate collection for NCAD, O’Dwyer decided to examine perceptions of gender and sexuality through the medium of fashion.
“My graduate collection, ‘Default Man’, is inspired by my own coming of age story,” he explains. “It examines ideas of manhood, masculinity and gay identity using the traditional tailored suit as a catalyst. The idea that the suit is an automatic symbol of the ideal male is embedded in ‘The Default Man’ collection, which uses the suit to comment on itself and the many layers of masculinity; it reveals, constructs and conceals. I have incorporated feelings of my own experience of masculinity to develop a language of dress and gender. Most importantly, I’m adding another layer of normal masculinity, which includes a gay identity.” Thinking about his influences, O’Dwyer cites other designers and important men in his life.
“I was greatly inspired by my grandparents as a child, mostly subconsciously,” he suggests. “My grandfathers always wore suits, and when I was coming out I used the suit in a new way to help this process. I love designers who are also challenging what men should wear and what is classed as menswear. Alex Mullins, Christopher Raeburn, Charles Jeffery and Angus Chiang are just a few menswear brands I really admire.”
O’Dwyer’s designs experiment with textures, colours and silhouettes, playing with ideas of hardness and softness, as well as literal and metaphorical fit.
“My most unusual material would be my plastic knits, which I hand-knit to create jumpers and waistcoats,” he notes. “I spray paint or dye these to create bright colours. I love to work with heavy fabrics such as wool and denim, and create something with a softer look in contrast to the material. I take classic menswear silhouettes and make small changes to them to give them a new life. I make suit jackets two sizes too big or jeans just an inch or two too short, all to create a man who’s trying to fit into what society says masculinity is.”
The original, thought-provoking nature of O’Dwyer’s work has been justly rewarded, as he won a Future Makers Award last year while still in college, and was also commended by the Institute of Designers in Ireland. He has also gained some major fans in the industry and has already worked with some great Irish designers.
“I’ve worked with Zoe Carol, Sean Byrne and Jenny Huston at Edge Only,” he says. “I’m moving to London next month where I’ll be working with menswear designer Alex Mullins, which will be the first designer I’ve worked with outside of Ireland. I’m very excited about that.”
For his upcoming work, O’Dwyer is hoping to continue pushing boundaries and challenging societal ideals of sexuality and gender.
“At the moment I’m working on adding to this idea of gay identity and masculinity,” he says. “I feel I haven’t exhausted this concept. So I’m working on making some more garments and collaborating with my photographer Sarah Doyle again. In the future I want to establish my brand more firmly, but for now I’m just taking it one step at a time.”
For more information, visit conaillodwyer.com, or his Instagram @conaillodwyer. Any enquiries for purchase or collaborative work can be sent to [email protected]
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