Co Antrim designer Hope Macaulay living the dream in surreal world of fashion

Fashion and textile designer Hope Macaulay is not long out of university but her creations have already caught the eye of singers, actors and bloggers. She tells Gail Bell how a fascination with surrealism always finds its way into her designs – and how it started with a trip to the dentist

Co Antrim fashion designer Hope Macaulay
Gail Bell

FEATURED in British Vogue’s 'Best Street Style' at London Fashion Week and listed in The Irish Times 'Top 50 People to Watch in 2019', Co Antrim-based designer Hope Macaulay is making heads turn with her kaleidoscopic knitwear and fantasy prints.

Her first celebrity fan was Coleraine actress Bronagh Waugh, who chose a Macaulay mini dress and matching jacket to wear to the 2018 Tolerantia Awards in Paris and, recently her knitwear has caught the eye of American Grammy-nominated singer Halsey, whose stylist is now working with the Portstewart-based fashion and textiles graduate to create a new "custom look".

"The look is still to be revealed, but I am so excited about it," enthuses the 23-year-old who only graduated from the University for the Creative Arts in Rochester two years ago.

"Right now I am working on a few new knitwear pieces that will be launching on my website in a couple months' time, along with a new look-book highlighting my most popular classic staple pieces."

Alongside the distinctive knitwear are colourful, striking prints which she transfers to duchess satin or sustainable fabrics (organic cotton is a current favourite) and then designs into dresses, trousers, tops, jackets and skirts, all made to order and mostly sold through a dedicated website.

"I always loved lots of colour, patterns and textures, so I experimented a lot, especially when I was doing an Art and Design foundation course at UCA, Epsom, for a year, before choosing my degree course," she says. "My look is definitely playful and colourful – I remember we did a 'black and white' project at uni and I hated it – and based on hand-painted, expressive prints which always tell a story.

"Each designer if different; some buy fabric with a print already on it, some work with a print designer to create a more specific print they want, and some designers create prints themselves – like me. It’s hard to stand out in the fashion industry these days, so I think it is important to be original and create from a concept that you have researched and are inspired by.

"It has all been happening pretty quickly for me – my graduate catwalk collection was selected to be showcased at Graduate Fashion Week and then I had the opportunity to showcase it during London Fashion Week. The response was pretty amazing, so I decided to continue to grow the brand under my own name."

A 'colossal knit' creation by Co Antrim designer Hope Macaulay

Some of Hope Macaulay's recent designs worn by models

She began by diluting her theatrical runway showpieces down to more wearable, ready-to-wear ensembles for purchase online, most of which owe their genesis to a fascination with surrealism – a topic she has been drawn to since childhood when her granny taught her to knit "for fun". Bizarrely, it all started with a visit to the dentist.

"I went to have a tooth removed and I was given 'laughing gas'," Hope explains. "Safe to say, it did not make me laugh, but it did give me terrible hallucinations which I found very frightening at the time. But, even though it was a scary experience, I became fascinated by how the brain works and started to research more about the mind and the different way we see things.

"All my collections are now inspired by surrealism and creating a dream-like story through the prints – I named my graduate collection A Surreal Rome which was inspired by the history, myths and art of the city and my latest collection, Distorted Wonderland, is also rooted in the surreal story of Alice in Wonderland.

"I love distortion and creating a magical world and I often experiment by mixing different colours and techniques and adding detailed beading or my own ceramic embellishments for extra effect. I don't think my garments have an age limit – they are for anyone who loves art, colour and fashion."

Although only in the fashion business for a year and a half, as well as catching the eye of celebrities – it amuses her that she is followed on Twitter by Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande – Hope's 'Colossal Knit Jumper' (as featured in Vogue magazine) still gets attention on social media and, not long after her graduation, her work was used by three-times Northern Ireland Hairdresser of the Year winner, Shane Bennett, at an influential, international hair event in London.

Being born into a creative family has played its part, she believes, and helped point her towards a career in fashion – her mother, Lesley, works as a fashion stylist, her sister, Beth, is a videographer and her father is the author and broadcaster Tony Macaulay, whose second memoir, Paperboy, is set for its theatrical debut on the stage of the Lyric Theatre in Belfast later this year.

"My mum is very fashionable and is obsessed with designer clothes," laughs the designer who loves to dress up herself – especially in pink. "She is now a fashion stylist and supports me in my business, and my sister has a wedding film and photography business, so it's great that we can all work together on little DIY photo shoots – I'm the creative director, mum is the stylist and my sister does the photography or videography."

But, in an image-obsessed culture, does the fashion industry have a positive role to play? Yes, she firmly believes fashion should "define who we are" and we should "make it work for us" in terms of positive mental health and wellbeing.

A trademark chunky knit in multi-colourways by Northern Ireland designer Hope Macaulay

"I love that fashion styles are more eclectic these days," the designer adds. "It means that you can chose to stand out and wear clothes that reflect your personality but we also need to be aware of the environmental damage that the 'fast fashion' industry is doing to the planet. I am starting to work with recycled fabrics more and I think we all need to change our mindset and spending habits by buying fewer, but better, high quality garments.

"The most stressful part of being a fashion designer is creating a collection in time for a launch or showcase event and creating custom garments with a very quick turnaround – and lending garments to stylists in London who need them the very next day! There are quick deadlines, but the most rewarding part comes after that. Seeing the collection on the catwalk, in photo shoots and being worn by bloggers and celebs definitely makes all the stress worthwhile."

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