The Future of Fashion: Collette Fitzpatrick catches up with graduate fashion designer Danielle McGregor
On the week the annual NCAD graduate exhibition opened, my friend and I met to preview collections from students hoping to launch a career in Fine Art, Fashion Design and Visual Culture.
Considered by the fashion press and top designers as the place to scout tomorrow’s Simone Rocha and Richard Malone, it’s also the most important event for fashion graduates and an amazing opportunityfor them to showcase their work in front of some of fashion’s most influential people.
When we got to the graduate fashion section, I was mid-rant about the vagaries of life when I made eye contact with two girls feverishly embroidering in a corner. I started chatting with them, and it turned out that the intriguing menswear pieces I had just been photographing belonged to one of them – Danielle McGregor.
It transpired that all the embroidering was strictly to help out a pal. In contrast, Danielle’s menswear collection was a lot more utilitarian and practical, but there was also something fresh and exciting about it.
We immediately clicked, so I arranged to come back another day to interview her. When we finally got to sit down, we discussed how ignoring maths homework birthed her career in design, her collection and the future of Irish design.
So, let’s start at the beginning: how did you decide you wanted to be a designer?
“There was no real light bulb moment. It was just natural. I had studious friends, and they were all doing their maths homework, but I was drawing dresses. Eventually, I even gave my maths teacher one of the drawings and explained ‘Sorry! This is what I’ve been doing instead,’ and she kept it.”
Were you one of those kids that took off all their Barbies’ clothes and remade them?
“Yeah! They were too girly for me, and I was like, “No, hun, you’re not wearing that.”
Well, that’s a good segue because you work in menswear so, how did that happen?
“Em, I was never set on menswear coming into NCAD. But I just love a well-cut suit, and I like when clothes aren’t fussy, and you can see the person in them, but they make the person better. And, then, the first project I did here was womenswear, and I hated it.Everything was like,
“Add more ruffles to it. Put sequins on.” And that didn’t suit me, so I said, “From now on, I’m doing menswear.” And from there, it just made sense. All the clothes I make are always very big, and you couldn’t put them on a woman anyway – they’d swamp a woman. It was a natural progression, and I love it now.”
Do you think the education is different when you become set on menswear? Do you get treated differently? Are the discussions different?
“I think so. There’s no actual menswear course. 99% of NCAD is womenswear, and one or two of us decide to do menswear. But we’ve really good help with, like, pattern-cutting but, otherwise, you’re on your own. You get a book and teach yourself.”
So, where do you come from as a designer? What motivates your work?
“I’m really inspired by what’s going on, socially, around me. The background to this collection was that I knew I was doing menswear the summer before going into my final year. I was in New York, and I collected all of these vintage sports magazines…So sexist. Like, there wasn’t one woman in them.
And there were these advertisements for “man-size deodorant”…I mean what even is that? And I did my thesis on domestic violence, and it’s relationship to women. A lot of fashion houses don’t portray women so kindly. There are a lot of advertisements where women are beaten and bruised.
In my research, I found that one of the reasons behind domestic violence was to make men feel more masculine…and all this made me think, “Why?” Like, what is it that makes a man feel masculine? What is “masculine”?”
“How does hitting a woman make you feel macho? It makes no sense. So, I started looking at the men in my life; my granddad, my dad and my little brother. And my granddad always wears a three-piece suit – that is it. That’s his day-to-day wear.With my dad, he’s a mechanic, and he’s in a worker’s overalls every day and covered in oil and dirt and grease…and he’s masculine.
And my little brother is fourteen; he’s at the age where he only wears a tracksuit, and that is it. That’s masculine to him. And I was looking at three generations, and it’s completely different dress, but it’s all male dress. So, I wondered where it goes next? What’s the next generation going to wear?”
Like a case study on masculine dress?
“It’s kind of interesting as well. Between, say, our generation and your brother’s age-group, I feel like Ireland has changed enough that there is a completely different standard of what is acceptable regarding dress and grooming for boys.”
“When I was showing my collection, older generations were like, “Men can’t wear pink!” But I didn’t even notice, it was just a colour I liked, and that’s what I ran with. There weren’t even preconceptions of gender in my head.Which is so funny because pink for men isn’t exactly ground-breaking.I mean, I always see men in pink.”
Okay, so not to be scary – because I’m sure you’re getting all these sorts of questions at the moment – but what’s next?
“I want to get a job and pay back student loans. I interned for a bit, but I really want to start working with other people. There are so many talented people in Dublin and so much untapped potential. Especially as everyone keeps emigrating. We need to give them more attention and keep them here. There’s such a great, skilful labour force and they just keep emigrating because there aren’t opportunities here for them.”
So, what can be done to help?
“Funding, for one thing. And job opportunities. Like, there are almost no production centres left in Ireland anymore. If there are jobs, then people can stay here, and I’d really like to stay here.”
Photographer: Dean Ryan McDaid
Model: Bobby Basil, NotAnother Agency