How Michael Ste­wart found in­spi­ra­tion in the Bur­ren

What is re­mark­able about Michael Ste­wart’s grad­u­ate col­lec­tion is the sculp­tural qual­ity of the gar­ments, writes Deirdre McQuil­lan

The Irish Times Magazine - - NEWS -

At the age of seven, Michael Ste­wart was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up. He replied in­stantly: “a sculp­tor”. Al­ready the child from Co Clare had ex­hib­ited ex­cep­tional artis­tic tal­ent en­cour­aged by his mother, Ann, and his teach­ers at school and an ex­hi­bi­tion of his work had been held in En­nis Li­brary opened by Síle de Valera.

But such recog­ni­tion brought un­wanted pres­sure, to the ex­tent that he did not pick up a pen­cil to draw again un­til 10 years later.

Time moved on. He de­cided to study fash­ion in Lim­er­ick, grad­u­ated with Best Over­all Col­lec­tion, later winning the Stu­dent De­signer of the Year Award. His grad­u­ate col­lec­tion called Com­mune in white cot­ton em­bel­lished with green bu­gle bead­ing “like en­chanted moss” was ex­hib­ited at Lon­don Fash­ion Week.

It was an early in­di­ca­tion of his aes­thetic ap­proach, for cen­tral to his work and the core of what he cre­ates, is crafts­man­ship and the hands- on process – the bead­ing took him hun­dreds of hours of work – which he cred­its to his Ir­ish her­itage.

“I have to see every­thing in front of me in 3D. I could never make a gar­ment on the flat,” he once said. Sup­ported by the in­au­gu­ral bur­sary of ¤ 15,000 from Kil­dare Vil­lage, he went on to com­plete an MA in the Royal Col­lege of Art in Lon­don.

Dur­ing that two- year pe­riod, his tu­tor de­scribed him as an “emo­tional de­signer but equally deeply pro­fes­sional” ac­knowl­edg­ing Ste­wart’s back­ground and spiritual con­nec­tions to his na­tive Clare.

What is re­mark­able about his grad­u­ate col­lec­tion which was shot in the Bur­ren by An­drew Nud­ing and pre­sented re­cently on

The main con­cept was the re­an­i­ma­tion of an­cient fe­male forms which are very pow­er­ful

static live mod­els in the Dou­glas Hyde Gallery is the sculp­tural qual­ity of the gar­ments and their elab­o­rate yet de­cep­tively seam­less look­ing con­struc­tion.

“The main con­cept was the re­an­i­ma­tion of an­cient fe­male forms which are very pow­er­ful – so it is al­most that you are wear­ing some­thing that makes you feel more pow­er­ful,” he says.

The en­tire col­lec­tion was made in jersey, draped on a form first of all, then con­structed with can­vas, hand­stitched ( a tai­lor­ing tech­nique), and with up­hol­stery foam rolled and ma­nip­u­lated into shape over which the jersey was then draped. The metal fas­ten­ings were sculpted in clay then made in alu­minium and pol­ished for a high fin­ish, an­other craft- based tech­nique.

Ste­wart hopes to fur­ther his skills in haute cou­ture in Paris, but in the mean­time is sup­port­ing him­self teach­ing in Lim­er­ick “and I will only make some­thing if it is to the high­est stan­dard.”

Fol­low­ing in his foot­steps at the RCA will be Dubliner An­drew Bell, re­cip­i­ent of the sec­ond Kil­dare Vil­lage Bur­sary en­abling an­other ta­lented Ir­ish fash­ion de­signer to pur­sue their dreams in one of the most renowned fash­ion col­leges in the world.

Pho­tog­ra­pher: An­drew Nud­ing; Stylist: Kieron Kil­gal­lon; Mod­els: Kathia at Models1; Natasha at Se­lect Mod­els

Op­po­site page and above: “An­cient fe­male forms are so pow­er­ful,” says Michael Ste­wart, who used The Bur­ren in Clare as the back­drop and in­spi­ra­tion for his grad­u­ate RCA col­lec­tion

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