‘Granny chic’ helps Dublin fashion student win prestigious €4,000 Brown Thomas bursary award

NCAD fashion design student Eve O’Reilly (right) with a model Ami Jackson wearing one of her award-winning 'granny chic' designs. Photo: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

Bairbre Power

Eve O’Reilly’s “blue rinse” graduate collection has turned the “granny cliché” into cutting-edge fashion, finding inspiration in everything from the humble headscarf and hair rollers to the ubiquitous trolley bag.

An egg dress, fold-up baked beans coat and skirt made from anti-slip table mats are just some of the elements in Eve’s award-winning collection which will go into Create at Brown Thomas in July.

The 24-year-old final-year NCAD student from Clontarf was named winner of the Brown Thomas ‘Designer to Watch’ Bursary Award 2023, which comes with a €4,000 prize, a mentoring programme and installation in store as part of its annual summer celebration of Irish design talent.

Ms O’Reilly combined hand-drawn prints, photography, knit, screen printing and embellishment to create over-the-top, yet glamorous pieces that celebrate life and growing older.

“I think older women are really largely unseen in the media and we constantly equate femininity with youth which is just completely wrong,” she said.

“There seems to be this idea that once you hit a certain age, you suddenly can’t be stylish anymore, you have become almost invisible which is completely wrong.

“I think it’s something that needs to be changed and this concept is something that I would love to bring forward into my next collection.”

Two very stylish women in Eve’s life were central to the development of the collection. There’s her “60s chick” Nana, Deirdre Thompson, and her own mother, Deirdre Thompson, whose style inspired the young designer to create a collection that would resonate with those with a spirit of non-conformity and ultimately show “that you can be creative, stylish and vital at any age”.

In Ms O’Reilly’s hands, the trusty headscarf is elevated and knitted in merino and lambswool. The aspiring designer – pictured wearing a vintage suit and tie she found in Edinburgh – added that “taking accessories associated with granny cliché, I made the headscarf quite punky and glamorous with rollers”.

The ultimate granny cliché accessory – the trolley bag – helped to inform shapes in the collection and the oversized separates, dresses, outerwear and headpieces.

The fabric in a pleated skirt was made from anti-slip mats which Eve crocheted into place and huge plastic storage bags inspired both her check prints and colour palette .

“I wanted to use everyday objects and familiar items to reflect the normalcy of ageism,” she added.

“I was really inspired by the documentary Advanced Style, this movement that started in New York when photographer, Ari Seth Cohen started photographing older women on the streets of New York, “ said Eve who now hopes to study for a master’s in Antwerp.

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