Since presenting his debut collection inspired by the ecclesiastical vestments and the protest movements that emerged in Europe, Irish designer Rory Parnell Mooney has continued working to offer a renewed vision of menswear. Captivated by the pragmatism and strength associated with the male silhouette, freedom and self-love prevail over gender stereotypes and the frenetic pace of an industry that tends to put perfection before identity. Taking integrity as his starting point, the creator embraces intuition and training after a brief hiatus in his career, two years in which he has devoted himself to teaching and planning his future projects, always approached from his unique aesthetic vision.
Rory, do you feel identified with the term 'fashion designer’?
If I’m honest, I’ve never really felt part of the fashion system and I am quite comfortable with that. I think I would define myself firstly as a designer, and follow that up with describing myself as a clothing designer rather than fashion. I am really obsessed with make and craft. Being a strong maker informs my design practice.
Your name is Rory Parnell Mooney, and you baptized your brand like that when you launched it back in 2015. However, your project has been reduced to Parnell Mooney. What is the reason for this modification?
Baptized is the perfect word! It was, in the beginning, about me coming from Central Saint Martins MA and wanting that recognisable connection to who I was from the degree show. It was also a decision made quickly. Changing the name when relaunching last June was kind of about a new beginning; a blank slate, a quantifiable change in the way of working and the style of the output. I am still connected to the same references and the codes of the brand are similar, but there is a new ethos to everything I do, and a very organic process used to create the work.
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Let’s go back to your beginnings. You were born in Galway, studied at Central Saint Martins and started your eponymous brand five years ago. How was the transition from university life towards the creation of your own project?
It was a real learning experience. Fashion East and the BFC were both very helpful in understanding the fashion system and the sales structure for small brands. I think the MA at Saint Martins sets you up to have a vision and a tone of voice which is powerful, but if you are planning on setting up a brand, you should think very hard about setting that up directly after graduating. I think in fashion we all want immediate gratification and we all need to learn how to slow down, to study more, to really inform ourselves and prepare a business or product with integrity.
Now, five years later and looking at it from another perspective, do you think that creating your own brand just right after graduating was a rash decision?
I don't know if I would say rash, because looking back, it led to where I am today. There was a lot of power in those early shows, a really strong aesthetic vision, and Parnell Mooney today is built on that foundation.
Your first collections were very well received. You showed three consecutive times, between 2015 and 2016, at Fashion East. A London platform created to make visible and support emerging talent, in which Wales Bonner, Kim Jones and JW Anderson, among many others, have taken part. What do you remember from that time?
Being really busy but also very supported and nurtured, especially working with Lulu and Tash at Fashion East. The answer was never ‘no’; it was always how can we work together to make this happen.
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From the first moment, you opted for menswear, a field in which you still operate nowadays. What made you go for this instead of womenswear?
I studied menswear at university because of the pragmatic way of cutting and constructing men’s garments, because of the robustness of the fabrics, and because of this, I have always worked on a male body and also by extension on myself. I see Parnell Mooney as less connected to the idea of menswear. It’s about freedom, confidence and expression rather than a binary identity.
After the success of your first years at the helm of your brand, where you awoke the interest of multi-brand retailers such as Dover Street Market, you decided to stop in 2017. What did you feel at that time? Was the pressure from the industry?
There was no time to learn, it was like being on a train that had no time for self-reflection or improvement, and those two things are very important in my practice. Having time to think about research, sourcing, finishing, materials and how to do these things better is so important, and the pace of fashion does not allow time for that – or at least it didn’t pre-pandemic. Perhaps in the coming months, we will see a change of pace that might facilitate a more introspective practice for designers.
In mid-2019, two years after announcing your temporary withdrawal, you were once again taking the reins of your brand – a comeback accompanied by some news, like the new name of the brand. What were you doing during this time? Did you draw any clear conclusions?
I was teaching and planning. I got a studio space and took the time to make it my own and feel comfortable in it. I produced a collection for Fall/Winter 2018 but wasn't happy with it, so I held off until June 2019 to shoot something with power that I really believed in. I am trying to embrace instinct rather than having to produce something because of a fashion week schedule.
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Coinciding with your comeback, you unveiled your Spring/Summer 2020 collection inspired by Cruising, the movie starring Al Pacino. Far from presenting it on a catwalk, you travelled to Paris to show it. What other changes did you make compared to your previous collections?
Shows are great but I think a lot of small brands rush to the catwalk and this is eventually their downfall. For me, this is a hangover from university, where as fashion students we are told about the ‘final year show’ that everything needs to be perfect for. But in reality, it would be better for a lot of small brands to invest in a great shoot, create really beautiful imagery for a while, and then, once they can truly afford a show, do it with the power and passion it needs.
You defined your new way of working as ‘organic’ and ‘natural.’ And it is true that those garments, as well as your Fall/Winter 2020 collection presented back in February, are all wearable. However, design and distinction remain essential. How do you combine practicality with conceptualization?
It’s all about a feeling. As a person, I am quite black and white. When it comes to individual pieces, it’s wrong until it’s right. Working in this more organic way has allowed me the time to look at each garment and interrogate it, to ask, is this the right fabric? Is this the right hardware or finishing? This interrogation then extends itself to the fitting process, where once a piece works well in terms of a product, I can then put it on a model and see if it fits into the Parnell Mooney world. It’s about being constantly critical of everything.
Your latest collection, which you presented online, shows a greater chromatic risk, in addition to including t-shirts in different colour shades where you can read Parnell Mooney. What have you been inspired by and what is its concept?
Each season, I pick small bits of referencing that all gets put together with the Parnell Mooney codes, which are about oppositions – masculinity vs femininity, luxury vs the everyday. The Fall/Winter collection came from looking at photographs my parents had taken of my brothers, sister and I at Halloween as children, and everything kind of moved on from there.
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The global pandemic has caused the postponement (or even cancellation) of the most important events and presentations. Since you returned to fashion in 2019, you have recognized wanting to follow your own pace, avoiding the stress of the busy calendar. How do you think the fashion industry will change after this unusual situation?
Hopefully, the system slows down a bit and we start to redefine the idea of luxury and desirability. It would be great to see people make moral decisions with their wallets – starting to question whether supporting giant global companies run by billionaires is truly their version of a luxury product and whether sustainability becomes ingrained in the decision to buy something too.
Last question. What can you tell us about your next projects?
Spring/Summer 2021 was kind of finished in June, but I decided to hold off on shooting it and add –and even change – some things with the extra time that the lockdown has provided. We will be shooting it for fashion week in September. I am also working towards launching our online store in September, which will start with the staples of the Parnell Mooney wardrobe – but extend to seasonal pieces too over the next year. It feels like a very exciting time. I think redefining what we want as the future of the industry is so important right now. We should all be having conversations with ourselves about how we can create a more sustainable and inclusive industry.
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