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Hungry like the wolf

Last update - Sunday, December 15, 2013, 18:16 By Tolu Omoyele

Every interview, every feature and every narrative shared here is a distinctive tale of the design journey and the lived experiences of the fashion design profession. Our latest subject, Amy De Loup, defines this perfectly. With a surname that means ‘of the wolf,’ Amy’s a rare gem with a mix of French je ne sais quoi and Irish witty humour. She is articulate, ambitious and knowledgeable, and her De Loup label is ethically sound, with a combination of modern style and old glamour…

Hi Amy! Can you tell us a little about your background and how you feel it prepared you for a career in design?
After finishing secondary school, I began a degree in fashion design straight away at NCAD. During that time I also worked part-time in retail and did work experience for window display and merchandising – something I found very useful as it was different to the heavily sewing-based course I was studying at college.
I found college great for pushing design creativity and for having the opportunity to develop my own style, though in my opinion the fashion design course didn’t really do enough to prepare students for the business side of things. Before launching my own label I did a course though the Business Enterprise Board which educated me much more about that sector.

What happened after you finished college?
I took a position as a visual merchandising and window display manager with a British company. I spent a lot of time in London, where I trained for the post, and would then travel to different parts of the country to install shop floor schemes and decorative windows. It was a steep learning curve and hard work with crazy hours. But I learned a great deal and I was glad to have the opportunity to do a job like that before working for a fashion designer and then eventually starting my own label.

How did you get started in your fashion design career?
I was working for quite a successful Irish fashion designer at the time and had not been working on any designs of my own for a while. Seeing someone else, though, with a completely different aesthetic vision made me really want to give my own design work a proper chance.

What drew you to fashion in the first place?
As a teenager I would always alter and customise my clothes; I couldn’t leave anything alone! And I had also been hugely into art since I was a small child. So by the time I was finishing school and doing my portfolio, fashion seemed like a good option.
There’s a lot of design in my family too: my father is an architect and artist and my mother is a mechanical engineer, so I’ve always been very aware of the balance of aesthetics and function.
I hadn’t studied fashion design with the intention of immediately starting up my own label, and I am glad I didn’t. I feel that doing other work first allowed me precious insight to other aspects of the industry and then I was able to allow the time for my own line to arrive in a more organic manner.
Tell us about your label. De Loup?
De Loup, from my French heritage, translates as ‘of the wolf’. I like how wolves can be graceful and sleek yet strong and stealth all at once. So that worked out quite nicely!

What does the creation of a typical outfit involve?
Trial and error in abundance! From initial thoughts to the finishing touches, things rarely go exactly to plan. Sketches turn to patterns, which turn to toile mock-ups, which turn to a finished item, and during that process changes happen.
I find it is best to embrace the organic evolution of a design and just go with it! Sometimes a design can take much longer to refine as an idea than it does to actually construct, and vice versa.

Do you outsource any of your design work or you do everything yourself?
Currently I do everything myself – which is useful for a control freak! – working from a studio in Dublin 2.

What materials do you use?
I use a lot of jersey, often a super-soft bamboo variety. All fabrics I use are okayed by the Fair Wear Foundation, which promotes ethical trade and justice for workers, something very important to me. I also have the tendency to be a bit of a glitter addict!

How did you come about your design techniques?
A lot of the key principles are what I learned in college; they stick with you and can be adapted in many different ways. I picked up some useful tips from a summer stint working at an alterations studio, and some other more obscure techniques such as shibori, a Japanese type of fabric dying involving binding around pipes. I have taught myself by following tutorials.

Tell us a bit about how technology has enhanced your design process?
While there are so many sophisticated computer programmes that aid in pattern cutting and technical garment drawings, etc, I find that technology has enhanced my design process in a different and much more initial way. What’s available on the internet now is so important to me with regards to inspiration. Blogs, online communities, street style features ¬– there’s so much out there at our fingertips to offer fresh ideas and trends.
Social media is also pretty indispensable to me as it’s always interesting to see reactions to my label. For example, I might see that a certain item is getting a really good response so I’ll build on that and take it into account for a new design.
You are predominantly a dress designer, but what else do you create?
Over the past couple of seasons jewellery has been really successful for me; various types of chain necklaces have proven popular. And for this current autumn/winter collection I have branched out into other accessories: clutch bags, slouchy bags, head wraps and head warmers, scarves, gloves. Winter accessories are a must-have in our crazy climate!

From where do you draw your design inspiration?
It can hit me from anywhere really! Details of a building; something I read; a glimpse of a magazine or movie. I love creating mood boards where I can assemble snippets of imagery and fabric samples and then have them on my studio wall to inspire me when creating a new collection.

