IMMA senior curator Rachel Thomas talks about Irish design and style icons

Rachel Thomas is senior curator and head of exhibitions at IMMA. A passionate supporter of Irish design, she believes our individual fashion choices tell our own unique story.


When asked about the importance of clothes, artist Louise Bourgeois said, “Clothing is ... an exercise in memory. It makes me explore the past: how did I feel when I wore that? [Clothes] are like signposts in the search for the past.”

Fashion is a mirror of our social and political culture. Irish designers such as Richard Malone, Alison Conneely and Natalie B Coleman have a wonderful sense of colour and fabric, but they are all also rooted in a political gesture; be it Alison’s beautiful and poetic commissions for the United Nations or Natalie’s celebration of women and sisterhood.

I have always been interested in fashion, architecture and art. I’m passionate about great art works being accessible to everyone, and I love working with artists as they inspire, excite and change how we see the world. I also admire their style and intellect.

Grace Weir wears incredible knitwear by Pearl Reddington; Doris Salcedo is uncompromising in her work and personal style, while creatives such as Louise Neri, Vaari Claffey and Tate director Maria Balshaw are all incredibly unique.

I have many favourite artists, but I always come back to conceptual feminist artist Eleanor Antin, who helped shape my career and gave me the con dence to work in the art world.

My style varies from casual and comfortable to standout Irish designs. I love Lauren Bacall’s style and YSL in the 1970s. I also admire how artist Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian dresses and I’ll buy anything from London boutique Duro Olowu.

The artist Sheila Hicks also inspires me with her understanding of texture and colour, and with her energy.

I had a baby earlier this year so these days I speed-dress! Getting dressed within about five minutes each morning has become an art form. But I still love deciding what to wear as it’s so influential in shaping my identity.

Portrait by Al Higgins. Photographed at IMMA. Rachel's dress by Alison Conneely.


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