Robyn Lynch is a designer on the cusp of change
As she prepares for her debut standalone show on the menswear schedule in January, Robyn Lynch discusses the future of her brand post-Fashion East.
Photography Lewis Khan
For the past two seasons, Robyn Lynch has opened the Fashion East show at LFWM with a wholesome, exuberant collection of playful block-coloured menswear. Cutting through the more abstract, conceptual designs favoured by many of London’s young designers, Robyn’s work occupies a space that is -- while just as charming and emotive -- firmly grounded in reality. A graduate of the National College of Art and Design, Dublin and the University of Westminster, her first collection was described as “clothes your da would like as well as the lads down Croke Park” by i-D. Make of that... what you will.
This coming January, however, Robyn will cut short the typical three-season rotation and instead debut her first standalone presentation after two Fashion East shows. “It was a huge honour to be on their platform and nurtured with the support so early on in my career and straight from university,” she says. While Fashion East -- which is now combining its men’s and women’s shows to present one co-ed show per season instead -- will undoubtedly have helped her grow her brand, with such a clear brand message and a confident approach to construction, Robyn will have little trouble graduating from the incubator. “Going standalone is quite daunting, but also exciting.”
Moving back down to London recently, having resided back home in Dublin during Fashion East, Robyn is now focusing on refining her brand with the intention of growing. “We have a small team here in London and we are just working on our upcoming presentation for January right now,” she says. “We are paring back down our number of looks and trying to portray a concise 360 vision of what our world is.” But despite the move down to London, with Ireland remaining a perennial reference, Robyn recently chose to shoot her first collection for Fashion East on the island of Inis Oirr. “Irish culture inspires everything I do, something I only kind of realised when I studied in the UK and being surrounded by classmates from all corners of the world.”
Collaborating with documentary photographer Lewis Khan, the pair wanted to bring the clothes “back to the source” and celebrate the collection against a classic Irish backdrop. Inis Oirr, with a population of 260 people, provided an opportunity to contextualise Robyn’s work in a completely new way. The result is a charming photo story and accompanying film that celebrates the natural beauty of remote Irish landscapes as much as of Robyn’s design.
After two seasons on the Fashion East roster, how does it feel to be presenting as a standalone brand at LFWM in January?
Planning these presentations and shows is like planning an hour-long wedding; I am learning about all the elements that go into it that you don't have to worry about while with Fashion East. It’s exciting to have creative control on elements I wouldn’t of in the past and just using this to create your own little world and portray your vision.
There's a very classic, nostalgic style to your designs and previously you've superimposed your collection onto 50s postcards from Ireland. What do you see as your biggest inspiration?
My garment references normally come from the 80s and 90s -- both the style and attitude in the photographs. With the postcard project we were focusing on the overall colour and aesthetic of that era, and thought it would make a nice juxtaposition back within this era.
Do you see yourself as a traditional designer?
I don't think so. I think Aran knit can be seen in a very traditional sense, but I am trying to change this slightly and introduce it to a new type of customer who normally wouldn't relate to an Aran jumper in the traditional form. I think not having a clue how to knit helps because I don't have the education in it to know what is the right way and the wrong way; I design by sourcing from charity shops and mashing together sportswear windbreakers with my overlocker and then handing that over to someone who actually knows what their doing. I am trying to take something that is seen as so traditional in Ireland and just do my take on it and see what happens.
You travelled to the island of Inis Oirr to shoot your debut Fashion East collection in these accompanying images. What's your connection to the island?
My connection with this island came through an event called Drop Everything. From there I reached out to Mary Nally, who is the founder of this event that happens on the island every two years. The tiny island becomes host to this amazing event and its aim is to encourage creative exchange between artists and audience alike. Lewis and I travelled out to the island during an “off year”, where we gave a talk to the teens in the secondary school about our creative paths. The idea for the project kind of got legs from there. As opposed to wanting to say something more, we wanted to just celebrate and capture the spirit of the boys and girls along with the landscape of the Inis Oirr. We wanted the clothes to almost take a back seat and not have it overly-styled. We let the boys wear them as they would and let them go about their day.
We filmed this project over five days which started with a late night in the school hall. There is no Garda [Irish police] on the island, so every now and then one travels over from the mainland and everyone has to be on their best behaviour. The pubs have to close on time which results in a BYOB in the school hall. Someone will jump on stage with an instrument and plug in the speakers. Within half an hour the hall is packed. It’s this sense of community we wanted to capture. The music in the video is live recordings of the boys playing their instruments. The voices throughout the film are a mix of accents... Dublin accents can be heard, because of an scholarship scheme funded by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, which gives the recipients of the scholarship an opportunity to undergo their education in a Gaeltacht school -- where everything is taught in Gaeilge [Irish language]. The remote island life helps students get a better education without the distractions of Dublin and city life.
How well did you get to know everyone? As someone who grew up in Ireland, albeit in a capital city, did you find a commonality between them and your teenage self?
The crew and I got to know the boys so well and still chat to them. The island is so small with a population of approximately 260 people… the group of them within the same age is so small that they are such a tight knit group of friends. It’s so special. Every time I go to the island it’s like pausing time. Their way of life brings me back to when I was growing up. There is no crime on the island, it is the safest place. They can literally drop their bikes on the side of the road and pick them up in the exact same place the next day. Or if one of their friends needs the bike then they just take it and will find it in someone's garden the following day.
Photography Lewis Khan