‘ Red- carpet style commentary is a blood sport’
As Peter O’Brien’s new collection debuts in Dunnes Stores, the designer vents to Deirdre McQuillan on ‘ matchy matchy’ clothes . . . and more
Peter O’Brien’s collection for Dunnes Stores is his first summer collection in 10 years. When we meet in Appassionata’s flower- filled shop in Dublin, where it is being photographed before its April 12th launch, he admits in his typical self- deprecating way that he is nervous about it.
“Summer is much more difficult commercially because there is so much more bite in winter – heavier materials, coats. It is harder to capture people in summer and you have to think about races or weddings,” he says, wheeling out the clothes rail.
On many sartorial subjects, he has forthright opinions that are eloquently expressed. Get him going on “special occasions” and he’s off at full speed.
“When I think about that phrase, I have to lie down in a darkened room – it terrifies me because it goes with the matchy- matchy hats, shoes and bags and [ it] looks like what the French called en dimanche, too Sundayed up – posh clothes, dressed just to be posh and not to wear what you would wear every day”.
So what’s wrong with dressing up, we ask? The ritual of dressing up he accepts “and there is a lovely account in The Edwardians by Vita Sackville West about getting ready for a ball and the sound of swish- ing silk, so I do understand the joy of it. But there is no need to put on a disguise because you have a special occasion. It’s like the Queen when she wears thousands of pounds worth of jewellery just as if they were brooches from a high- street store – it’s unselfconscious. Just put on my clothes and forget about them,” he shrugs.
The collection which features two standout pieces – a black/ pink Prince of Wales check summer coat, the fabric from a famous mill in Italy and a long navy silk dress – is a small one in his familiar restricted palette of navy and pale blue double crêpe and what he calls a Marie Antoinette blue green, “a rather indefinable colour which I love”. There are oversize white silk poplin blouses, skirts trimmed with ribbon detail, a shapely black coat and two navy jackets.
The shoot has been deliberately styled with flat shoes: “I think you can wear a posh dress with a pair of flats – I wanted it to be visually light, summery and easy. When everyone i s matchy matchy and t oo outfitted, it means that you can end up looking like a member of the chorus in an amateur dramatic production of My Fair Lady.”
His views on racing style are equally adamant. “If you are standing in a field at the races in six- inch heels – and in Ireland prob-