by Patricia Killeen
An Irish couture fashion designer based in Paris, who was inspired by world famous Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival and renowned showgirl Margaret Kelly, has created the 2021 “Lisdoonvarna Dress”.
In today’s world of high fashion, its en vogue for renowned designers such as Christian Dior’s, Maria Grazia Chiuri to look to the zeitgeist for inspiration.
Our own Irish couture fashion designer, Sean Byrne, drew inspiration from the historic 165-year-old Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival and its mythical ballrooms and created the 2021 “Lisdoonvarna Dress”. His fashion statement creates a link between Paris, the City of Light and Lisdoonvarna, the little town of Love.
Byrne also reminisced on Irish, Paris based woman Margaret Kelly, (1910-2004) the most historic showgirl of all time. Kelly was nicknamed ‘Miss Bluebell’ because of her striking hyacinth-coloured eyes. Born in Ireland, Kelly later moved to the UK, travelled to Paris in the 1930s and worked as a dancer at the Folies Bergère before founding her own troupe “The Bluebell Girls” who are still a fixture at the legendary “LIDO de Paris” today.
In feisty Irish woman style, she also managed to lead the Nazis in occupied Paris on a merry dance, escaping their clutches and subsequently hid her Jewish husband in an attic for much of the Occupation.
Byrne is honoured to have been selected as the second Paris based fashion designer to create a “Lisdoonvarna Dress”. In 2019, Kim Bernardin, a Korean fashion designer created the first dress which was showcased on the catwalks of Paris and New York.
Byrne’s creativity and dedication to his craft make him stand out as one of Ireland’s leading lights in fashion. After finishing studies at the Grafton Academy in 2010, he moved to London to work in the fashion industry. He returned to Dublin in 2012, and opened his studio on Drury Street. During that time, he used made to measure techniques for his private clientele and also created prêt à porter that was stocked in Dublin’s prestigious “Brown Thomas” department store. He dressed many stars of the Irish stage and screen for events including the Oscars. He has also dressed first lady of Ireland Sabina Higgins for official engagements.
However, even though he had “made it” at home, Paris the heart of fashion beckoned and in 2019 he embarked on a Masters at the “École de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne”, (the ECSCP). He is the only Irish person to have ever been accepted to this prestigious school where both Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld studied.
With his first class honours Masters from the ECSCP in his pocket, he has recently entered Julien Fournié’s Haute Couture fashion house.
Byrne is very much in touch with his “Irishness” and loves the idea of interweaving French and Irish culture, along with celebrating how both the Irish and French love to congregate on the floors of their respective mythical ballrooms. “I am delighted to pay homage to Lisdoonvarna and to fabulous Irish woman Margaret Kelly, who left a huge imprint on the Paris stage, especially since 2021 is the ‘111’ anniversary of her birth. I think of my creation as the “Lisdoonvarna-Kelly Dress”.
Sean’s spectacular dress will incorporate the romance of the ballrooms of desire with Kelly style elegance. It is mostly created in renaissance white, its curved peplum literally kisses the female figure. The touch of black on the dress is both elegant and also a reminder of the dark times Kelly overcame. The dress will be accessorized in Paris “show girl” style in homage to Kelly.
In memory of her birthdate, Byrne will also dissimulate the number “111” in his creation; the number reminisces on the tattoo she would have borne, if Irish diplomat, Count Gerald Edward O’Kelly (1890–1968) hadn’t managed to grant her an Irish passport and freedom from the Nazi camp in Besançon, Eastern France, where she was interned. “The dress is an intemporal piece and the neckline is reminiscent in cut of the 1940’s and 50’s dresses Kelly favoured”.
Parisians and expats in Paris are looking forward to getting back to a normal social life, to unfurling frocks and congregating to dance and romance. The ambiance at the “Lisdoonvarna-Paris, Franco-Irish ball” in September 2021, where Byrne’s dress will be modelled by an Irish showgirl will hopefully be akin to when after WWII Parisians donned dancing shoes, kicked up their heels and danced in the streets of Paris, to celebrate the return of liberty…
Byrne’s “Lisdoonvarna Dress” will also be flown to Ireland and showcased at the 166th Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival. Julie Carr, head of marketing and PR for the festival, said this is all “fantastic publicity”.
Willie Daly, added “it’s great to partner with Paris in the spirit of love, music and dance, “I hope some of the Parisian showgirls will also make it over to Lisdoonvarna; they will be absolutely delighted with the Irish bachelors’ dancing steps”.