What is your style? And who is your style icon?
Icon is a scary word to me! Though I am always keen to see DJ/model Leigh Lezark and Alison Mosshart of The Kills, musicians who allow their own personality to shine through interest me. I think I’m still experimenting with my own personal style. Maybe one day I’ll find it – along with a signature perfume!

What do people need to know about a fashion design career? What skills are important?
That it’s not full of the glamour, shopping and parties that so many people think it is. Replace the champagne with coffee, and the VIP functions with all-night sewing sessions and you’ll be closer to imagining the real deal! But passion and determination bring you through – plus the odd Red Bull.
As for skills, I think it’s important to be able to think in a way that allows you to design creatively and practically. Crazy creations can be fun to make but the likelihood is that if you really want a viable business then you need to be able to strike a balance which allows you to produce fresh, inspired designs and that are within your production budget. Each project brings the necessity for new skill along with it, so there is always the chance to learn and develop.

What’s been the most difficult aspect in launching your own label?
It’s often the case with designers/creatives that numbers and practicality are not their strongest points, and I would probably include myself in that generalisation! The business side of things can be tricky to grasp when it’s not something you have previous experience of. Just getting your name out there is tough enough, too; you have to bang on a lot of doors and kick and scream a bit just to get try and get heard.
What are the challenges facing the Irish fashion design industry from your own experience?
Despite a continually emerging number of designers, boutiques and collectives, I still feel that Ireland falls short when it comes to suppliers of raw materials. Choice is really quite limited when it comes to places to purchase fabrics, jewellery supplies etc, and that’s a shame. It would be nice to be able to access a greater variety of items and at better prices within this country. Also, on a global basis we are often grouped in with the UK and in that sense our identity as a creative nation can be overlooked.
I often think that it’s a bit of a catch-22 situation with regards to Ireland being a relatively small community. On one side of the argument, you can make contacts without too much complication and there’s accessibility to the industry that you don’t get in many countries. However, given again the small size of Ireland, I have found that the industry can be very cliquey. I often see the same people and ideas in regular rotation. And that’s certainly a shame as there’s a lot of talent here that just doesn’t get the chance to be seen.

What advice would you give a fashion newbie or student looking to become a designer?
Prepare to work hard and for your mind to never shut off! You will be criticised, feel downtrodden, and you will pour blood and tears into ideas that don’t pan out. But! Keep your ears and mind open. Listen to the criticism, learn from it, and adapt your ideas while staying true to yourself. When you reach that point, then things can start to be very fantastic indeed.

What do you wish you had known before entering the fashion industry?
I suppose I wish I’d known that it becomes apparent that some people’s attitudes are really quite obnoxious and ridiculous. But you just have to accept that and continue regardless in your own way. It’s sometimes very difficult to be enthusiastic and remain true to yourself. I sometimes wish I had known just how difficult and stressful that aspect can be.

What is fashion, in your opinion?
Fashion is whatever you want it to be. The word is often used in a sense that refers to apparel and trends that are ‘current’ and therefore ‘fashionable’, but I think it can be a much more personal and light-hearted thing. I really feel people take it all too seriously sometimes.

What do you most enjoy about a fashion design career?
While it’s a huge amount of work, there are certainly positive elements. There is rarely monotony: each day brings new to-do lists, new challenges. I love the excitement of seeing one of my finished pieces, whether it’s on a shop floor, on someone walking down the street or featured in a magazine. I don’t think that feeling will ever get old.

What is your greatest design achievement?
Since starting out a couple of years ago, I’ve received some fantastic press from notable newspapers and fashion publications including The Gloss, Image, Tatler, Totally Dublin, Stellar and in the Times Style Magazine. I have also blogged for and appeared on RTÉ and TV3.
Aside from that kind of acknowledgement, though, I really do gtoet a kick out of seeing a customer delighted with a piece of De Loup. Whether it’s an off-the-rail item they have snapped up or a custom commission that has taken time and communication, it’s wonderful to know that someone is happy with something I’ve made.

Where do you see the business in the long term?
I hope to continue to refine my label’s style and product range. With each collection I see De Loup edging closer to where I would like it to be so I am really hoping this trend will continue.

Any closing thoughts?
The autumn/winter De Loup collection ‘Chatoyez’ is currently stocked at Tamp & Stitch on Scarlet Row in Temple Bar, and in Atelier 27 on Drury Street. The De Loup website is being revamped at the moment, but you can keep up to date with the label via the Facebook page ( where stock and purchase enquiries can also be made.

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