Getting to know rising Irish fashion star Katie Ann McGuigan – and her 90-piece collection

Katie Ann McGuigan’s sense of adventure, and risk-taking, is obvious when you finger the scintillating fabrics in her stunning AW19 collection.

A total of 90 of her ready-to-wear pieces go on sale next week at the CREATE show which is in its ninth year at Brown Thomas in Grafton Street and is a celebration of the very best of Irish design. The six- week show opens on Tuesday and includes the work of 30 designers across ready-to-wear, millinery, jewellery, accessories and homewares. Shelly Corkery, group fashion director, interviewed a total of 70 hopefuls for inclusion and it’s fair to say there’s considerable interest in the store’s buy from Katie Ann’s collection which she showed at London Fashion Week in February and which earned her the ‘Fashion Designer of the Year’ award at Golden Egg’s Irish Fashion Innovation Awards in March.

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A graduate from the University of Westminster in 2016, this is the first season that Katie Ann has mixed florals with geometrics and her rails at CREATE will include everything from street wear (left) with cotton hoodies in purple and green to romantic, ethereal sheer tulle dresses with prices running from €225 to €1,595 for a printed leather biker jacket. By her own admission, the digitally-printed satin organza is tricky to work with but the

26-year-old likes pushing herself. Her tie-dyed fabrics are visually compelling, all done by her own fair hand.

Chatting with the designer at her studio in Harrow, I found it fascinating that these ultra feminine pieces in gleaming organza, gauzy, whisper-soft tulle and soothing shades of jade and purple evolved after the Newry native started to research a Japanese motor bike gang.

The Bosozoku or ‘Speed Tribe’ biker subculture rose to prominence in Japan in the 80s and 90s. The gang was associated with customised motorcycles, jumpsuits adorned with slogans, Japanese hachimaki headbands and surgical masks. Informed by vintage imagery of the Bosozokus, Katie Ann explored the gang’s trademark DIY customised touches on motorcycles and slogan-adorned uniforms, and translated shapes and details from the bikers’ clothing into a stunning palette where lilacs, mint and striking jade works alongside ochre and navy. She has fused sporty nylons with floaty tulle, layered knits, panelled skirts and seriously impressive tie-dyes such as the ethereal ‘Deirdre’ dress (pictured far left) which is layered up with a sporty hoodie and patterned bodysuit.

Other covetable elements in the collection are the breezy organzas fashioned into a flow of box and inverted pleats, such as the shirt dress.

Her Japanese explorations also involved bows and she has combined a flat garment at the front with a bow on the back and even transferred the concept to little bows on shoulders. These shoulder bows feature on the ‘Deirdre’ tie-dyed jade dress, with the intention of adding both shape and sculpture to the garment. This dress is a showstopper with lots of gorgeous textures to experience, from a vinyl floral print to delicate embroidery running down the other side.

Casual dressers are well catered for in the collection. The most expensive pieces are the leather jacket, the wow dresses and the A-line, digitally-printed satin organza dress (left) received special love from the designer.

“You wouldn’t think to look at it but that dress took 11 metres of fabric,” explains Katie Ann.

“Satin organza is super difficult to work. It is really difficult to print, to cut and to sew. The fabric takes twice as long to cut as anything else and digitally printing it is difficult but with all those odds, I still thought it was quite important for that dress to go into Brown Thomas because once it’s made, and you get through all those barriers, it’s such a beautiful piece and it moves so lovely,” said the designer whose interest in making things was wisely honed by her parents, Rosie and Brian, who come from Dundalk and Newry respectively, and together created the Orior by Design furniture business.

“I got my work ethic from my mum and dad. Every day after school and at weekends, I would go into work with my parents and that’s where I learned all my skills and to appreciate making things myself. My dad and I are very dyslexic and there were times when I wouldn’t want to go to school and times when my mum would be going over to London or Paris, and she would take me out of school because those trips were so much more important than me being in school and sitting at the back of the class and not understanding what was going on. We used to go and pick fabrics for furniture and I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing without my parents and growing up at home. They gave me the appreciation of making something, employing local people, sticking through all the tough times and really enjoying what you do.”

This new chapter is particularly exciting, says Katie Ann. “In this day and age, it is so difficult to get your foot in the door anywhere. It is such a competitive industry and to be in a store like Brown Thomas where me and my mum used to go on Sundays to have a look and browse the store and then go for pancakes in Lemon afterwards, it’s just so surreal. I’m really excited for the next few months.”

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