By Natasha Rocca Devine
Having studied in the National College of Art and Design (NCAD), do you feel that this training furthered your skills immensely. Or was fashion design always natural to you?
Going to NCAD was one of the best decisions I made in my life so far, although it certainly wasn’t the easiest to carry out. Having being born and raised in The Sudan Art and Fashion were not even considered a way of life. Not only that, try convincing two parents who are both in the medical profession that what you wanted to do was not just about drawing pretty pictures all day or sitting sewing alterations.
I originally wanted to study Fine Art and was quite determined that only this was for me. But after experimenting in so many modules during the first year in NCAD I realized that I was strongly drawn towards Fashion and Textiles. After all, everything I had done in Art up to that point had been very textile orientated. I think all along I had an attraction to fashion without realizing it and it took NCAD to focus my mind and concentrate on developing my natural skills, home in on my strong points as well as teaching me new craftsmanship’s.
You have said that having Egyptian-Sudanese parents along with your childhood being based in Sudan has influenced your designs. Which characteristics are apparent in your knitwear collections?
My work is definitely culturally influenced. I combine the exotic colour and textures of my Arabic background with Irish structure and sensibility. I don’t shy away from severe colours. I have a natural sense of combining un-thought of colours and making them work and I think this comes from being surrounded by colourful bold patterned fabrics in the Sudanese dress when I was growing up.
Another feature of the Sudanese/Arabic dress is the layering of draped garments and this element continuously pops up in my designs. I experiment with different techniques to create unusual fabric textures, which are then layered or placed side by side to give different proportions and substance to the garments. It is the creative input of effectively knitting one’s own fabric before setting to work with it is a crucial part of my decision to specialise in knitwear and I take full advantage of this craftsmanship to form my own distinctive style.
Since your completion of your NCAD degree, you have worked with the Irish Knitwear designer Lainey Keogh, who has dressed ladies such as Naomi Campbell, what was this experience like?
I remember my first day at Lainey, I walked in and there they were! All those fantastic yarns!! So many colours and different qualities! I was like a kid in a candy store! I couldn’t wait to get my hands on them and begin the magic of designing knitted fabrics.
I learned a lot from working with Lainey. The months flow by and I felt I was in my element. I spent most of the time designing new colour ranges and patterned fabrics. At Lainey I produced organic, soft, fluid patterns combined with colour and texture. Most importantly I learned that you could still be experimental and adventurous with a design without losing the commercial/ wearable aspect to it.
Another designer that you have worked under is Vera Wang, who is known across the globe for fitting ladies in glamorous wedding gowns. How did this position come about?
Who would have guessed? From Lainey Keogh to Vera Wang, two such different sectors of the fashion industry. After making the difficult decision to move on from Lainey when offered a job at Vera Wang (some one had recommended me), I realised some months down the line that knitwear was definitely the way I wanted to go, but was glad I had made the move. It is important to gain experience in different fields; as a result I had polished of a different set of skills at a couture level working for Vera Wang. I now felt more confident to dive in at the deep end when I made the decision to start my own label.
You are also known for your fashion planning as 'The Loft Market' co-ordinator, setting up T.A.D.C.O.I and various other projects such as the Dublin Fashion Fringe. How do you retain any balance between this and your own designing?
With great difficulty! But I think it is important to get out there and network and create your own opportunities!! You find yourself growing as a person and that comes across in your own work. If you compare what you have done say a year ago to what you are producing now, there is a massive development in the maturity and sustainable substance in your designs. After all it’s not just objects that inspire you but those around you as well.
Everyone needs to support one another in the creative industry and help put Dublin on the Art and Design Map. We have a lot of catching up to do in our attitude towards art and fashion compared to London or New York. But I strongly believe that there are people out there at the moment slowly but surely shaping the Dublin Fashion scene.
What do your future plans entail? Design or industry projects and management?
I always envisioned of having an established label under my own name. And without jinxing anything I would like to say that this is slowly becoming a reality for me. I consider myself a talented, ambitious dreamer but also a very lucky person for having such amazing support from my family, friends and colleagues. I can’t imagine myself doing anything different than what I am trying to achieve now and hopefully it will all work out without too much drama!