Fashion editor Justine Lepage chats with Ríon Hannora, a Cork-born emerging designer and stylist who is all about creativity, sustainability, and breaking the norms of gender and age in the fashion industry. The fashion rebel tells Motley all about styling CMAT, her unconventional design process and her adorable “scrap babies”.

Rion’s identity as a designer is fun and creative. She mixes fitted corsets with poofy skirts, emulating the volume and extravagance of the baroque era. Her use of repurposed materials and unconventional processes, like spray painting, is a big part of the design process. “For my last collection, I created the fabric first. I had a party with my friends, they were playing music and I put fabric all around the walls. Everyone who was there was able to spray paint onto it. That was the start of the creative process for me. And then creating something out of other people’s work, who maybe never even used spray paint before, who didn’t even know what would be happening.” The juxtaposition of modern spray paint on vintage silhouettes creates a  fun and cheeky textile universe. She adds: “I feel like my friends influence my creations as well, the people I surround myself with, and the places I surround myself with definitely come into my collection quite a lot.”  But Ríon doesn’t have a one stop shop process. She is still learning and shaking things up with every new collection. Her interest in fashion was encouraged through college where she learned to push it in more interesting ways. She found out that on top of being a way of everyday self expression, fashion and design was a chance to be creative and make art.

Designing snazzy outfits for the stage is also a specialty of Ríon’s, with collaborators including Orla Gartland and CMAT (who she has been styling for for years). Working with singers consists in balancing showing her own style and skills with the image the artists want to present of themselves. “With CMAT, she has a very distinct style herself. She’s quite western, and I suppose that fits into my pieces, because my corsets and drapeful dresses are quite western. I made her a capsule wardrobe, six looks over the course of maybe six months. When she went on tour, she just mixed and matched everything as she went. A lot of the pieces were layerable or adjustable, so it’s kind of perfect if you’re on tour, because you don’t have to bring a big suitcase with you. She wears them in her everyday life as well.” Ríon and CMAT worked closely together on that capsule, having regular fittings and throwing ideas at each other, “everything that I give to her she’s like “yeah, perfect”. She’s so easy going about it.” When collaborating with Orla Gartland the process was a bit different, as the singer contacted Ríon two weeks before her concerts at the Olympia asking if there was anything pre-made she could wear to the show. “I came to the green room of the Olympia the day before her show with just a few pieces, we put a few outfits together and thankfully, everything fit perfectly.” The process is different for every collaboration.

Repurposing materials and allowing her customers to rewear her pieces in different ways are only some parts of Ríon Hannora’s sustainable ethos. She also recycles fabrics and scraps to create what she calls her “scrap babies”, cute and bizarre little creatures that she creates as one of a kind pieces “without a specific plan or pattern” and stuffs with scraps. “I just go for it. I think that’s kind of my method of designing. I don’t normally have a big plan, I see what happens. Sometimes that doesn’t work out, that’s okay.” These critters sprouted from Ríon’s fabric stash, accumulated over her years of fashion college “I’m a big hoarder, I keep everything. But I don’t want to use these fabrics in my collections that much, a lot of them would be synthetic and stuff. Even though I own them, I hardly want to throw them away, or even give them to someone else, because I wouldn’t be sure where they’d be going.” She decided during lockdown to start making these scrap babies, as a way to use up all her scraps and fabrics and as part of a zero waste and sustainable practice. “I have so much fun making them, and I definitely personify everything. I feel like everything that I own has a name. So it just makes sense that I would name them and give them all little personalities.” For example, her scrap baby Jasintha comes with the attached description “Hi! I’m Jasintha, and group chats make me nervous”.

We move on to chatting about being online as a creator, a topic that inspired Ríon for her previous collection “horse girls”. She defines her relationship with social media as “love-hate”, recognising that without an online platform she “probably wouldn’t have a business”, and being thankful for the ability to have full control over her brand and online presence. But on the other hand, she mentions the pressure and toxicity of social media, and how easily ideas are stolen and plagiarised from creatives online. She adds “you might spend so much time on making something, but you just need a really good photo of it. And that’s the thing that matters most, rather than the quality or the idea behind something. You just need to grab someone’s attention within five seconds or less, that can be quite frustrating.” 

While she makes clothing that could be dubbed feminine, RÍon collaborates with models and talent of all genders for her creations. Men in frills and corsets and genderless creatures populate the colourful world she creates. I asked Ríon about where she thinks gender lies in the future of fashion. “Although I wouldn’t be his biggest fan, I think people like Harry Styles are making way for straight men to wear dresses and more. Now, I know that’s not him directly, he has a stylist, and a designer in the back, but he’s normalising it and making it cool, less scary. I think that the more people like that, the better. On the red carpet these days, a lot of guys are wearing really femme clothing. And I think it’s amazing! Women have been wearing suits for quite a while, but, I think there’s been a turn in the past few years. People are just exploring that part of themselves, and I love it.”

Ríon’s collections use bold colours and playful shapes that can be dubbed as youthful, but she is aiming to design for older customers as well. “The past few collections I’ve made have been very aimed towards people our age, young people. Which is great, but I think I’m actually gonna try and design for older people as well. I love the idea of seeing women in their late sixties, seventies, wearing a corset, and a big gown on the daily. I’ve been thinking about it… Our bodies obviously change as we age, they get bigger, and more skin forms. I would obviously love to see sixty year olds in crop tops, but you have to make things that people are comfortable in. So I want to create pieces that might be longer, to ask people over the age of sixty what they like to wear, what are the shapes that they find empowering. I remember one person saying to me that wearing one of my corsets is like having a weighted blanket, and that they felt so secure in it. It made me so happy. I would hate for people to feel excluded from that experience just because of their age so I’m going to try and make things for everyone. I’m always so happy when I’m looking through fashion magazines and there’s people with grey hair, or elderly men wearing Prada.”

Ríon also mentions she wants to explore designing with less crazy colours, to focus on the pieces themselves. “I think I’m going to try and use straight cotton without any spray paint, just to see. I use cotton canvas a lot,  that’s what painters use, so it could be like, you get a dress, or you get a corset, and you can create onto it then? If you want to, you can paint, draw on it, dye it yourself, whatever you want. And then you have a piece that you kind of created.”