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Talia Byre, Central Saint Martins Fashion Design graduate.
Christina Donoghue: In your own words, how would you describe the clothes you make?
Talia Byre: Tough, raw, elegance.
CD: Which three words best encapsulate your collection?
TB: Reflective. Impulsive. Hopeful.
Craftsmanship and design go hand in hand, or at least they should do. I've always thought of traditional craftsmanship techniques to be more romantic in their nature. The idea of preserving a craft and keeping a trade going illustrates a specific type of passion driven by love and care that is often very hard to come by. The idea of slowly working through a collection, keeping in line with holding onto a distinctly 'hands on' approach, while almost being a perfectionist with the finer details...there's a beauty in that, that no one can deny. The 26-year-old Central Saint Martins MA Fashion graduate Talia Byre (Lipkin-Connor was her surname at birth) is just one of the many young graduates of today that understands this, using her family's long intertwined history rooted in the clothing trade and tailoring to start her own brand that designs for the modern woman or, as she so effortlessly puts it, the 'Byre woman'.
Byre's work is warm and almost familiar. Her designs - and unrestrained use of knitwear - almost evokes the feeling of a warm hug on a cold winter's day. Her colour palette is generally quite soft and easy on the eye, while her silhouettes and modern tailoring tend to be more abstract. To sum up, her work is simplistic yet endearing; a clash of contradictions that somehow works.
I meet the young designer over Zoom (surprise, surprise). Bright and bubbly as ever, I can't help but notice the blood-red sweater she's wearing, subtle and plain, yes, but it carries a message of confidence and hope - mirroring the narrative she later admits she wants her designs to send out too. Later on in the conversation, Byre confesses she's dressed in red because it helps her present better, 'You're always going to feel better if you're wearing bright colours' she admits, 'It's the reason I'm wearing red today, so I could present and talk - I think colour has such a huge effect on everyone, whether we realise it or not'.
Discussing her brand and how the events over the past year have impacted her, Byre, throughout the conversation, notes all the struggles (and triumphs) that go hand in hand when making a collection during lockdown, not to mention graduating in one too. Acknowledging the limitations of the pandemic and what she could and couldn't do, Byre refers to her first collection as 'Very much a kitchen collection', and to be honest, i'm sure many other graduates can relate. After all, lockdown hasn't left people with an abundance of space (or money for a studio) so it looked like, for a while, Byre succumbed to the classic 'late nights at the kitchen table' scenario. She goes on to acknowledge that '...A lot of things have picked up since then.' For instance she's moved into her first studio and has started working with a production team, all very official for someone who only graduated last year.
In today's world, talent can only get you so far, and Byre doesn't just have the upper hand of attending one of the best fashion schools in the world but also is supported by the fact that she's been surrounded by her trade since she was a young girl. It's fair to say that the young designer has a lot to be thankful for as part of her brand's history was made way before she was born, starting with a small boutique in 60s Liverpool called Lucinda Byre. The store sold up and coming designers of the era (including Mary Quant) and its own line - designed by the tailors and dressmakers that worked in the store, all of whom were Byre's relatives.
The designer is aware that she's the last generation of the Byre family who is a fashion designer through and through by taking an active interest in the industry and so, fittingly, feels determined to not let her history fade. Over our Zoom call, Talia pulls out various pieces that belonged to women in her family generations before - one being a heavyweight calf-length kilt - and then shows me pieces from her new collection, inspired by the clothes of her family worn decades prior. One of them being an almost identical kilt despite her insistence that 'lighter wools were used'. Needless to say, it's evident where Byre's inspiration comes from and how she interprets that reference to fit her own narrative. When asked about her family's effect on her own designs, she gingerly acknowledges that her modern references all come from the women around her, factoring in opinions from those closest to her - a tradition her family have kept to for generations.
For this collection, things naturally seem to have come full circle. Focusing on movement by emphasising how clothes shape and envelop the body, Byre looked to renowned 20th-century choreographer Noa Eshkol. Her close friend's sister, a dancer at Sadler's Wells, also acted as a fitting model for her while simultaneously helping with movement direction for the collection's lookbook. In a way, by consulting the women around her to help her build a solid foundation for her brand, Byre mirrors her family and the generations of women that have come before her, helping to carry on the signature Byre name.
