Claire Fox catches up with one of Ireland’s best young designers, Emma Manley, about launching labels and working with McQueen.
Passion, patience and persistence. According to Irish designer Emma Manley, these are the three fundamental qualities needed to succeed in the fashion industry.
Considering the 28 year old set up her own label, Manley, at the core of the recession in 2010, it’s clear she possesses these qualities in bucket loads. Although the designer admits that Ireland’s economic instability “isn’t over by a long shot,” she believes if you can survive during the hardest of times, then you can definitely thrive during the best of times.
Debuting in London Fashion Week in 2014, and with department store giant Arnott’s stocking her collections, Manley’s star is only set to rise. Things haven’t always been plain sailing for the Castleknock native, however. In her early 20s, Emma set out to New York, “the city of dreams,” to pursue her own dreams of becoming a fashion designer with VSL. This was a time that brought about its own set of challenges. But like everything in life, Emma grabbed it by the throat and saw the positives.
“I was young enough at the time and there was a very last minute exit from someone, meaning I’d to go by myself. That was difficult but I have to say I like a challenge and I sort of made it my own. It made me reach out to people and made me develop in a way that perhaps, if I’d gone over with somebody else, I may not have had. So for me it was kind of ideal and went really, really well.”
Jetting across the Atlantic from the Big Apple to London, Emma honed her craft under the creative genius that was, the now deceased Lee McQueen’s brand, Alexander McQueen. While many of Emma’s colleagues couldn’t handle the pressure of working in such a demanding environment, this experience only served to make the Dubliner more passionate about all things design.
“It was a really intense situation,” says Emma. “You were just a cog on a wheel and you just kept going and going. It was a very exciting place to be but there was a lot of people who didn’t come back after their first week. It definitely taught me that I had enough of a love to keep going at it.”
This love grew to such an extent that Emma launched her very own label in 2010 at the tender age of 23, an age at which most are backpacking their way across Europe or battling their way to the nearest night club. Knowing instinctively that she had “something different to offer,” Emma used her surname to create the brand of her dreams. Manley, which is a play on words, fuses strong silhouettes with soft, feminine structures in order to get the best of both worlds. “What we try and focus on are really strong and contemporary silhouettes that are hard and soft at the same time but also really powerful and delicate,” says the designer, whose adoration for her craft oozes out as she goes onto speak of their latest Autumn/Winter collection.
“A/W has gone far more 3D for us .We’ve gone really bold on the colour and have really beautiful fuchsia and wine pops of colour, which a lot of people don’t expect for winter, but we think winter time is the time when you need a bit of colour in your life.”
Dressing well-known Irish faces from Amy Huberman to Kathryn Thomas, Manley is of course a luxury brand, but a luxury brand at the accessible end of the scale – something which Emma prides herself on.
“Some people think we are really expensive and say ‘it’s just a dress’ but I think when you look at and appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into it you will see that we are on the lower scale of things. I am only new on the scene and I want pieces to be affordable for people so they can get into the brand.”
Another point of pride for Emma is Manley’s usage of Irish materials and the high quality craftsmanship contributing to the brand’s higher level in price.
“I really do pride myself on using the best of the best when it comes to fabrics and we do all of our embellishment by hand, so we have to have a certain price point for our pieces and we accept that people have different opinions on us.”
Perhaps what has made Manley such a success story is the business acumen that Emma has acquired over the years. Insisting that owning a brand “isn’t just about making pretty dresses,” Emma admits that business know-how is absolutely essential for keeping a label afloat.
“Sometimes, people will think there’s huge glory that comes with owning your own brand where really, there’s a lot of hardship that comes with it too. There’s no such thing as a 9-5 job, five days a week for any of us. I think people just think it’s all very glamorous. We help make the glamour for people but we aren’t part of it. So I think it’s very good for people to know that because there is a false perception of the fashion industry out there.”
Manley’s A/W 15 collection will be available at Manley.ie or in store at Arnott’s soon.