Ten Meets Menswear Designer Robyn Lynch, The Fashion East Star Hailing From Dublin
My phone call with Robyn Lynch falls at the tail end of St. Patrick Day celebrations, where the emerging menswear designer, and proud Dubliner, “partied hard alongside half the nation.” If she’s in any way hungover, her delicate accent and generous mouth does well to hide it. She calls from her family home in Malahide, twenty minutes outside of Dublin’s town centre, where she has set up her studio in the spare room, citing the crippling cost of living and having a studio space in the capital as the deciding factor in returning home. “I had to think – do I get a job, live in London and continue living that London life or do I take up the risk and try and start up my own thing?” she explains.
Lynch is one of the latest names to join the design talent initiative, Fashion East, as part of which she debuted in January alongside fellow newbie Mowalola Ogunlesi and next to now-experienced design duo Stefan Cooke. The close proximity of Dublin to London by plane, soothed by cheap online flight deals, has allowed for the designer to head back and forth for meetings with the Fashion East’s mentoring initiative, who in her words have been “super super accommodating, they really understood the struggle, completely got it. There wasn’t an issue whatsoever.” That’s not to say Lynch isn’t itching to cross the water for a more permanent fixture of time. She’s currently applying for studio schemes across the capital, as the lack of resources available in such a small town has maintained a strain on her design process. “There’s just not the infrastructure you have in London for fashion designers, it’s a no brainer really” she says. “I run out of a zip, and they only have invisible zips for womenswear in the little shop next to me. It’s just little things like that, not being accommodating. For menswear especially.”
This doesn’t mean that Lynch follows the atypical small-town narrative of being sat impatiently waiting for her time to free herself from the shackles of that hometown identity. Instead, Lynch’s approach to design orbits purely around her own hometown glory. Archive clips taken from the RTE (Ireland’s equivalent of the BBC) dating back to the late 1980s and old family photographs inform the basis of her designs. The result is a detailed, personal exploration of the Ireland of yester-years, through a lens fit to the menswear trends of today.
It was her MA graduate collection from Westminster University shown last June that caught the eye of journalist Charlie Porter, a panel member who picks the newest faces to join the Fashion East menswear line-up each year. In the block-coloured homage to the hues of the Irish Flag, classic cable knits were paired with loose hanging nylon shorts and awkwardly baggy jeans, belted to one side. A fit that your al’ man would probably take a liking to. The silhouette stimulated from photos of her own da’, and his mates, back in 1990 when Ireland got through to the quarterfinals of the World Cup – a summer she says “the country just went absolutely berserk.”
That said, it’s the carefree spirit of her first nights out in Dublin that she hopes to capture through her relaxed silhouettes. Her designs are like a dialogue with the sportswear fits that occupied the dancefloors of her earliest trips into town – set out against a backdrop that pre-dates social media anxieties. “We just wouldn’t care because we didn’t have the pressure of social media that my sister and my younger siblings have now,” she says. “We would just throw on a pair of [Nike] TNs and tracksuit bottoms and just go. And no one would care, one friend would have maybe a digital camera but that’s it. We had no say, it was going up the next day whether you liked it or not, and you were getting tagged in it on Facebook”.
The personal context of her clothes lends them to a tender nostalgic resonance, one that she is able to capture effortlessly through the boxy cut of a pair of jeans. Or the sagged finish of a tracksuit jacket. “I wanted to really home in on the colours. Using green again but going into a deep forest, then again with the white but taking it down again to a shade of ivory,” she tells me. “The blue came from the Dublin football team, when I was looking at all the footage I thought – okay I need to do the blue.” Finding out she got onto Fashion East late October, the pressure was on to create a collection that was due to stomp the hallowed concrete halls of Old Truman Brewery three months later. Robyn Lynch is a one-man band. The aforementioned knits hand dyed by herself, next to her mum as she cooked the Turkey for Christmas dinner. The shades meticulously colour matched to precise hues, a technique she devolved over a four year BA degree in Print and Textiles at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin.
It was that degree that served as a deciding factor for her decision to work in block colour. “I was made to do print for four years so I was finally given the opportunity to not have to do a flowery print, so I was like OKAY BLOCK COLOUR BLOCK COLOUR,” she laughs. That, and the focus it induces to the cut of the separate piece. The line of a jaw-string waistline becomes prominent, whilst the creases that form in the nylon tracksuits sag heavy to either side. Such attention to minute detail is reminiscent of her London based contemporaries Cottweiler (see the double waistband on the nylon shorts) and Phoebe English – interning with both during her MA.
Working under English’s eco-conscience design ethos has rubbed off on Lynch, who aims to be as environmentally wary as possible moving forward into her career. From Cottweiler, she gained some expert box-packing skills, alongside some pivotal business advice. “I think with them it was really about learning about the customer as well, I’d say they are their customer. And the guys who come in to do a fitting, or even pop in and say hi, they’re their customers too,” she says.
It turns out her decision to work in block colours is also a purposeful tactic in diverting the attention back towards the wearer. For Lynch, the right group of lads for the Fashion East show was pivotal, appointing casting director Piotr Chamier to find the group, asking each boy about the sports they played as kids. An army of wide-eyed, shabby haired boys, with laddish posture, perfectly encompassed a cheeky chap persona – the boys next door who wouldn’t think twice about helping ya’ mam in with the shopping.
This exploration of the mundanity is already jumping borders. Some of her first stockists include Rare Market in South Korea, Exhibition in Ohio, USA and Opening Ceremony in Japan. “It was really nice to see what pieces were picked up and what pieces weren’t and put that in a direction,” she says. “To get feedback, real feedback y’know. And not just my mum and dad saying – oh it’s lovely.” She has a knack for maintaining a distinct design rhetoric, one that speaks to her on a personal level. Currently working on her SS20 collection due to be shown in June, Lynch is evolving the sport-knit marriages, which turned out to be rather popular with international buyers. The theme? This time the lads are going on their school-leavers holidays. “I am really excited to see who is going to wear it, who is the end customer, how do they style it how do they wear it,” she says. “I have an idea in my head of someone I’d like that to be, but it’s completely out of my control. There’s something exciting about that.”
Photographs by Jason Lloyd Evans.
Robyn Lynch created an exclusive visual piece to go alongside this interview which captures the essence of her Irish Culture. The archives of Raidió Teilifís Éireann greatly influence Robyn’s collections and all footage in this video has been sourced from the archives. The footage is accompanied with music created by Dylan Moran (Céilí) – produced exclusively for Robyn’s AW19 debut show with Fashion East.