Flower imagery, embroidered and smocked into every piece, became her multi-layered act of remembrance for the harrowing neglect, abuse, and early death experienced by captive women and children at the notorious Magdalene Laundries from the 18th century until the last one closed in the mid 1990s. “Through my research, I discovered flowering euphemisms and symbolism for women and sex, ‘blooming’ and becoming ‘ripe,’ having ‘buds.’ Terms like ‘deflowering’ have been used to describe women losing their virginity for many centuries, almost like female sexuality needed euphemisms to cover up what had been perceived as dirty and shameful.”
Even more disturbingly, she uncovered how the Catholic church benefited both from the forced labor of women and children in the laundries, and from cruelly exploiting their needlework skills to make beautiful wedding and christening dresses. “The smocked bridal, communion, and baptismal pieces they made were sold by the church at a profit,” she says. “I wanted to bring some of the textile techniques they were taught into my work.”
In confronting the past, capturing its resonances and rewriting it in her own modern way, Róisín Pierce is an Irish storyteller. What she speaks of has all the elements—locally-rooted identity, sensitivity to the environment, slow-working skills, and a mad-crazy amount of imagination—that the fashion world loves these days. She doesn’t particularly want to fit in with fashion seasons, but that’s all part of the new tapestry of the way that emerging talent does things, too. “There has to be something emotional in what I do,” she concludes. “And what’s important to me now is designing from a new place of joy.” Look, and you can feel exactly that.