The Prowlster by Tissue Dublin

Interview with TISSUE in The Prowlster, Saturday, June 6th, 2015

Words by Sophie Donaldson

I am in the studio of Dublin based label Tissue, it’s a boxy room and one of many that fill up Block T, the creative hub of design businesses nestled in Smithfield.

The room is a conglomerate of pattern blocks, fabric samples, sketches and garment samples. Recent award recipients of the Design & Crafts Council Future Makers programme, the successful launch of SS15 is behind them and AW15 recently completed. The definitive shift between the two seasons and two collections is indicative of the leaps and bounds this fledgling label makes with every endeavour they take on. Despite such success since the label’s inception in 2013, there is one more milestone they will be meeting next month- Tissue’s Brown Thomas debut as a part of CREATE, the young designer showcase the lauded fashion emporium holds each year. One half of the design duo, Hannah Mullan, reflects on the process so far:

“When you work in the industry you see how much goes into it and you’re almost afraid to do it, but it’s been great, it’s really stimulating. It’s been a bit of juggling because we both work part time as well… In some respects we split the workload. My trade is a pattern cutter and it’s something that’s very easy for me to just do, but then it’s really important to have Grainne because I think sometimes when you’re cutting the patterns it can be very difficult to design because then you start thinking like a pattern cutter and that can compromise your designs, so you need someone else to reign you in or push you. It can be really difficult. Sometimes it would be such a luxury to just go, just make it fabulous!”

No matter the process, fabulousness has indeed triumphed. The SS15 collection appears to float upon the rail, the daubs of organza and whispers of silk crepe whipped into languid slip dresses and floaty deconstructed blouses. With a neutral base of cream and mint, the colour palette is surprisingly interjected with a dewy emerald. The vibrant jewel green lands with an oomph! but is wonderfully harmonious amongst the demure shades. With print being integral to the brand’s identity, there are two intricate patterns that play out across the garments.

‘We started with the print and were looking at architecture and landscape. A lot of it we were really talking about print first because this was when it was more of a print project, and then Grainne created the prints… it’s taken little architectural elements in Dublin, kind of suburban.”

Grainne Finn makes up the second half of the partnership, and her talent as an illustrator coupled with Hannah’s vast experience in production has allowed them to be quite savvy when it comes to their own designs. “You can plan your print. Because (with) print, when you’re cutting, there’s often a lot of wastage because you have to match the print… We’re trying to be a bit more holistic to our approach, and you know what, the print is really telling the story of the collection, if that doesn’t sound too naff!”

An extremely sold foundation forms the basis of this design duo. With both designers having accrued years of experience working within the worlds of art and fashion they bring a wealth of knowledge to the table.

“I worked in John Rocha for years and then I left because I was having a baby, and it’s so intense that environment and I loved it, but I knew for me I want to be able to focus on my child and I couldn’t travel, and its not fair on the person you’re working for, you want give them everything as well. I did an internship years and years ago, it’s actually how I know Danielle Romeril, because we both interned with Sharon Wauchob in Paris at the same time, and she was great. She talked to each each of us at the end was like ‘What’s your plan, what do you want to do?’, and everyone says I want to set up my own label. And she says ‘You have to get production experience’, and that’s something I have a lot of, because when I was working in John’s I used to run the sample room and small production runs… it’s sort of the less glamorous side of pattern cutting but it’s really good experience to have and I know that’s something that I have that’s quite difficult to get.”

With Hannah’s background rooted in fashion, Grainne’s approach is from that of fine art and illustration with a degree in illustration and Masters from NCAD, which she did on art in the contemporary world, a ‘curatorial kind of practice MA’. Friends for years, the two designers were working on an exhibition together when the idea of a collaboration began to form. Initially planning on executing a line of printed silk carves the ideas gained momentum and the scarves became t-shirts, the t-shirts blossoming into an entire collection. Despite this initial snowballing effect the two take a very steady, concentrated approach. They are both aware of the difficulties in sustaining a label but have every intention of doing just that.

“We’re trying to keep it under control on a small scale that it’s able to work, so in a year or ten years time you have your label… you can have your show piece but I think we’re both past that stage, we’re very practical, and we’re both very particular and our aesthetic would be slightly different but I think that’s good when it’s the two of you, because I like the fact that its not just one of us. And when we were coming up with the name neither of us wanted to use our surnames because we wanted it to be more about, not a brand, but that it was a whole kind of concept that wasn’t about myself or Grainnne- it’s about Tissue, French for fabric and we wanted it to be about fabric and it’s not really about us.”

Coming from two different worlds but sharing a singular vision for their brand, the two have a strong working relationship, with Hannah able to handle the production side whilst Grainne creates the prints, using a mixture of hand drawing and digital. “They’re incredibly intricate, she spends so much time working with the arrangement of the layout, and I suppose it’s not my area I don’t have to think about it too much. I  can say yes I like that or no I don’t like that, and what we would often have discussions about is the scale of the print because I always want to it really big and she’s like-no. But again it’s a good conversation we have. I think I would be much more about the actual sale of the clothing once the print is there. And it’s been a learning curve for both of us because you’re learning about what the other person’s rules are.”

An understanding and appreciation of fabric is fundamental to the label, and entirely discernible when looking at the clothing. There is not a synthetic fabric in sight, with Spring Summer made up of silk and fine wool, and Autumn Winter a luxurious blend of hand loomed lambswool and Donegal tweed. Having departed from the diaphanous fabrics and coyly feminine look of the previous collection, Autumn Winter is blocky and bold, the kind of clothing worn by a woman described as handsome, not beautiful.

“We decided to go with one print this season because we felt that we wanted a bolder print, something more stand alone. Our inspiration was very much simplistic, Bauhus aesthetic. We were looking at the Ballet Russes collections, and we were looking at those costumes, very modernist, very big shapes. We wanted this to be very simple, that you can imagine a Bauhaus lady… anybody whose interested in modernism will say Bauhaus, but that’s really where we’re coming from.”

There is an air of quiet confidence and determination that emanates from our conversation, perhaps from Hannah having worked with some of the industry’s most lauded names, or perhaps from her inside-out understanding of the mechanisms that keep the fashion world turning. Whatever it may be, the resulting work of two incredibly talented designers sits before us, the understated elegance and fully formed aesthetic needing no fanfare or hand flapping. This is clothing that speaks for itself.

AW15 from Tissue will debut at CREATE Brown Thomas in July 2015