Britain was once famed for its fruitful fabrics trade; but today, few mills remain, and those who do often only produce high-priced couture fabrics. “I think it’s really important to keep those trades alive,” argues Talia Lipkin-Connor, a recent graduate from BA Womenswear at Central Saint Martins. For her final collection, Talia travelled to linen and wool mills in Ireland to source traditional fabrics in which to execute her designs. “I really like doing research like that, and just finding out where the fabric comes from,” she explains: “I always found it a bit bizarre that you would make something but not know what’s in it. How can you not know what it is?”
The interest she expresses in the origin of her fabrics demonstrates a concern for traceability. This preoccupation is reflective of the way she grapples with her own Irish Catholic cultural inheritance. Her collection’s title, ‘The Irish Club’, refers to a night out with her godmother in an Irish club of Manchester, which inspired her to enquire into her family’s past. “You’re so nostalgic about it,” Talia beautifully analyses the feeling of displacement experienced by those who are descended from a culture they’ve not experienced. In September of last year, Talia finally visited Ireland, and her collection reads as a love letter to the rural, simple existence of Ireland in the early twentieth century.
The voluminous, yet functional, silhouettes of her garments are influenced by old family photos, focusing on the young women they capture. The garb of women from Ireland circa 1910 is interpreted in 2017 in the form of elegant cropped wool jackets, falling just so off the shoulder; pleated skirts ‒ one buttoned onto an enveloping jumpsuit; trousers belted nonchalantly at the waist as if a worker has shrugged their overalls off their torso. This is not to deny the elegance of the garments; they are beautifully cut and finished in the fine Irish fabrics Talia travelled to her fatherland to procure.
The use of these fabrics was somewhat restrictive for Talia; after a toile line up her tutors advised her to “make it all again and make it your final collection.” Not wanting to stray from the use of the limited Irish fabrics, Talia unpicked and recut her patterns from the fabric she had used for her toiles. The same thing happened with the vivid red stretch nylon she used to make her zip-up jacket; “I think I made that jacket in twenty minutes before the line-up, really badly, and it ended up being in the show.” Her hunt for more fabric was futile; “It just got to the point where I thought: just take it all apart, why waste your money? There’s none left anyway.” Stressful as this undoubtedly was, the process has not deterred Talia from using fabric in this way in future. “I would probably look into doing that again,” she admits, “It’s a sustainable approach to toiling.”
Talia is currently working but is considering continuing to do an MA, where perhaps she will get the opportunity to further explore her approach to sustainable, heritage design. “I don’t know why they call it your final collection,” she ponders, “It’s your first collection.” First of many, hopefully.
Words Elspeth Taylor
Images Calum Barlow
Models Mona Cordes, Laura Minet, Clementine Durand and Adwoa Brown