Yesterday’s Met Gala welcomed Alexa Chung in an all-white ensemble by Irish designer Róisín Pierce. Here, she speaks about her new collection, and having her look on the world’s most exciting red carpet
During the decadent days of Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel before his passing in 2019, British cool-girl Alexa Chung worked as an ambassador for the French brand. She modelled the runway for Spring/Summer 2014, sat front row at the shows, donned his little black dresses, tomboyish tweed suits and two-toned pumps on red carpets across the globe. Then with yesterday’s Met Gala in ode to the legacy of Lagerfeld, Chung confounded expectations by opting for a delicate, all-white look by young Irish designer Róisín Pierce.
Debuting in Paris with her ethereal fourth collection for Autumn/Winter 2023 in March, the designer’s frothy white dresses have been gently pulsing through the fashion scene. Utilising generations-old techniques in ruffling, ruching and crochet to create buoyant, three-dimensional pieces that swell and sweep in motion, Pierce’s designs showcase the full spectrum in textile possibilities. Yet despite their complex construction, Pierce utilises an all-white colour palette as a tribute to the Irish ‘white work’ women in the laundries would undertake. “Irishness will always be a part of the label, if it’s from the craft or concept,” she told AnOther in 2020.
With Ireland as an enduring mine of inspiration, her new collection – Beware, Beware – traverses the history of women’s censorship and the gatekeeping of knowledge from women, focusing on the Irish Free State’s Committee on Evil Literature, which branded feminist books and educational material on women’s health and reproductive information as “obscene”. “While it seems like some time ago these injustices were endured, it echoes loud and clear with the decision to overturn Roe v Wade and the struggle for freedom endured by women in Iran,” Pierce tells AnOther.
Pierce’s designs evoke Lagerfeld’s enduring connection with the haute couture bride, utilising textile and detail-driven techniques that bare an innocence, a cool sense of youth, intrinsic to the future of the burgeoning designer’s identity, and the legacy of the acclaimed Lagerfeld. Here, alongside images by Cecile Smetana and a film by Rei Nadal, AnOther speaks with Pierce about the meaning behind her sensitive new collection, and designing Alexa Chung’s look for the Met Gala.
AnOther Magazine: Please can you introduce this collection?
Róisín Pierce: Beware, Beware is a material response to Lady Lazarus, Sylvia Plath’s searing examination of death and rebirth. This fourth collection celebrates the women that harness dichotomies to make progressive new visions of themselves and the world. The designs centre zero-waste ways of working and fabric manipulation that are both reverent and radical, expanding upon traditional artisanal techniques viewed historically as so-called ‘women’s work’.
Hyper-femininity is a liberation: petals as ruffles, bows, rosettes, loops, and scalloped edges. Irish crochet took on new shapes and intricate meaning, hand-crocheted flowers set among satin squares mimic chainmail, and what is first perceived as decorative and ornate becomes armour.
AM: What were your main references or sources of inspiration?
RP: The collection references a traverse history of censorship and control, with a close watch on the Irish government and the Catholic Church. With a self-appointed duty to ban “morally corrupting” literature, the Irish Free State’s Committee on Evil Literature banned and censored books, concentrating on women’s knowledge, feminist works, and women’s health and reproductive information. While it seems like some time ago these injustices were endured, it echoes loud and clear with the decision to overturn Roe v Wade and the struggle for freedom endured by women in Iran.
Like with all collections emotion drives them and these stories of women’s endurance are stitched into each individual design. The figure of Sylvia Plath’s Lady Lazarus looms large – a poem that evokes serenity and strength. We continually challenge our design process and that serves as a strong inspiration source. I found it significant to learn the history of the female shroud where Victorian women would gather to sew burial shrouds as part of their wedding trousseaux, necessitated by the fact that death during childbirth could swiftly follow their wedding day: a preparation for life and death through cloth.
AM: Was there a message or anything you were trying to communicate this season?
RP: It is a retelling and magnification of words previously silenced. Irish wildflowers were again referenced and in created forms of Irish ‘women’s work’. We found strength and resilience in the soft and feminine. The collection materially articulates a distinctive language of design to celebrate savoir-faire, and channels the voices of women society has attempted to silence across generations. Beware, Beware reclaims the astutely feminine power of making light out of something dark.
AM: What can you tell us about the look you have designed for Alexa Chung?
RP: The look is from our third collection, Two For Joy. The fluid squares top, made of a zero-waste patchworked satin with entrapped and overlaid delicate flower and star embroidery on organza, stitched amongst a high shine satin crepe square base, continually contrasting the two fabrics to create a soft alternating fabric pattern within the patchwork. This vigorous build-up of patchwork pieces leaves no off-cuts.
Appliquéd onto the squares top, are larger in scale, floating sculptural satin flowers, each flower is smocked and manipulated meticulously to create delicate wavy lively flowers, which are then padded and hand-tied and sewn together with deadstock bows, forming something organic and otherworldly like. It is layered over creating a further collage and labyrinth of intricate textures, flowers, forms and bows.
The skirt, crafted in a starburst delicate embroidery set into organza and flickering in the movement of the wearer. Together with the bubbling textures on the leg, and the jolting smooth bows-like flared hem, creates a unique silhouette not seen before. The complexity of this process results in a sense of fluidity and form, a transformation of fabric into delicate floral-like sculpture.
AM: How does it feel to have her wearing something you’ve created to the Met Gala?
I am delighted. The fact that it is also a tribute to Karl Lagerfeld makes it even more great. Seeing his haute couture were my first instances of fashion that felt truly special to me. His haute couture collections celebrated otherworldly textures and intricate craftwork, in ways that feel both magical and liberating for myself as a designer.