We are at an exciting time where fresh talent is emerging in the fashion industry worldwide. One such talent is Hannah Ennis who specialises in menswear. As a child Hannah always knew that an artistic career was her calling. Fashion became a clearer path when she was sixteen as she realised the commercial and political influence a designer could have, looking to designers such as John Galliano. “I realised how these spectacles were much more looked at and bought into than fine art. I have also always been very politically motivated and am a bit of an optimist for the greater good and decided that I could support the path to equality and draw attention to problems as a fashion designer”.
In the fashion industry, menswear can often be pushed aside in favour of the headline grabbing womenswear shows. For Hannah, an interest in menswear came along by accident as she eventually came to study Fashion Design and Technology: Menswear at the London College of Fashion. “Menswear became interesting to me by coincidence through a project I did on a short course at Central Saint Martin’s when I was 17 and preparing my portfolio. It was a mini project about a sub-culture, and I chose to be inspired by the Sapeurs in the Congo, a group of men who dress very dapper and wear brightly coloured suits always coordinated with their accessories”. From there, Hannah delved into the world of menswear as she believed there to be more room for exploration in menswear. “Dressing men is having more of a clean canvas where you can paint any new idea or character… [but] saying that, menswear has been a lot less expressive, locking men into a navy and black cage of t-shirts and chinos”.
With our world becoming increasingly political, Hannah’s work is joining the legion of designers who are putting their work forward as beacons of hope for others. “My goal as a menswear designer is to create gender equality by allowing men to express themselves as much as women are already free and enabled to do. Women are already able to wear a lot of menswear…whereas the scales haven’t been tilted the other way yet, allowing men to be more colourful, decorative and expressive”. Preferring to explore a different issue for every project, Hannah’s final year collection revolved around the male experience in Ireland. “Through a lot of the interviews I conducted to research my dissertation I found out how big an impact Irish sports culture has on young men. How it either glorifies or isolates boys at the mostly all boys’ schools”. With sporting culture having the potential to be so laden with peer pressure and masculinity, Hannah believes there should be a safe space for men to express themselves and prevent the shunning of emotions and identity.
“This led my collection to be inspired by GAA and rugby shapes and I wanted to manipulate them to carry another meaning and become more inclusive and expressive to all parties involved. I applied textile techniques common in womenswear like hand-smocking which was pioneered by Sybil Connolly in the 1950s to sportswear materials to create these new shapes. Additionally, I included my research into Celtic decorative art and jewellery leading the collection to be titled ‘Golden Boys’ which also reflects back to the untouchability of successful sportsmen”.
The Forty Foot jumper is a particular standout piece influenced by Irish culture. “The jumper was inspired by the history of the Forty Foot [and] it formerly being a nude male bathing spot before it was opened to women and a dress order was enforced, underlining gender inequality”. This beautiful piece will be stocked in Om Diva boutique in Dublin from the end of October/early November and retails at €260. With the first batch of jumpers being numbered and dated, and coming in two gender and shape inclusive sizes (which Hannah recommends trying on in-person to find the perfect fit for you) with a handmade lavender bag to have an appeal to collectors and protect the merino wool, this is a beautiful investment piece from a bright, new talent.
The relevance of Irish craft in modern culture was another source of influence. “I travelled across the whole country to research textiles and weavers for the collection which explains the heavy use of tweeds in the collection. The Celtic chains came from looking at the Book of Kells and the Celtic gold exhibited at the National Museum”. Abstract use of such Celtic traditions were an important expression of identity for Hannah, even though they are not symbols of modern Ireland, as “the Celtic heritage was also one of the few inherently truly Irish visual inspirations I could pick up on as a lot of architecture, fashion and imagery would have been heavily influenced by colonisation, especially in Dublin”.
Hannah believes she has a responsibility as a designer to do her bit in making the fashion industry more sustainable. Ireland heavily influences her sustainability as “there still is local production and a lot of potential for more of it to return, with the wool and linen productions and the rich cultural craft heritage”. Mainly using materials from items such as shirts and ties, which came from around the world with their own rich history of previous owners, Hannah sourced from charity shops where some items could not be sold simply because they may have had a small tear or stain. Wanting to encourage people to upcycle clothes more, Hannah hopes her work with up-cycled materials can prove how much life and value remains in used textiles.
Being a woman in menswear and using an almost entirely female team on her collection shoot, Hannah believes that while there needs to be more female representation in the design industry overall, the beauty of designing menswear is that there is freedom in designing clothes that are stereotypically not for you. “When in the late 2000s [Alexander McQueen] introduced his first menswear collection it was the absolute opposite of what he created for women, it was very wearable, quite boring… but I think it was just that he…was thinking of himself when designing for men”. She continues, “I think the distance from gender allows the designer to be truly innovative and creates more interesting and daring outcomes”.
Finally, what are Hannah’s hopes for the future? “I hope to be able to start my own business within the next five years…It is really important for me to get to design my own vision and be free of a company aesthetic so I can create my vision for menswear. There are a lot of aspects in the current fashion system that aren’t going well, from designers being underpaid, materials and labour unethically sourced and there being gender bias in corporate structures. I would like to create an alternative to that and offer solutions to those problems while designing with social and environmental change in mind”. With her work already generating discussions and catching the attention of the fashion media, there is no doubt her career will go from strength to strength, and Hannah Ennis is a name we will be hearing for years to come.