Designs for Life: 2016's Top Irish LGBT Designers


A whole new generation of LGBT fashion and jewellery designers are making their mark in Ireland, and social issues are as much a part of their work as their craft.


Conaill O’Dwyer, Winner Design Craft Council of Ireland’s Future Makers Award.


24 year-old fashion designer Conaill O’Dwyer is garnering attention for his reimagined traditional menswear using knitted plastic bags. With a drive to upskill, he will be beginning his residency at the Paul Henry National Tailoring Academy to perfect the art of tailoring. Focusing on the suit, his work reads as a comment on exaggerated masculinity, with a soft touch.

“Masculinity can mean whatever you want it to mean, but I don’t want to lose sight of the traditional,” he says. “I like when things are overdone, and my models have an almost a caveman look, broad shoulders and big beards. But I’d still have women wearing my clothes if they wanted to.”

His collection The Default Man is based around his own coming-of-age narrative, where “everyone goes through the camp stage when finding themselves and their gay identity”. Conaill believes the LGBT community “needs to be self reflexive and look inward at itself in order to be more inclusive, less either masc for masc or overly camp. There’s not only one gay identity; you should be accepted in the community whatever your mode of self expression is, whether you like GAA or Gaga.”

For Conaill, the design process is non-linear and instead is in constant flux, with influence flourishing all around him, from Dublin’s streets to match-strike moments of inspiration whilst lying in bed. His work too is heavily influenced by social issues.

His college thesis was on anti-semitism faced by Jewish tailors in Ireland. Regarding the modelling industry, he would love to see more models of colour and is dismayed at their lack of representation in the Irish fashion scene.

His future plans are to start his own design house, sticking to his particular niche of re-imagined menswear.

Check Conaill’s work out at and Instagram: conaillodwyer


georgeGeorge Murray

24 year-old textiles graduate George Murray designs womenswear and describes his style as “haphazard but also pared back.”

He focuses on simple design juxtaposed with naive prints and intricate embellishments, and his work is currently on display in OmDiva’s Atelier27 after having spent time on display at Cloth Dublin.

“A lot of the materials I’ve used in my previous collections have been recycled or natural and have had little or no detrimental effects on the environment, which is very important in the fashion industry considering the amount of textile waste disposed of daily,” he says. “In my latest collection I tried to mostly use Irish-made fabrics because I think this country has a lot to offer in that department. It’s just about knowing how and where to find it.”

George says that the most important thing he learned whilst studying at NCAD is that the designs that are the most successful are the ones that are the most enjoyable to produce.

“Good design is not necessarily that which receives the best critical reception or sells the most. It’s about trying to make it your own and putting your all into it. Everything around you can be used as inspiration; it’s about translating your surroundings into aesthetics or concepts.”

In a city that loses so much of its young talent to emigration, George thinks that Dublin still retains its creative flair with pride. “So many young designers think that in order to make it, you just have to get your degree in Dublin and then leave, but I don’t. There are so many interesting designers and artists here, with really exciting opportunities to take advantage of, regardless of the lack of design jobs.

“If more young designers stayed at home, we could really make something special from this country.” Instagram: geomurr



ForverFeral is a female power duo consisting of 24 year-old NCAD graduates Stephanie McDermott and Naoise Nic Gearailt. Blending fierce feline iconography with a hard, vibrantly colourful aesthetic and a touch of humour, their jewelry currently adorns the shelves of OmDiva’s 2nd Space and has been featured as part of a textiles collaboration on the runway of Now & Then.

Their signature cat motif represents a celebration of femininity in its most wild and powerful form, something which Steph claims we shouldn’t be afraid to embrace. And if you’re not willing to identify as a feminist, you’re still a part of the problem, according to Naoise.

It’s easy to see that ForeverFeral are both fun and politically insightful, with a sharp and socially conscious attitude toward the fashion industry. Although it’s difficult to begin an ethical clothing line with a low budget, they emphasise that ultimately it is the designer’s choice to ensure that sweatshop conditions are rejected.

After watching a documentary called The True Cost, they regularly email companies about where they source their cotton and have future plans to begin selling sweatshop-free t-shirts, advocating buying vintage and reworked pieces rather than from global corporations like Zara and H&M.

Their instagram contains handy consciousness- raising infographics to spread the word about these pressing issues, including pinatex, a leather-free fabric made from pineapples.

Steph cites Jeremy Scott for Moschino, Fall 2014 Ready-to-Wear as one of her current influences. “I love the way he took junk culture and re-contextualised it into high fashion, almost making fun of fashion,” she says.

The garishness and satirical tone of the collection acts as a parody of fashion itself, injecting humor into an industry that usually takes itself very seriously, a vibe that also shines through in ForeverFeral’s collections. Regarding where she gets her inspiration from, Steph quotes art director George Lois: “Go to the Museum of Modern Art every Sunday if you can. Read the New York Times. Go to black and white movies, get involved in the culture, understand the culture.”

Naoise is influenced by women with strong character as well as music. “I gain so much perspective every time I have a good conversation with a woman, young or old; there’s always something to learn. I watch a lot of interviews with influencers like Iris Ipfel, Grace Jones or MIA… It’s so interesting to see how clothing has changed down through the years and how so many famous women were controlled by the rules of fashion for that era. We definitely appreciate how free fashion is at this time but there is still miles to go.”

This pair are creative all-rounders, currently working on both graphic design and music projects, whilst developing the clothing side of things at ForeverFeral for an upcoming Winter collection. Watch this space! Instagram: foreverferaldublin

markMark Newman

Jewellery designer Mark Newman has made a name for himself since he emerged from NCAD last year with his graduate collection inspired by his own cathartic process of introspection. In his own words, the 23 year-old’s work showcases a “versatile aesthetic with an earthy, messy and aged finish.” It’s also gender neutral.

“The main themes that run through my work are inspired by events which took place during my upbringing by Bullock Harbour,” he says. “In a way, jewellery allows me to take the past with me through my patterns.”

These patterns are made up of warped netting, mainly in the form of brooches, and act as a reference to a tapestry of memory using enamel. In contemporary Irish jewelry design, enamel is a dying art, and as such occupies its own niche as an old school technique, meaning that Mark stands out on the Irish craft scene.

“Craft is more skills than concept based, so in order to get your work out there, you need to create it in a particularly interesting way, using unique materials or using traditional materials in a new, unexpected way,” he explains.

Commencing a residency in September in Glasgow School of Art, Mark’s plans to emigrate are rooted in the lack of market interest in the industry. Beyond the Craft Council of Ireland, there aren’t many resources for young Irish craftsmanship.

“Irish people prefer to invest their disposable income on their homes in the form of ceramics rather than other forms of contemporary craft pieces,” he says.

Being a member of the LGBT community is also a major influencing drive in Mark’s work. “My craft is something very personal, and being gay is as much a part of me as anything else; it shapes what I do.”

Mark’s future projects will be based around notions of masculinity and femininity, with a focus towards crafting mechanical tools in a feminised fashion., Instagram: marknewmanjewellery

As told to Amadeus Harte. Photos by Mattia Pelizzari. This piece first appeared in GCN 321, September 2016

© 2016 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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