Irish-born, London-based menswear designer Robyn Lynch has unveiled her debut stand-alone exhibition, “Greetings from Ireland,” at Greenwich Peninsula’s NOW Gallery as part of its 2023 fashion commission. It explores the vigorous research and documentation that goes into the designer’s shows, as well as spotlighting the work of close collaborators of the brand, most of whom hail from Ireland.
Far from the exclusivity of Fashion Week, the exhibition is open to the public and explores new ways of connecting with fans of the brand. Rory Mullen is a set designer and long-term collaborator with Robyn Lynch, and for “Greetings from Ireland,” was tasked with creating a giant bouncy castle-like structure held up by scaffolding to house the reflective works. Smiley faces and alien cartoons evoke a warm nod to pre-internet hedonism and childhood escape, offering a semi-permanent look at the references seen on the runway. Together, Lynch and Mullen share a playful design approach associated with the nostalgic, light-hearted rough-and-ready aesthetic associated with the brand.
We caught up with Robyn Lynch ahead of the opening of the exhibition to talk about Ireland, naffness, and the art of film.
How does it feel to be hosting your debut exhibition?
Amazing! I worked with Phoebe English in 2015 as an intern and she was the very first fashion commission they did ten years ago here – well, just shy of ten years. She was the first one [NOW Gallery] hosted. I was an intern, and I glass-beaded the whole structure from the roof all the way down. I remember running upstairs, there is a showroom apartment upstairs designed by Tom Dixon. It brought back a lot of feelings.
To be able to be here now and do my own one, from eight years ago is quite a proud moment. My friends, who I interned with when I was at Phoebe, are coming tonight, so it’s kind of like bringing back memories of being here and working all hours. To have the chance to do my own is really special.
Your brand and this exhibition are rooted in your Irish identity. How important is it to reflect this in your creative output?
I think the title “Greetings From Ireland” is quite funny and quite fitting for this. Yeah, it’s all about Irish culture, but it’s about celebrating that on a different scale. There’s such a huge emigration problem in Ireland at the moment. There are not enough jobs in Ireland, especially in the creative industry. There’s not enough support there from the government, so we have to leave.
The majority of people [coming] tonight are Irish, but we all actually live here. I think it’s just a place [on the ground] for people to feel supported and have a sense of home. The title is taken from an old postcard. I want it to feel as though it’s an alien ship landing in this beautiful glass building, and then it’s like this bundle of chaos. Obviously, Rory is Irish as well, who we worked with [on this project]. All the performers tonight are Irish musicians who live abroad or live over here, so it’s a perfect balance of having that Irish culture and putting that on a platform
The installation explores your journey as a designer from 2018 to now. How does it feel to curate such a reflective piece of work?
It’s really, really good! I think the movie, in particular, is really, really nice to see my friends growing. I’ve been working with Ben Schofield, my stylist since the very beginning, and watching the two of us grow on the camera from when we worked in our flat, even though it has only been a short period of time, like five years, you can see the progression. You can see us move from flat to studio to the following studio, and I just think it’s because you’re so worked, and such a young designer and a small team it’s nice to be able to sit back and be like, “Oh shit yeah, we did make that four years ago,” you know what I mean?
What is it like curating an exhibition versus designing a collection? Are there any transferable skills, or did you approach it with a completely different mindset?
Time. The difference between a show, [which] is 4 and a half minutes, and this is that [the exhibition] lives for a lot longer, so you have a bit more time to really focus on [how] your message comes across and what you want people to see. You also have people’s attention span for longer. So just trying to play around with making it as interactive as possible but also as educational as possible. It’s got me excited about doing more sets, actually, to keep the excitement of building a big structure and incorporating that into a show.
Your first collection fused a club beat with traditional Irish music and fused sportswear with knitwear. It really felt like you were carving your own brand from the off. How important is tradition in informing your future output, and why?
I think it’s really important. The strongest thing that I try to achieve is the balance of it. There are some ways that it can be done super naff, and there are some ways that can elevate it. For me, it is really important to find the perfect balance of having the old traditional knit and cable and not going too much down the line. Balance is the biggest part. Naffness and niceness. That’s exactly it, really. How to celebrate it and knowing when to stop and pare back some looks and doing some really simple things like this.
Like the harp case [from FW23], this is the backpack that she would carry the harp in, so like a subtle Irish reference. This product is made from a really expensive wool that’s only sheared twice a year in Germany. Fabrication is really important to me. Finding the perfect balance of Irish references, kind of like if you know, you know.
As part of the exhibition, visitors will have the chance to virtually try on pieces from your collection. How important is it for designers and artists to embrace new technology such as this?
I think it’s really important. Obviously, my skill is in construction and pattern cutting, and garment making. The importance for me is collaborating with people that are supportive of that. So, for example, Kepler Interactive, they’ve shown me the creative possibilities, so with some creative direction, I can say what we want to achieve. It’s important to be able to rely on different companies and have that openness and willingness to collaborate, I think they were really, really generous. I think it’s good, it’s fun. I want to do more of it. It’s about educating ourselves about “what are the possibilities.”
You have often implemented the medium of film into what you do. For example, for SS21, you took us inside the factory that taught you how to sew. What does film mean to you, and how do you approach it?
You can see behind the scenes. I just love the aesthetic of it, I think. I also think it’s really nice. I like watching documentaries, maybe that’s what it is. I love the Kanye West documentary on Netflix, which I know maybe I shouldn’t say. But I just love capturing that moment in time. I think it’s a really inexpensive way to document, and you don’t have to get it developed, but it still has that authentic approach. And it’s also really inexpensive. My dad won this little camera in a raffle, and we still have it today. It’s like literally £50 on Amazon, it’s not a big super-tech camera. I just edit it together myself on iMovie, which I really enjoy, and it’s like a nice process to just sit back and watch it all again and make a clip together. It’s like a different form of expression which I really enjoy.
What parts of Ireland do you bring to London?
Dublin. I only know Dublin. Dublin is where I’m from. I think I bring a work ethic that I’ve learnt from [there], a sense of personality and relaxedness, and an approachable thing. Those Irish characteristics. Maybe that’s an Irishism that comes across in working relationships.
When you’re back home, what is the first thing you do?
Go to my dad’s deli. [My favourite thing on the menu is] the chicken fillet wrap. I have to bring my own oat milk.
If you had to sum up Greetings from Ireland in one word, what would it be?
I want to say collaborative-community. Can I do two words? I’ll do two words, I’ll use a hyphen.
“Greetings from Ireland” is open now and will run until 25 February 2024.
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