By CATHERINE PETERSEN
1. OFTEN remember the advice given to me many years ago by the great American architect Frank Lloyd-Wright We were discussing my job as Fashion and Textile Consultant with the newly established Irish Export Board, when this great man, who had achieved so much in his own field, said: "You must help to develop Ireland's handcrafts. In this machine age, handcrafted things of beauty such as your handwoven tweeds will become more and more desirable. Dig deep into your traditional resources and above all don't copy any other country."
The development of the Irish fashion industry in the last decade has shown how sound was Frank Lloyd-Wright's advice. The textile mills which rose to the challenge — and the expense --of producing new tweeds, by combining the traditional skill of the handweaver with the lighter weight yarns in "fashion" colours, found ready markets in England, America and on the Continent of Europe.
Our own leading Lrish designers and manufacturers built their reputations and flourishing businesses on the use of out native fabrics. Designers in other countries became more and more conscious of the beauty and adaptability of Irish tweeds and linens.
Outstandingly successful designers such as America's Vera Maxwell and England's Digby Morton featured Irish tweeds and linens in their highly publicized collections on both sides of the Atlantic. The "Master" himself, Balenciaga, has created from Irish cloth woven in the cottages of Donegal, models of supreme elegance.
Statistics may bc boring but the following figures will help to illustrate the spectacular Increase in Ireland's exports to the fashion markets of the world over the last nine years.
In 1952 our tweed exports amounted to £448,904. In 1961 ((he latest annual figures available) this figure had reached £810,063, an increase of nearly 100 per cent. Ireland's export figures for ladies outerwear in 1952 totalled only £24.199. By 1961 this figure, had increased in quite a spectacular way £2.739,312.
It is, indeed, encouraging that such great progress has been made particularly in the past few years. But even more can be achieved — particularly in the volume muss production section of this industry —if more serious efforts were applied to the all important question of design. This vital point is being continually hammered home by all those in public life and in industry, who are deeply concerned with Ireland's industrial future. With our country's almost certain entry into the Common Market in the comparatively near
Outdoor suit of Anna Livia red Donegal tweed, with hip-length jacket emphasised by diagonal buttoning. This suit is part of the Kay Petersen collection featured in the recent New York exhibition of the Donegal Handwoven Tweed Association.
future, the fate of many manufacturing firms will be sealed.
Apart from inferior design, the uneconomic costs , of many Irish textile firms will automatically rule their products out of the free and highly competitive markets of the seventies. On the other hand, there are many forward-thinking and progressive firms who can face the future with confidence because they have tackled and are tackling the problems of selling on competitive markets with vigour and intelligence.
Many textile firms are employing management consultants to put their houses — or rather their fac tories — in order. Mill owners and manufacturers are also becoming aware that good designers are no longer a luxury, but a vital necessity.
Mr, Sean Lemass, Ireland's Premier, and his Ministers take every opportunity of pointing out that Government policy is to give every possible help, including financial assistance. to those firms who wish to participate in Ireland's industrial development.
One aspect of Irish fashion which deserves special mention is the revival of the handknit industry. Almost seven years ago, during a visit to Donegal. I discussed with the Kcnnedys of Ardara the possibility of building an industry on the traditional "ganscy" which was being then produced in very small quantities for the home market by a handful of knitters in the Ardara area.
The Kcnnedys were enthusiastic. but almost insurmountable obstacles had to be overcome before. almost a year later, the first collection of Donegal handknits was shown at a sportswear collection of the Irish Export Centre in London's Regent Street.
The Donegal "gansey" appeared in a new guise. Expert designers. working in the medium of the lovely traditional stitches and htiinin yarn, produced a collection of fashion garments which won an immediate and enthusiastic reception from the fashion press and buyers.
Starting with sixty knitters, Kennedys now employ over a thousand women and girls to fill the orders which pour in from America, England, Scandinavia and South Africa.
From Donegal the industry spread to other counties. and today women in Galway, Cork. Wexford and even in Dublin ply their knitting needles to meet the ever-increasing demand for our traditional Irish knitwear.
On a recent visit to the United States, I was proud to see the happy results of a project started seven years ago. The smartest New York stores feature knitwear by Hills of Donegal, knitwear side by side with the best known names of Italy and France. Our fashions are worn with pride by elegant women everywhere. and I found American retailers anxious to buy more and more from Ireland,
The reception given to my own Couture and Boutique collection confirmed my opinion that Irish designers should use Irish fabrics. My collection was made entirely of Irish tweed designed by me with the co-operation of Ireland's leading mills.
Starting five years ago with a tweed which has become known as Anna Livia, I have since designed hundreds of brilliantly coloured tweeds. In our soft Irish climate I am convinced that women not only look more attractive, but fee/ more attractive if. instead of uninteresting tweed shades, they choose vibrant, gay colours particularly for day wear.
My gossamer lacelike tweeds for evenings were described by one of New York's leading fashion journalists as "spun like a dream of cobwebs in heavenly jewel-like colours." My entire production of these and, indeed, of the whole collection, has been booked for the coming year.
And so I shall continue to follow the advice of Frank Lloyd-Wright, and in doing so. hope to contribute even in a small way to the future of Ireland's Fashion Industry.