Garments to dye for: a conversation with Riona Treacy
London-based designer Riona Treacy has created an eponymous womenswear line that uses a special dying technique of shibori to create beautifully unique pieces. Having gained work experience at some of the most prestigious fashion houses, including Mary Katrantzou and Alexander McQueen, Riona is well equipped to expand her own fashion empire. Already heralded as "Best New Designer" in the Looks Great Awards and featured in Fashion Scout's "Ones to Watch", we look forward to seeing what this designer will achieve next. Here to speak about her recent collections and how she incorporates the intricate process of shibori into her designs, is a conversation with Riona Treacy.
Describe a typical woman who wears Riona Treacy?
I tend to design pieces that work on all body shapes. I am a naturally curvy woman, and I love to wear clothes that flatter my shape, but not necessarily accentuate it. Therefore my dresses allow women to look sexy, without being too revealing. I would say that my clothes are feminine yet they can be quite androgynous rather than girly.
Tell me about your recent collection The Island?
I spent time on a tropical Island in Australia and was inspired by some of the juxtapositions I witnessed in nature. I took pictures of dead and colourless coral bones which made up an entire beach. They were such a contrast against the lush greenery of the jungle. The collection was less about actually being on an island or feeling alone, and more about the contrasts in nature.
What's your favorite piece from it?
Probably the Jungle Ghost Dress. It is quite striking as it is pure white on the front and has full shibori dye pattern on the back.
Tell me about the shibori dye technique you use.
I trained as a print designer, but what I really love to explore are different dye techniques and how you can manipulate the structure of a fabric and the core of the fibre, rather than printing on top of it. So I started to experiment with devore and shibori, an ancient way of creating a pattern on cloth. The dye takes to each piece of material differently due to the natural creases created in the folds of the fabric, which means that each piece is completely unique.
Do a lot of people use this technique?
It is quite a traditional technique, and each piece has to be individually wrapped, so it is extremely time consuming. It is not widely used in fashion as it is difficult to produce in mass quantities.
What helps you get inspiration for your designs?
In a previous collection for example, Blood Robots, it was very much about people and their personalities. I tried to translate how people can be deep thinkers and wear their hearts on their sleeves or, in contrast, be very cold and reticent, hence the ‘robots’ side of the collection. So that collection was more about exploring different personas and people. Often I pull inspiration from something I see or an experience I have. Or it can be as simple as a particular feeling I have towards a colour or texture, that I want to express through a design or a collection.
Would you ever expand into menswear?
I actually get asked this question quite often. I would like to dabble in menswear by starting with something simple like T-shirts and perhaps let it grow from there.
How was the experience of interning at Alexander McQueen? Do you dream of operating at such a large scale too one day?
Working at McQueen was amazing, and I was surrounded by so many different creative people. It is probably one of the highlights of my career. I love where I am now as I am still able to be very creative. Of course I want to grow as a brand, but I don’t want to force it, it should happen organically. However, I am very excited about my next collection and hope to expand over the next 12 months.
How did you get into designing wedding dresses and bespoke pieces for clients?
When I started showing collections, people would often request a certain piece in white for a wedding. Or they would ask for a certain piece in another colour. Moving into weddings happened really naturally, as not every bride wants to wear white lace or silk, and it is a real honour designing a dress for someone, on one of the most important days in their life and the bride gets to explore her creative side.
What has been the most difficult part of starting your own brand?
For me, it was probably finding the right manufacturer who understands you as a designer and then figuring out the business side of things. As a creative person, operating a business does not come naturally to me, so that was a challenge. The Centre for Fashion Enterprise is amazing, as they give free help and mentoring for designers. There is a lot of advice available to help you navigate the business behind the design process.