I can't help but notice the bubbly energy Byre obtains throughout the interview. It's charming, not to mention highly endearing. But there's a lot for the young designer to be excited about. Since graduating last year, Byre has released two collections (this being the second) and has had Adwoa Aboah wear her clothes, as well as recognition from stylist Francesca Burns for her designs. So, things are definitely on the up, despite how bleak graduating into a pandemic may seem at times (something hardly underestimated by this fellow 2020 graduate).
To get a better understanding of Byre as a designer, it's best to hear her in her own words. So, on that note, here's Talia Byre on craftsmanship, her future plans and what she's learnt over the years...
CD: Tell me a bit about what it was like at the beginning of the lockdown and how it affected you and your design process.
TB: At the beginning of the first lockdown, I had just finished my Master's course. The same day as finishing, my sister and I packed everything into a case and took a very empty train home. I spent the first lockdown thinking about how I was going to progress, why I decided to study fashion design in the first place and what the future had in plan for my work. I didn't have many of my materials at home in the North at this time, so I used fabrics I had collected from when I was younger for toiling and borrowed my grandmother's sewing machine and tools.
CD: Considering this, how has your research process differed with this collection compared to previous collections?
TB: Having limited access to outside references this season allowed me to reflect on the resources I had at home, referencing construction and finishings on a selection of garments that I inherited. As well as truly analysing the spirit that the pieces evoke and how I might incorporate this feeling into the collection. I also studied Noa Eshkol's early modern dance works as a ritual process that I believe aligns with my work. The repetition and reflection she includes within her narratives is something I wanted to reference within this collection. To reference one singular dancer was a new exploration as this allowed me to really consider the depth of her work and the reasoning behind her more mediative postures rather than the performance at face value.
CD: You've spoken about the 'Byre' woman in your family and how it's changed over the past year. What type of woman are you designing for now? Who are the people that you can envision wearing your clothes the most?
TB: The Byre woman has definitely matured and grown up over the past year. To be honest, this is much like myself and the other women in my family at the same generation level, for a multitude of reasons. We have a tough, raw nature, so I'd say the people we can envision wearing the clothes the most are quite simply people like us, people who don't feel so aligned to a particular brand at the moment -people looking for treasured pieces, with a nod to heritage updated for today.
CD: Do you find it hard to mix modern principles (such as the silhouettes you noted) with traditionalist values? Or is this something that comes naturally to you and your work?
TB: In all honesty, it's something that comes rather naturally for me. I am trying to figure out why it's a natural step for me and my work but ultimately, it is about finding the balance between taking inspiration from these values and updating for a woman today. For example, take someone who doesn't have such a set Autumn/Winter vs Spring/Summer wardrobe, it'll then be about using lighter wools that can merge between seasons and become part of an edited wardrobe, whilst also updating the silhouette with a nod to the past.
CD: Do you think the idea of craftsmanship is romantic? How would you say this is incorporated into your work?
TB: I think craftsmanship can be perceived as romantic, but the years of hard work and training are tough. I particularly find the concept of dedicating your life to one particular craft quite romantic and something that doesn't exist so much currently. However, I can see this coming back. Throughout this collection, we have honoured this craftsmanship and skill by incorporating carefully constructed fabrics woven locally. That, for us, is the true definition of luxury.
CD: You've mentioned the importance of clothes being passed down in your family and that they are paramount to your work as a new designer, would you be able to elaborate on this a little bit?
TB: The clothes that we have inherited are really a capsule of craft in some cases, so these provide endless references for me, from finishings to fit. They also provide the goal in a sense, if we can produce a garment that can be equally passed down, then I'll be happy. That is the ultimate sign of respect in my world.
CD: What's the long term goal or dream for your brand?
TB: The dream would be to reopen a Byre store in the Talia Byre name. A boutique that has the same energy that the original Lucinda Byre store had but fitting for today. My goal is for Talia Byre to be the brand women return to each season to purchase or to add to their capsule wardrobe - to make Talia Byre a tradition in itself.
One lesson that I learnt during my time at art school... was that pursuing and honouring your authentic self is one of the most challenging but important things that you can achieve in your personal practice. This takes years and is much like a craft in itself.