Most of what you'll read when a fashion designer is interviewed centres around their work, as you'd expect – they'll answer questions about what they studied, how they ended up forging their own labels and who the "woman" that they design for is. But sometimes you want to know something more about the people designing your clothes. So we asked the brilliant Irish designer Danielle Romeril to talk to us about a subject aside from her work that fascinates her. We asked Danielle to tell us about an unrealised project, something that has always fascinated her that she'd love to do. She picked living and working in the home of the designer, artist and architect, Eileen Gray.
When did you first come across Eileen Gray's work?
My mum introduced me to her. My mum is quite into architecture and design but I've always found architecture a little bit cold. To my eyes, it doesn't have the same sensuality that some other disciplines have, but I think Eileen Gray is different in that respect. I think that there is a sensuality to her work and a craftsmanship, that there is a focus on surface and textures that not all architects and designers have. I was made aware of her work because my mum has a reproduction of one of her tables, I think she has two reproductions in the house. An exhibition came to the Art Museum of Modern Art that had been at the Pompidou of Eileen Gray's work and one of the many interesting things about Eileen Gray is that she had been almost completely forgotten about until the late ‘60s and some of her work had been attributed to Le Corbusier and various other designers. Seeing the exhibition at IMMA made a bigger impression on me.
Why was she forgotten?
I think she became quite reclusive in her later life so people just overlooked what she had done. She was born in Enniscorthy County Wexford in Ireland and then she went to the Slade in London and she was one of the first female students there. From the Slade, she went to Paris. She'd always been a painter, it was really her primary discipline, but then she stumbled upon a lacquer workshop in Paris and became an apprentice. It is a very long apprenticeship, five to seven years. But it just showed her love of craft and beautiful intimate objects rather than more grandiose public structures.
In about 1929 she completed E1027, the house. She had a lover who encouraged her to go into architecture so she created the house in the Cote d'Azur. And it was, I suppose in the Modernist style but there was huge attention paid to surfaces and she had also learned to make carpets so the carpets were obviously a part of the interior. Then she did lots of built in furniture that was quite new at the time and created trays with cork tops so your cups wouldn't clang. It's a beautiful piece of architecture and it's beautiful for the things that make houses really liveable in. I think she said at the time that the poverty of modern architecture stems from the trophy of sensuality and her whole thing, she wanted it to be sensual and a nice place to live in, not just to look at.
Le Corbusier also had his holiday home very close by and he became obsessed with Eileen Gray and he would look from his holiday home, it over looked E1027, and he would stare down at her working. It was said at the time that he was shocked and annoyed that a woman could execute a piece of architecture so magnificent and in the style that he considered his own. I think he tried to pursue Eileen Gray romantically. When Eileen left the house, Le Corbusier came in and painted these murals all over the house. You can see from the imagery, they in no way fit in with her overall vision and her subtle sense of colour.
Do you feel like you share any similarities in your work given that you are so drawn to her?
I definitely think that there are similarities in how we approach work. Like teaching herself how to lacquer, teaching herself how to hand weave carpets – there's a dedication to something there and I guess what I'm really inspired by. I also really want my clothes to be easy to wear and you can just throw them on with flats and go and that practical approach is similar.
Is there a piece of her work that particularly speaks to you?
Yeah, this top chair on the right hand side,I actually don't know its name, it was one that I hadn't really seen until I went to the exhibition and I just thought wow it's really super cool but also it's really funny. And then this table on the right is my mum's and I really hate it and it’s one of her very few pieces that I don't like. I've just seen so many bad reproductions that it's put me off it.
We are talking about the material combinations that she likes, and I know that in your work you have always said that you very much like to play with materials...
For Autumn/Winter 2015 I looked at this Odashi technique which is taken from Japanese armour.They used to lace together little panels or scales of either wood or ceramics, and the lacing would make something inflexible flexible so it would move around your body so I brought that into it. I taught myself this from a book and brought it into the collection as a way to combine different fabrics.