Your last year in college is not just about those pesky exams. Alan Taylor, a soon-to-be-familiar name, talks to Seán McGovern about fashion design, Alexander McQueen and what’s to come after his graduation
When you see the person you plan to interview on the conver of The Dubliner, and know that they spent last summer interning with Alexander McQueen, you wonder for a moment whether you’d rather just interview them over the phone.
Talent and creativity cannot bypass the CAO application, and like so many secondary school pupils, Taylor realised what he was good at as his education progressed. Having not taken Art for the Junior Cert, he caught up in Transition Year: “I really got into it, I loved working with my hands. I did Construction Studies and Woodwork all through school – I just loved being creative. I got into Fifth Year, took up Art for the Leaving Cert, and I decided, ‘I have to do this. This is me.’” Four years of study later and Taylor, like many other students, has found something he really loves and that he wants to do for life.
Alan Taylor’s name is being uttered with increasing reverence, and not only for his design potential. Co-creator of club night ‘C U Next Tuesday’, Taylor is still developing his own identity and personality in what seems to be the nicest way possible. There is plenty of self-confidence but surprisingly (and almost reassuringly) very little ego.
His internship with Alexander McQueen not only vindicated his skills but also his work ethic. An unpaid day’s work consisted of immediate and “very hands on” duties: “It’s mental. I’d only made two shirts before in my life and they gave me a block and said ‘here, change the collar, lower the neckline, lower the sleeve, flare the sleeve and then make it up’ as if I’d have it done in two hours.”
There was, however, “the one glamorous part”: escaping the London basement to the runways of Milan Fashion Week, where his combination of speed and intricacy was nicely rewarded. “It was 35 degrees; we were staying in four-star hotels; lunch and dinner in a restaurant every day. Four months working like a slave, and then there’s the one week of bliss.” McQueen’s creations are not just that of the name attached; Taylor’s involvement meant that his own touch became evident on the designer label. Taylor was consulted in questions of aesthetics – particularly when McQueen turned to him in the lift and asked, “do you like my nail polish?”
While the skill of students in NCAD is never in doubt, the final year Fashion Show not only showcases the work of each student, but also how they will be assessed and graded. Appraisal is not simply a question of whether the designer’s taste sits well with someone else, but the coherency and consistency of their work – how well the students design and sew – is also assessed. Though Taylor’s love of menswear means that he can make clothes just for himself, his true passion is womenswear – his sensible attitude to which emphasises why so many male designers design for women: “It would be me designing for how I think I would like a woman dress, but to interpret what they would want too.”
The formal academic grading process doesn’t bother him either. “Our tutors are amazing… We have loads of one-on-one time; we really get to go in-depth about the design and process with your tutors, they guide you along. They won’t grade you, it’s working with the designer and their own style… if you’ve developed your ideas and they’ve evolved, then you get the marks.”
What’s in store for newlygrad Irish designers? Ireland has “a constant turnout of good designers,” Taylor reckons, and though the fashion houses have historically resonant names like Dior or socially and culturally significant British designers like Westwood and Galliano, Taylor informs me that the main designer of McQueen is an NCAD graduate. In his own case, Taylor’s name is being mentioned more and more around Dublin, and not just since appearing on the conver of magazines.
Taylor believes that much of Dublin’s fashion talent is met out and about, and while face-to-face scouting is important, nothing can diminsh the paramount importance of design talent. Design is about more than just being able to sew and draw: fashion design is undeniably an art form – and the truth remains that if talent is nurtured, it will develop and is not always acquired simply by being taught.
Taylor’s next hurdle is graduating, so like every other student he’ll find himself coming to terms with economic reality, but graduation means that design independence and financial sustinance may become the same things. “I fell into this all by accident and just love it, so if nothing happens in London I’m going to New York for at least a year – try and work for Calvin Klein… the womenswear is sleek and minimalist,” he adds.
Alan Taylor represents a rejuvinated interest in Irish design, and in young Irish talent. For him fashion is not just a job; it’s his way of life. Two rollies later our interview ends, and Taylor excuses himself to go and consult with a tutor. He may be talented, but he’s still a student after all.