The Irish designer talks stained glass, memory and identity to friend (and photographer) Ellen Rogers ahead of her upcoming collection
Flowers and garlands, crochet, lace, crosses and religious charms adorn the body in Sorcha O'Raghallaigh's romantic world. Ahead of shooting the lookbook for her latest collection – the designer doesn't work to the strict diktats of S/S or A/W, offering new explorations of her personal vocabulary when she's ready – O'Raghallaigh spoke to her friend Ellen Rogers, the photographic talent working experimentally in analogue (and featured RISE photographer) exclusively for Dazed Digital, showcasing preview sketches here.
Dazed Digital: We are both fascinated with religion and the iconography associated with it; particularly your love of stained glass windows. What influence did that have on your current collection and when did religious iconography first manifest as a vehicle for inspiration for you?
Sorcha O'Raghallaigh: My latest collection is heavily based around Irish illustrator and stained glass maker Harry Clarke. He was important in the 20's and when I first saw his drawings I was so mesmerised by their intricacies and use of colour, there was something magical about them. I was totally blown away to see them in real life. He illustrated a lot of Edgar Alan Poe too. I loved the contrast of the dark and the romantic.
As for religion well, I grew up in rural Ireland and even though my parents were kind of hippies, school and friends’ houses were full of Christ and bleeding open hearts. My grandmother was would throw holy water over us before long journeys! It was something I was afraid of and I felt I would go along with it to fit in. As a teenager I saw Baz Luhrmann's ‘Romeo and Juliet’ because I was in love with Leonardo De Caprio. Luhrmann’s use of religious iconography opened my eyes: on a purely aesthetic level, I began to appreciate the intricacy and the ornate qualities, that’s when I became more aware of it as an art form.
DD: As an atheist I feel I have in some respects replaced religious practice with artistic practice and I realise when I became a photographer I noticed there was a type of worship in fashion that I was always attracted to, and there were these icons and symbols that repeated themselves. Now I look back at my background of watching ceremonies as a kid and I realised I too have replaced religion with fashion.
Sorcha O'Raghallaigh: I think we all need something to believe in, it's something that keeps us going.
DD: As well as religious symbolism you work with personal symbolism too. Your signature cape includes symbols of your past. Why did you choose to include an autobiographical quality in your work?
Sorcha O'Raghallaigh: That particular piece was part of my graduate collection, I based it around 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' and the idea of memories between lovers. I loved the concept of the film and the way it played with repetition. There was a scene with a patchwork quilt, it really appealed to me as I am obsessed with craft and there was something about patchwork quilt that echoed that. As a ritual, where you sit around making something, I found it so interesting and I wanted to be self indulgent and make a patchwork of memories.
It started as a fun thing, making a patch here and there, very therapeutic. I wanted it to be fun, not take itself too seriously then when we began working on it; it became really heavily embellished. Loads of friends would come round to help whenever they could. It also bought all my friends together and it sound so cheesy but it was an amazing few weeks. It was already so important for me in symbolism but to add the fact that it was made with friends, chatting and getting drunk of an evening made it all the more important. It’s a piece I will always treasure.
DD: Whenever I see that cape I am really drawn to it. It's a really sacred piece and now I know how much love was poured into it makes it all the more valuable.
Sorcha O'Raghallaigh: Yeah, we called it the beading circle. It does have semi magical powers. I always think of objects having energy and this has so much of our energy in it.
DD: Do you see it as a diary for that particular time or a manifestation of your friendship?
Sorcha O'Raghallaigh: It's certainly even more of the original concept than I had intended. I don’t even think of it as clothing. It will always be very special to me.
DD: What does being Irish mean to you and how does it manifest itself in your current collection?
Sorcha O'Raghallaigh: I rejected it, thinking everything was horrible when I was growing up. It was natural (I think) to rebel. Now with age, I have come to love lots of things about where I come from. The craft, the history, the countryside. I love old Ireland, being Irish there is a certain mentality I like. I went to Inisheer recently, with 300 people in tiny stone walls and ladies who knit iron sweaters all day, who were born there. Now I am sponsored by an Irish tweed company called Molloy and Sons, an old family from the same town my dad is from. They use old craft techniques and to incorporate that into my designs in really inspiring to me. I find the older I get the more I want to stay faithful to where I am from.
Text Ellen Rogers