The 2014 VIP Style Awards were held last weekend, and as they’re pretty much the biggest fashion event on the Irish calendar, it would be remiss of me not to cover them. To put them into context for non-Irish readers (Hey Canada!), I might go so far as to say they’re Ireland’s answer to the Met Gala, and to put THAT into context for Irish readers, who are in stitches at the very idea, consider that they’re hosted by a magazine, with the aim of promoting the Irish fashion industry, and the guests are mostly actresses and models showcasing dresses on behalf of designers.
The comparison is a stretch, granted; Michelle Heaton is unlikely to be rocking up to the Met Gala next Monday night, Rosanna Davison probably wouldn’t be winning any style awards in Anna Wintour’s book, and VIP magazine is no Vogue – even with THAT cover to consider. Equally, the Irish fashion industry is too small to ensure that all of the 300-odd invitees are kitted out in exclusive, custom-made Irish designer fashion, so a lot of the guests end up showcasing designer looks from dress rental shops, but it amounts to the same thing: celebrities in borrowed dresses promoting themselves while they promote the people who want the rest of us look to them on the rare occasions that we actually require some red carpet-worthy glamour. Or should that be style? It’s a blurred line in Ireland, as I argued earlier this week.
Anyway, since promotion is the name of the game, it frustrated me to see so much coverage of the event where they neglected to name check the designers who had no doubt poured their hearts and souls, not to mention cash, into creating looks for some of Ireland’s best known faces to borrow. Running a high-end fashion business in a recession is a fairly unglamourous slog, so at one of the few annual events where designers have an opportunity to get some good press, please, press people, give credit where credit is due! Having said that, I had a hell of a time identifying who was wearing what, but here, without further ado, is The Dress Down‘s (hopefully comprehnsive!) round up of Irish design at the 2014 VIP Style Awards.
Best in Show – Marion Murphy Cooney
Lorraine Keane’s white column is absolutely stunning, elegant minimalism at its best, and at the opposite end of the spectrum Aoibhinn McGinnity’s bright pink crop top and full skirt with a flash of red lining are elegant and minimal in a younger, fresher way. Likewise, Mary Kennedy keeps it soft and romantic in an ivory lace, while Emma O’Driscoll vamps it up in a chic low V sequined sheath, yet as different as they are, all four looks feel classy and classic, and perfectly chosen for their wearer.
Couture Queen – Helen Cody
While neither of these designs is as stunning as the dress Amy Huberman wore to the IFTAs, it’s still fair to say Helen Cody knows how to quietly wow on a red carpet. Model Alison Canavan’s white lace dress and stylist Courtney Smith’s boned bustier showcase the designer’s impeccable taste and love of luxury fabrics. Courtney repurposed a Pinko dress to make the skirt she has teamed with the bustier, and while the print on the skirt is my least favourite part of her look, she has styled herself beautifully.
The New Kid – Eamonn McGill
Still depressingly young, stylist, costume designer and dyed in the wool fashion kid Eamonn McGill is making a name for himself while still in college, and for the VIP Awards he dressed his pals, models Emma Waldron and Holly Carpenter. It’s always nice to see a bit of colour on the red carpet, and he kept both looks simple and let the colour do the talking. Emma has bagged the better look and stronger styling, but kudos to Holly for rocking a seriously sexy take on a jumpsuit, even if the cut and the heavy, oversized black bag let the look down just a bit.
Cult Classics – Folkster / Shutterbug
Blanaid Hennesy’s Shutterbug Vintage in Kilkenny has something of a cult following, and their kilo sales are legendary, so it’s no surprise that her Folkster range of contemporary but vintage-inspired original designs is rapidly building its own fanbase. The five looks they showcased at the VIP awards are a mix of Folkster dresses, capes and kimonos, with Shutterbug accessories, and will have fashion girls beating a path south east for some modern boho chic.
The Go-to Guy – Umit Kutluk
In just a couple of seasons Turkish born designer Umit Kutluk has become renowned for providing an astonishing level of luxury, with couture finishes that look sensational in fashion shoots and are quickly making him the go-to guy for those who want some serious wow factor in their red carpet looks. Of the two looks he showcased at the VIP awards I prefer Kathryn Thomas’ off-the-shoulder red dress to Lottie Ryan’s overly embellished, ruffled gown. As those detailed embellishments show, there’s no doubting his skills as a couturier, but while that kind of froth and fancy appeals to some women’s inner princess, and I do admire the workmanship, it’s not to my taste. As Kathryn’s dress shows, sometimes less could be more, and it feels like it should look sleeker than it does. I like the overall shape and the leather obi-style belt, but a closer fit on the bodice would serve it well, and I feel the bustle of the train detracts from the overall effect.
