Sartorial Trailblazers: The Meteoric Rise of LSAD Alumni

Originally posted on 2ndspacedublin.com (now merged with omdivaboutique.com)

- 28th July, 2016

Whether observing the global fashion industry with the experienced eyes of a veteran or the fresh perspective of a design neophyte, there could be no doubt that its once prominent championing of "exclusivity" is facing rapid depreciation. While long-established Parisian fashion houses may publicise their efforts to reclaim restricted-access showcases and curtail the expansive reach of social media, the majority of contemporary designers are openly embracing this privacy-free era in order to fully connect with their digitally-savvy consumers. As a result, the inherent links forged between society and international creative industries are seemingly more tangible than ever before. The traditional catwalk-show format undoubtedly peaked at an age where smartphone cameras and instantaneous content-sharing were non-existent: style enthusiasts outside of the sector would eagerly wait months before major publications released their bi-annual ready-to-wear trend guides, featuring runway exclusives and never-before-seen collection insights. 16 and a half years after entering into this groundbreaking millennium, however, myriad fashion onlookers are questioning its relevancy altogether - with many fledging designers stating that presentations are a considerably more rewarding alternative for both makers and spectators. This semi-seismal shift has also triggered a change in perception of the world's four major fashion capitals, with a plethora of design schools located outside these sprawling cities offering an invaluable career grounding and creative encouragement to their flourishing students.

A shining example proudly situated on Irish shores is the Limerick School of Art and Design, a bona-fide epicentre of innovation whose experimental attendees are the very antithesis of carbon-copy fashion. While certain universities have a visible aesthetic which invariably permeates their end-of-year graduate showcases, a refreshing element of LSAD's show equivalents is that no two design graduates are remotely the same - their common bond lies primarily in an industrious work ethic and an ability to present their unique creative outlook with the confidence of a seasoned professional. The college's internationally-renowned status can be directly attributed to these forward-thinking qualities; a worthy incentive for Vogue Italia to endorse its vibrant Class of 2016 show in a recent, highly-acclaimed feature. The article in question spotlights the international success stories of Danielle Romeril and Una Burke: the former graduated from LSAD in 2007 with a BA Honours in Fashion Design and presents her visionary collections (championed by the BFC and NEWGEN) on schedule at London Fashion Week, while alumna Burke's luxury-leather accessories have graced the silhouettes of Lady Gaga, Madonna and Daphne Guinness. But what of the college's more recent graduates, whose dynamic design processes have garnered notable praise and press coverage?

Sibeal Crehan - 2nd Space photoshoot feature, totallydublin.ie

Given the versatility and hard-working ethos of LSAD's talented exports, it comes as no surprise that 2nd Space's Young Designer Project features a generous number of the college's recent design graduates and undergraduates. Ethereal-jewellery designer Isabel Gray and innovative womenswear creator Jack Roche both occupy the latter category, with Roche's inventive design concepts having recently earned him this year's coveted Future Makers Student of the Year award. His initial planned route would have kept him much closer to his native Wexford. "I originally did not want to go to Limerick to study, I wanted to go to Dublin. But after seeing LSAD on both the open day and portfolio assessment day I knew it was for me, I preferred it much more than the Dublin colleges. It has a really good atmosphere and all the staff are great." 2016 graduate and embellishment aficionado Kim Fulton (whose intricate collection features in that famed Vogue Italia piece) followed quite a similar thought process: "From very early on I knew I wanted to pursue something in the creative field. I began a year of pre portfolio entry preparation in 2011 which was very textiles driven. I am originally from Dublin so NCAD was at first on the top of my list, however a tutor that I was working with at the time suggested that I look into LSAD and visit the opening day. From the moment I arrived I fell in love with the building immediately and just the overall vibes were positive and very chilled out. I was pretty much sold that day." By contrast, imaginative designer Sibeal Crehan (who completed her studies last year) had her chosen college in mind from the moment she began considering third-level options: "I was first drawn to LSAD in my transition year of secondary school. We had a career class where we had to research into courses and colleges that we were interested and I had my heart set on going to LSAD. I was determined I wanted to study fashion and knew the course in Limerick was recognized in the fashion industry. I also really liked the graduate work and the other disciplines that were available to study if I changed my mind. So I started my portfolio in my 5th year and worked towards my application to Limerick, which thankfully I got offered, and went straight in from secondary school."

Jennifer Byrne - 2nd Space photoshoot feature, via @kierankilgallon

With the insights offered by these design talents into LSAD's design course trajectory, it leaves little uncertainty as to how it has secured a prized spot as one of the top 50 fashion colleges in the world. Crehan's fellow Class of 2015 graduate (and purveyor of equally-enchanting garments) Jennifer Byrne is effusive when discussing the eclecticism of her design-school experience: "Over the 4 years at LSAD (with 3 focused on the discipline) there is a varying and constantly evolving range of projects set out which encompass everything including womenswear, menswear, knitwear and pattern & construction. You are introduced to different ways of designing such as collage, stand work even deconstructing existing garments. All of this helps you to experiment and find out what suits your own unique way of working while developing your skills as a designer. It is quite tough - deadlines are always tight and the second one project finishes you're handed another - a few on the go at times, but this prepares you for the pace of the real world. Visiting lecturers - often established LSAD alumni - are also frequently organised by the course leader and these are a fantastic opportunity to hear their journey and how they arrived at what they do now!". Fulton, moreover, heaps praise on the course's third year internship opportunities: "The placement is with a designer of your choice in pretty much any part of the world you wish to go to. The experience and insight that is gained during the placement is so integral to your overall understanding of the industry as you pretty much see what goes on first hand, whether it's in a small studio setting or a large fashion house. During this time you learn valuable skills and various design approaches which can really help when you come back to complete your final year which involves designing and making a six piece collection." Crehan chalks up her experimental creative approach and love of diverse materials to her time spent in LSAD - "we learn a lot about fabrics and go on research trips to London so it has taught me the importance of the fabrics used. Sometimes a simple silhouette is very striking when the fabric is eye catching. I tend to like more simple designs and try to adapt them to pretty fabrics and embellishment and trims." - while Roche offers a thought-provoking point: "I think the fact that studying in Limerick can be quite limiting really does stand to us. Things do not get handed to us and things are not just on are door step, we have to source it ourselves creating new contacts along the way."

