Interview with Irish designer Emma Manley
Interview with Irish designer Emma Manley. From receiving her first sewing machine from her mother at the dear young age of six, the writing was on the wall that one day, Emma Manley would go on to be one of the most recognised fashion designers in Ireland today.
The Grafton academy trained designer first learned to master her design craft with an internship ship with American fashion label VPL in New York and later at the Alexander McQueen fashion house in London.
Since then the Dublin native has gone on to set up her own fashion label and today is creative director of her own fashion and accessories label, Manley which she set up back in 2010. Fashion.ie caught up with Emma to chat all about fashion and get her views and opinion of the state of the Irish fashion industry today!
Emma, how would you define fashion?
Fashion is a way to express yourself.
What age did you decide to choose fashion designing as a career?
From age 15 I knew fashion design was what I wanted, full stop. The obsession with it started long before however! My Mum was a fashion designer so I grew up with it as a huge part of my life without knowing.
My family home was a very make-do and mend home. Arts and crafts were very much a part of our day to day lives thanks to my Mum so fashion was never something that was introduced to me, it just was.
Is the fashion you grew up wearing reflected in your own designs of today?
Sometime but only sometimes. I love ageless dressing and that’s very much a part of Manley and so I strive to create something that I can wear, my sisters can wear, my Mum can wear. You might look to a ra-ra style mini skirt that you’ll see from time to time in Manley collections and think, ‘your Mum in that Emma, really?’ Pieces like that, very much stem from the 8-year old me. Life was simple then, dressing was simple then, a little escapism through your wardrobe is allowed and so from time to time, I like to design pieces for my eight year old self, shoot me!
Your designs are very creative, where do you get the inspiration for your designs?
They are and they aren’t. And that’s neither a positive nor a negative, it’s just simply the way I design. I am very selfish designer. I design for me at a moment in time.
My designs are creative but what they aren’t are haute couture or unwearable. That style of fashion where its fashion meets art, that’s not my thing. Manley is very accessible fashion because I design for the everyday woman. I want a wardrobe to be functional hence why a lot of what Manley creates are day to night looks. Let’s not have to buy loads, just buy a few things and buy them well and get a hell of a lot of use out of them.
What skills according to you are necessary for a successful fashion designer?
It really depends on what kind of designer you want to be or naturally are. Me personally, I’m shocking at the art side of things. I’m a perfectionist so my focus is very much on the hands on stuff, less experimentation, more carrying out technically correct practises. I trained in the Grafton Academy where I learned the art of pattern drafting and sewing.
That is how I create, not trough beautiful drawings and sketches that are then passed onto a pattern drafter to translate into actual product samples. I think I’m in the minority in the way that I design, I’m okay with that. It works for me, it works for Manley.
Do you use technology to when setting out to design a piece of clothing or do you sketch the ideas our first?
The Grafton Academy teaches in a very old-fashioned manner. When I was there, I don’t even think they had computers on the premises so the likes of CAD and Photoshop we’re not something I was taught and now I would go as far to say that I am completely illiterate in them.
Perhaps I’ll go back to college and educate up or maybe while I’m on maternity leave, I’ll look to doing online courses but for now, I’m very content keeping things simple and the old fashioned, time honoured way of sketching by hand with no technology in sight. It doesn’t take longer or less time, it just gives different results.
Are there any international fashion designers that you admire and why?
Loads, there’s a wealth of international designers that WOW me each and every season. Stella McCartney, McQueen, Céline to name but a few. We also have a wealth of talent right here in Ireland. Helen Steele, Jill De Burca, Mona Swims, Electronic Sheep, The Ethical Silk Company… and that’s just scraping the surface.
What high street clothing brands would you consider to be good value for money in terms or design and cost of garment items?
I’m in the very fortunate position that I don’t really have to shop as the Manley sample sale is my wardrobe. When I do have to buy, it’s for sportswear, undies and jim-jams.
I love a bit of Stella McCartney for Adidas which I source online because it’s hard to find. Lifestyle sport is where I go for Under Armour and Reebok for sportswear. Topshop is where I hit up for jeans purely because they fit me well. M&S gets a look in sometimes. It’s all a little sporadic and I tend to find things on my travels too. I’m not tied to any high street brand, I just know quality when I see it and invest then and there!
Out of all of your designs to date, what would you consider your personal favourite and why?
My wedding dress. I adored everything about it and made the best kind of memories in it. I wore it last year on our first wedding anniversary and I will 100% be wearing it this year on our 2nd. For me that dress will only collect more memories and I love that.
What is the best part of being a fashion designer?
It’s what’s the very best and very worst part… the never knowing what comes next. Day to day I plan out what I’m doing but collaborations and opportunities are always coming my way and I have to be responsive and open to manoeuvring around my personal and Manley calendar to accommodate these other jobs.
My job is so multifaceted, being adaptable, quite simply, is essential to getting shit done. Yesterday started with beading for Manley Bride, followed by recording in Virgin One studios, followed by a fitting with a presenter for a TV show, followed by VAT returns and ending with updating products on our Wolf & Badger shop. Today is so very different and tomorrow, whilst I have a Manley studio plan in place, is bound to be changed with something new being flung at me!
Do you think there is enough being done to help the Irish fashion industry considering the stiff competition from international brands accessible on the internet today?
Not in the slightest. The Irish Fashion industry is very much neglected when it comes to supports. We’re not ‘high potential start ups’ that will make investors a quick buck like tech will and so we’re left to the side to fight our own battles without the help and support so many of our businesses deserve.
What more could be done do you think?
Right now, it seems that Ireland is very much focused on monetary investment for profit, we should be looking at investments for other benefits such as cultural benefit, job creation and so much more.
Do you design be-spoke garments tailored to someone’s needs?
With Manley Bride yes but generally through the Manley collection no. Saying that, I’m not opposed to it, I’m not a dress maker though so bear that in mind when ‘pitching’ what you want to me!
What advice would you give to any person considering a career as a fashion designer?
My two years spent interning were the best. There were high’s, lows, blood, sweat and tears and I came out the other end with more drive and determination that I began with. It’s a true test and if you’re cut out for the fashion world, you’ll sure a hell know after interning for a while!
What new designs can we expect from you this season?
Consider my current ‘condition’, think Manley dressing me and my newly acquired bump!
Thank you Emma for such an honest and in-depth insight into your world of fashion and it’s easy to see why Emma and her fashion label, Manley is one of Ireland’s leading contemporary fashion labels of today. To keep update to date with Emma’s wonderful designs, don’t forget to follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.