When Editor-in-Chief, Zadrian Smith, founded PETRIe, his purpose was simple: “to welcome and encourage young talent to the industry in the same way as was common in the 80s and 90s.” With this in mind, we are pleased to introduce you to a young designer, Michael Stewart, who is just that: young, fresh, and talented. His name, and his 70s-cult inspired collection, is one to watch.
Born in Ireland and raised on the outskirts of the tiny village Kilkishen in County Clare, Stewart’s home-grown talent was later honed at the Limerick School of Art and Design - a far cry from the fast-paced pulse of the typical fashion scene. “A small school in the west of Ireland, fully removed from fashion circles, is not your typical fashion education,” Stewart explains in conversation with PETRIe, “but I think it is one that cultivates graduates that are resourceful and inventive.”
Resourceful and inventive are two suitably apt words to describe the multi-disciplinary magic behind Stewart’s spiritually inspired AW14 ‘Totem’ and SS15 ‘Commune’ collections. Speaking with PETRIe, Stewart talks drawing, detail and why Irish design is making a comeback.
Elizabeth Neep: Michael, when and how did you discover design was for you?
Michael Stewart: I always intended on becoming a painter, but when I went to art school [Limerick School of Art and Design, where Stewart completed a BA in Womenswear], it was design that captured my imagination - I loved the possibility that it held.
EN: How did you find your experience of studying at Ireland’s LSAD?
MS: The course really shaped me from a professional point of view - it was an environment that didn’t allow for ego. My sense of being Irish also plays a role in my design process. For me, it influences my aesthetic. I see a certain new confidence within Irish designers - an ability to reference the old Ireland with a new, contemporary eye. I love when they don’t shy away from something considered ‘cliché Irish,’ but embrace it and approach it with confidence.
EN: Did you gain any industry experience while you were there?
MS: Interning at Giles [Deacon, in 2012] was my first experience of working in the fashion industry. I worked on developing embellishments for his SS13 collection, which taught me to slow down and be truly considerate with my work. If I spent eight hours a day beading for someone else, why wouldn’t I do it for myself?
EN: And when you do design for yourself, what is the source of your inspiration?
MS: My work is influenced by my mood, environment, and whatever particular situation I find myself in at the time. I then rigorously research around my chosen theme.
EN: What inspired your latest ‘Commune’ collection?
MS: Both of my collections are connected by a theme of spirituality. ‘Totem’ is primal and ancient, whereas ‘Commune’ explores recent and contemporary notions of spirituality. I was inspired by the communes and cults of the 70s - I liked the idea that these garments might have been made in a commune, by and for the women that lived there.
EN: How did you attempt to convey this through your designs?
MS: I used Pagan-white cotton robes made from three different weights of fabric, with simple form and intensive hand beading to convey an attitude of self-reliance. The hand beading is created in high relief by using a seed bead to anchor a bugle bead into a vertical position; I wanted the effect to be organic and magical like enchanted forest moss, relaying an intimate connection with nature.
EN: What other processes and techniques did you employ in creating ‘Commune’?
MS: Drawing is always my first response when it comes to the design process - it’s where I do most of my problem solving and refinement. But when it comes to production, I like to take a strong interdisciplinary approach, experimenting with new materials and techniques borrowed from other disciplines. Craft is a theme I like to explore. I value the handmade - I think that an object can sometimes resonate with the energy of the maker. If a garment is created with energy and spontaneity it may have a sense of movement; if it has been laboured over a long period of time, it will emanate a sense of preciousness, even a sense of ritual or devotion to the viewer.
EN: Having recently graduated, what do you have lined up next?
MS: I’m currently working as an independent designer, [and am] always working on creating stuff all of the time. But I’m taking time to really hone in on what it is I want to do within womenswear - learning as much as I can rather than rushing into anything. I’m also applying to a number of UK-based design schools to gain further education. I’m completely open-minded, trying to get myself in the right position before going full-steam ahead.
Words: Elizabeth Neep
Photography: From Michael Stewart 'Commune' SS15 Lookbook by Andrew Nuding