Jack Roche's award-winning Mini Collection - jackrochedesign.com

Coupled with aforementioned shifts in viewpoint from industry insiders towards the conventional catwalk show and, particularly in the last several seasons, the increasing prevalence of gender-free designs, the criteria for what makes an exemplary fashion college has forced design-school behemoths to re-adjust their assistance of graduates (or lack thereof). When BoF released its top-20 global undergraduate fashion courses last year, London's Central Saint Martins came under scrutiny from former students for its general lack of graduate career programmes, allegedly offering no attempt to help open doors (nor establish contacts) for its degree holders. The very essence of LSAD's approach, on the other hand, visibly aids students to create their own database of contacts; the latter hailing from both inside and outside the college. "There is initiative taken on LSAD’s part to help graduates establish themselves," affirms Crehan. "The lecturers are only ever an email away and are very helpful even as a graduate if there are any queries regarding portfolios etc. They introduce us to people from the DCCOI and use the fashion show as a platform to help establish each designer's career. It is up to the designer what career path they decide to take, but the college try to show us all the different options we have before we leave." Fulton adds that "many people make contacts along the way during their time at LSAD, from the beginning of all of the courses guest lecturers, artists, designers and past students come to visit to speak about their work and their businesses, which is really insightful. Towards the end of the year, for example, at the show, there are a number of bursaries and an internship awarded to a number of students which is a great opportunity to gain further experience in the industry." Additionally, it would even seem that LSAD has already moved several paces ahead of Europe's highest-acclaimed fashion colleges in developing an innovative post-grad programme, according to Byrne: "The college is in the process of launching the Irish Fashion Incubator Limerick (IFIL) - a place for emerging designers to develop and be mentored by established LSAD Alumni." 

Kim Fulton "Planterwald" Graduate Collection - via @kimzyful

LSAD's critically-acclaimed alumni may boast completely diverse brand visions, as they have clearly displayed, but they are entirely unified in their belief that its top-50 fashion college ranking has been rightfully earned. As Roche states, "LSAD is currently the only Irish college to show at London Graduate Fashion Week. GFW is a platform that showcases some of the best and most influential universities from all across the world. It attracts an audience from fashion journalism, bloggers, designers, and people within the fashion industry. Again, the work placement is an amazing part of the course, with this years students going to cities like New York, London, Antwerp, Barcelona, Berlin and Delhi." Equally, Crehan nods to the dedicated work ethic instilled within LSAD students: "As an insider you see how many hours and how hard each student works to achieve their degree and how dedicated the lecturers are to getting collections out each year. The standard of design is very high and each year there are thousands of graduates from all over the world, so in Limerick they try to be innovative and creative in fabric manipulation, fabric selection and design work. There is also a very high standard of finish expected which has meant our little college has become recognized in the industry and among very established fashion publications." In Fulton's eyes, its geographical location is a strongpoint rather than a liability - "the variation of students within the fashion course is integral to its unique standing point within the fashion industry, this and the work of many of the tutors from fine art and design make it a really interesting journey. Constant hard work is also a key factor to the success of the course as with all good fashion colleges around the world. I believe that Limerick has a really special allure to it, compared to larger cities like London or New York it almost feels untouched, raw and lacking in glamour which contributes to its overall rarity." Perhaps most importantly, however, is the students' re-iteration that LSAD's college environment is one that gives not just creative stimulation, but a feeling of homeliness that welcomes students from the moment they set foot on campus - another rare asset for a high-ranking contemporary design college to possess. Byrne's enthused response is a visible testament to this: "LSAD is a really open and welcoming college - if you need advice or help with something after graduating the door is always open to contact the lecturers. They all genuinely want to see their students succeed in the real world and are always willing to help if possible. I think [its top-50 ranking] comes down to dedicated staff and wonderfully creative students. Each person involved from the course leader Anne Melinn, pattern cutting tutor, fashion technician, librarians and even tutors from other disciplines are so dedicated and willing to help every student fulfill their potential. I think that this dedication motivates the students to give all they can (which they do in spades - fashion students are notorious for having to be kicked out of college at night and continuing to work into the night!)."

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Jack Roche, Kim Fulton, Jennifer Byrne and Sibeal Crehan's new-season collections are available to purchase in 2nd Space's Irish Design room, with Roche's upcoming AW17 collection due to land in-store from September. Click "here" to visit LSAD's official website, where full details on course information and applications can be found. 

Amelia xx

La Femme Éclectique