Designer Spotlight: KellyDawn Riot

Menswear designer and Scotland RE:Designed New Talent Award winner Kelly McGrath introduces KellyDawn Riot

Feature by Morgan McTiernan | 28 Dec 2014

Irish born fashion designer Kelly McGrath's menswear label KellyDawn Riot is the newest on the Glasgow fashion scene after the designer won the New Talent Award at 2014's Scotland RE:Designed. Her dream client "is anyone who wants to have fun and be daring without caring about masculinity or femininity." Detailed, eccentric and eclectic, her designs are a combination of beautiful illustrations printed on silk fabrics against masculine silhouettes.

Originally interested in studying sculpture, after recommendations by her tutors McGrath completed a BA (Hons) in Printed Textiles in Galway, Ireland where she designed a collection of screen prints for menswear. She later undertook an MA in Fashion and Textiles at Glasgow School of Art where she developed her printing and garment making skills into her iconic eccentric style. McGrath originally thought textiles was more restrictive than fine art, however as she discovered artists like Yinka Shonibare and Sarah Devey and saw past the façade she was hooked.

Currently based in Glasgow, McGrath is inspired by the city, which holds an influence on her most recent collection. She comments, "I sourced all my imagery from aquariums, museums and galleries in Glasgow. One of the birds I drew from a glass case in the Kelvingrove Museum. The jellyfish I photographed at the Loch Lomond Aquarium. The prints are kind of like an amalgamation of the curiosities I saw in Glasgow in my first few months of moving here." Her most recent collection, Every Blooming Thing is inspired by naturalist illustrators, where McGrath draws on nineteenth century artists such as Swainson and Haeckel. She says, "I developed a scientific/analytical approach to my illustrations. I visited aquariums and museums and photographed the creatures I saw in order to create a personal body of work."

McGrath has an unusual approach to fabrics where she will use cheap bedding for samples and paints like "a tin of watercolours my Nan bought me when I was 8 or 9." She says, "I'm kind of like that, I’ll have all these brand new paints and I'll root in an old box of art supplies and use something else instead." Her naturalistic and vibrant illustrations are then printed onto male silhouettes where McGrath's fascination with the Blitz Kids influenced her cuts. "This fascination took centre stage as I began to build a silhouette based on iconic pieces from that period, such as the high waisted tapered leg trouser, the oversized shirt and the overcoat.

"This body of work collided immediately with my illustrations as the bright array of colours reflected the bold prints of that era. The Blitz Kids celebrated anything and everything as long as it was glamorous. This ethos rang true in my prints. The result is a collection of hand drawn and hand painted illustrations digitally printed onto the silhouette of a phlegmatic youth of times gone by." McGrath is a fine artist in her own right, whose designs can be described as art on fabric, where her illustrations and prints allow her to have her own individual aesthetic.  

Describing her design process, McGrath notes that she is very traditional. "I never really know what I’m going to make. I just start visiting galleries, museums and picking up stacks and stacks of magazines and I photograph everything. Once I have stacks and stacks of research I filter it right down into two folders: print and silhouette." Her work is all hand drawn and therefore can be very time consuming, however, "it makes my work slightly more unique in a way, as most things are created digitally. Silhouette wise, I usually know what I want straight away so I create the looks and filter them down so they are cohesive."

McGrath "likes to produce as much as possible by hand" and so that while her prints are all also hand painted, in order to achieve a high-end and articulate finish she uses Photoshop and Illustrator to arrange her patterns. "I did placement prints so once my pattern pieces were scanned in, I arranged my prints on top of them in Photoshop. I use the entire Adobe suite really because alongside arranging prints etc in PS and IL I make research books and cookbooks." She describes her work space as "organised chaos" where her studio contains "textiles, ceramic animal heads and wood carvings" that she collected throughout her travels. McGrath has created her own "little creative thrift store" which allows for the perfect creative environment.

McGrath has big plans for the brand in 2015, where she is being mentored by artist Orsola De Castro in the New Year and is in discussion with a high-street fashion brand who want a line of prints exclusive to them. So far, her work has already been published in GUM Magazine, on the Scotland RE:Designed website and her designs have also been featured in The New Dystopia shoot for WeCrave.It. Planning to take a break in January following a hectic two moths with shoots, shows and exhibitions, KellyDawn Riot will be showing at Glasgow University Charity Fashion Show on 21 February and at the ZWS Textiles Chiasma 18-20 March.

McGrath's feminine drawings embrace masculinity through the paradox of artful silk prints cut into masculine shapes. Her eccentric style and rejection of conventional masculine prints is one of the ways that sets KellyDawn Riot apart from other menswear brands – and we think it's beautiful.