Modern Elegance – Zoe Carol Wong
Simply stunning. Zoe Carol’s collections are available from Atelier 27, and this custom made gown for Teodora Sutra perfectly showcases her pared back aesthetic and her skill for creating simple and effortlessly chic shapes that feel elegant in a thoroughly modern way.
The Master Cutter – Sean Byrne
Aoibhinn Garrity stayed loyal to designer Sean Byrne for the VIP Awards, and wouldn’t we all if we had someone we could rely upon to make us look this good time and time again. Sean’s cuts are exceptional, and for his red carpet looks he showcases his abilities with designs that appear deceptively simple but which fit and flatter in a way that requires an incredible amount of skill to realise.
The Entrepreneurs – Lennon Courtney
As one half of Lennon Courtney, Sonya Lennon, with business partner Brendan Courtney, is to be admired for putting her money where her mouth is and taking Lennon Courtney from a risky start-up to a fashion force to be reckoned with. Their timeless designs and great quality fabrics are intended to give women investment pieces they can return to year after year, which is the perfect post-recession business model. Not content to channel her fashion know how into the Lennon Courtney brand, she’s also started Frock Advisor and Dress for Success, so who am I to say I could do without those glasses?
The Maverick – David O’Malley
I don’t know how Jean Byrne came across fashion graduate David O’Malley, but is this not a match made in fashion heaven? Long recognised as something of a fashion maverick herself, Jean Byrne has always eschewed the safety of mainstream looks in favour of letting her freak flag fly, and her unique ability to make the Irish weather forecast a bit less predictable made her a welcome addition to the Met Eireann roster. Like an intergalactic space queen reigning over her colony of pathetic Earthlings, she pretty much owned the red carpet in this leather, sheer and metallic dress.
The Big Surprise – Roz Purcell
Did anybody expect model Roz Purcell to turn up to the VIP Awards in a perfectly cut trouser suit? Because I didn’t, and the even bigger surprise is that she helped design it and is working with Pat Morely, of Scribe of London on a whole range of them.
The Classicist – Dawn Fitzgerald
Dawn Fitzgerald dressed Rosanna Davison for the event, so she looked suitably glamourous when she stepped up to collect her Most Stylish Woman award. Dawn does a classic take on Hollywood glamour, with fishtails and trains and lots of satin, and will be creating one of Rosanna’s three wedding dresses.
The Oscar Girl – Laura Jane Halton
Laura Jane Halton is one of the few Irish designers who can claim to have had a dress on the Oscars red carpet, and her designs are typically very feminine, in a New Look way with a contemporary twist. As is this dress on Mairead Farrell, which is a custom, full length version of Laura Jane’s “Tippi” dress from spring/summer 14. I suspected this originated as a very beautiful concept, but may have lost a little something in the execution, and seeing the short version confirmed this. I love where it was going in theory, and credit to designer and model for taking a risk and doing something different, but, in comparison to the RTW version, something about the fit and length of the top isn’t working.
The New Romantic – Caoimhe Keane
Caoimhe Keane’s reputation as a bridal designer with a difference was sealed when, with only instructions from the groom to go by, she worked blind to create the perfect bespoke wedding dress for one of the luckier ladies on RTE’s Don’t Tell The Bride. Working a lot with hand dyed, painted and embellished silks, creating timeless, vintage inspired silhouettes, Caoimhe dressed Aisling O’Loughlin in this striking, figure skimming dress. I just wish it was accessorised with something that didn’t look like she left a scrunchie on her wrist for later.
The Housewife – Virginia Macari
Before she was a Real Housewife, mother to baby Thor and professional party goer Virginia Macari (of the Chipper Macaris) made a bit of a name for herself as a fashion designer. She then decided there were easier ways to get your name in the paper, and the rest will go down as an all time low in Irish television history. This dress for the VIP awards is her own design and it reflects both her taste for a particular kind of vampy, buxom glam and her former career as a designer of corseted ball gowns. If she had posed any harder in it she would be in danger of becoming the first person to spontaneously dislocate their own shoulder, although it occurred to me looking at a selection of photos that the extreme angle of her right shoulder might be the only thing holding up that side of the dress.
Being a legs-or-boobs sort, I don’t especially like it, but I will say that she didn’t have to make her own dress, and it is something of an improvement on what she usually wears. After all, the point of this post is to give credit where credit is due.