I babbled on about my so-called birthday breastplate – i.e. beautiful iridescent beadwork on neon tulle from Sorcha O'Raghallaigh's collection without delving too deep into who indeed is Sorcha O'Raghallaigh. I've featured her work before in various capacities as she was part of the much-loved Selfridges Bright Young Things project. Transplanted over from a small town in Ireland, Sorcha graduated from Central Saint Martins with a BA in fashion knitwear and has since done work placements with John Galliano and Diane von Furstenberg. The former employer is probably more indicative of Sorcha's style as she seeks out escapism and fantasy in her work. "I loved and admire John Galliano's show for his label or Dior. It was a real "show" – completely over the top, extreme and sometimes ridiculous. He created a whole world it wasn't just about the garments. Things are a lot more serious now and I think people place more value on the business side than the creative."
"I'm not naive to say the business side is unimportant. Fashion is a business/industry, but I like the idea that fashion isn't just a product. i like when brands create a whole mood, space and world. I think in times of recession people may feel such things are irrelevant but I think the opposite. We have enough dreary depressing reality to deal with from day to day. It's refreshing to see brands like Meadham Kirchhoff really going for it in the way they present their work. I would love to see more of that in fashion."
This fanciful mindset underscores Sorcha's work, which has always struck me as an indulgence in a secret magical world that has felt like an explosion from her brain – a secret world that isn't freely penetrable. Her S/S 13 collection therefore is a more complete and indepth manifestation of the sort of dreamer's aesthetic that she has been getting at. She looked at the work of stained glass artist and illustrator Harry Clarke. Sorcha's enthusiasm for Clarke's work is clearly evident: "His work is incredible, the first time I saw his original drawings in the flesh I was so overwhelmed by their beauty and craftsmanship. His use of colour and the intricacy of his delicate lines are mind blowing. Then I discovered one of his stain glass pieces (the Eve of St Agnes) which again I was bowled over by. The ornateness was like no other stain glass I'd seen before. He melted a lot of glass gradients of colour together but then he also etched and painted over the glass panels so the overall effect is incredibly layered in colour and detailing. A lot of Clarke's work is quite romantic but he also illustrated Edgar Allen Poe's Faust. These works are mostly in black and white, hey are much darker and some are quite gruesome I loved the contrast of his haunting/uneasy and dreamy works. That was the main mood I wanted to portray with the collection."
The collection's literal references to religion and more specifically Catholocism is immediately reminiscent of the vivid and visceral Catholic imagery seen in Baz Luhrmann's 1996 film Romeo and Juliet such as the neon crosses, the kitsch Virgin Mary idolatry and floral embellishments. Explosions of flowers, tulle and glass beading frame religious imagery but the central motif of the collection is definitely the glass beading embellishment which were placed on tulle and pvc as well as making its way onto skinny trousers. "Looking at Clarke's work, I wanted to try and create motifs through layering glass beads, playing with them flat and in 3D to try and create texture and colour through embellishment. I've been obsessed with embellishment since interning in Paris. It's something I never thought about before then. I played with it a bit in my graduate collection, but up until now logistics (aka budget) never allowed for me to explore it more. This season we were so lucky to be sponsored by Toho, we we had the luxury of a large supply of there beautiful glass beads, which is dangerous for me the more I bead the more i want things to be encrusted. If we had more time I probably would still be plonking more beads in every nook and cranny!"
Having worn a piece from the collection, the contradiction between the foundations of thin and delicate tulle or clear PVC and all this heavily ornate beading is that you feel like you're wearing something extra precious simply because you're not sure whether the tulle can support the beading. You're more conscious of the intricate handiwork, which is a good thing. The weighty tulle top that I got for my birthday is actually already available to order on her website alongside the floral clutches and some jewellery.