Lauren McElvaney

Fashion designer whose work has been uniquely shaped by her experiences of bereavement

John Rainsford

Reporter:

John Rainsford

Lauren McElvaney

Born in Monaghan, I later moved here to study Fashion Design at Limerick School of Art and Design (LSAD).

Initially, I went to St Louis Girls’ National School, and then Secondary School also at St Louis in Monaghan town. However, I didn’t start taking Art as a subject until transition year as I always felt that it was not practical enough to secure a job for me in the future. Nevertheless, I kept it on for my Leaving Certificate and subsequently did a portfolio preparation course at Monaghan Institute of Technology.

Coming from a creative family, as a kid, my cousin and I loved to design clothes and accessories, dreaming one day that we would establish our very own brand.

Unfortunately, she subsequently decided to become a teacher so it was down to me to keep that dream alive. My late dad was an interior designer and my Mum has an artistic flair and a keen eye for detail. My maternal grandfather is a painter/decorator and his siblings are talented in carpentry and knitting. Indeed, when my paternal grandfather retired he began doing some landscape gardening.

Trial and error is a very important means of finding an artistic style of your own.

For example, in my graduate fashion show, I wanted to take a very personal approach, with bereavement being my prevalent theme. The resulting collection entitled; ‘Nostalgia’ was inspired by the fading memories of my father who passed away when I was just six years old. The subject is my childlike response of holding onto the past and trying not to forget the deceased. So, I played around with the idea of dressing-up in my Dad's old clothes, creating an oversized look, while incorporating key elements from his wardrobe. Words and text were later written on the garments to portray my feelings of nostalgia while re-awakening latent emotions resulting from hugging and child’s play. The wadding and padding in the pieces creates a sense of being engulfed by these memories with sleeves creating a ‘Hug Like’ effect. In this, I used fabrics like denim, gingham, printed poly cottons, lamé and waterproofs, to keep the playful childish elements within the collection.

It was Elizabeth Broun who once wisely wrote that; ‘Art is not always about pretty things.

It’s about who we are, what happened to us, and how our lives are affected’. Everyone has lost someone at some point in their lives, some under more tragic circumstances than others, but it all plays an important part in whom we become as adults. My first experience of death was when my father passed away from a heart condition at only 29 years of age. This was something that I found difficult to deal with and still struggle with today. I remember people telling me that it was OK to cry and that it would get easier. Being so young, however, it was something that I never wanted to deal with and something that never got any easier. In retrospect, I wanted to feel that pain forever, because I believed that this was how I would remember him and keep his memory alive. The hardest thing about losing him was forgetting little things as I got older and maybe this was one of the reasons that I wanted to use bereavement as a base for my work. However, I have only scraped the surface of this topic and would still like to explore it further.

Probably, there is no one specific thing that makes a person want to be a fashion designer, rather it is something that you are drawn toward.

Certainly, tackling the loss of my father as subject matter wasn’t an easy one. However, it did force me to confront those emotions that I had tried so long to ignore. For example, I found myself remembering things about my dad that had started to fade and through this exploration I almost started to feel like I knew him again. The whole design and manufacturing process was very difficult though, especially towards the end when I was writing and drawing on the garments. It was almost like an unconventional diary that I used to pen my feelings on. I often got upset when the emotional aspect of the collection took over but I had to push through these moments in order to get the collection finished on time.

For more about Lauren please see: www. laurenmcelvaney. weebly.com