“I’m an open book,” said Dearbhla Neenan, an Irish designer. “My artwork hopefully can bring you some perspective of life, and the necessary presence of light and dark literally and figuratively.”
Neenan brings her own unique perspective to the design world. She grew up in Dublin, and she studied at the city’s National College of Art and Design. Specifically, she studied Textile Design and focused on women’s screen and digitally printed silks.
Her interest in textiles began in her childhood. Her mother was a teacher and would bring home fabric for her to play with. By her first year of college, she studied several different mediums like painting, graphic design and glass, but preferred textiles the most. “I was drawn to the dye lab and to the print process,” she added.
To learn more about the design and fashion world, she interned and worked with fashion stylists, designers, magazines and boutiques. After graduating, she further studied pattern cutting and garment construction in Dublin City. After spending a summer abroad, she eventually decided to relocate to Brooklyn.
“I fell in love with Brooklyn and New York that summer; it was just so cool,” Neenan said. “I loved the mix of people, how unpredictable every day was. It felt like anything could happen. I made some great friends that I still have today, but I knew after leaving that summer, that I was determined to live here.”
Although the two cities are different in many ways, she has noticed that there are many similarities in the design and art scenes. “In both Dublin and Brooklyn, I see incredible contemporary talent. Obviously, there is a lot more going on in New York, and there is probably a lot more opportunity to get funding. But to be honest, I don’t see that holding people back in Dublin. I follow so many designers over there. There is a creative scene that is growing.”
For her work, Neenan draws from a wide variety of influences. Georgia O’Keeffe is her favorite painter; she is moved by the American artist’s work and what it represents. The list of brilliant and creative people that have impacted her career is lengthy.
This includes Irish Independent writer/stylist Lia Hynes (“she taught me how to have fun in work and how to be relaxed when things aren’t going smoothly”) and Carla Johnson, the London-based designer/creator of MONA Swims (“she showed me how to start a business and how to handle everything single-handed”).
She even draws inspiration from her grandmother. “My nana Neena is 96 and, she is so alive and healthy. She tells me her secret is hard work.”
Neenan has had an ongoing cosmic theme since college. “I’m really curious about our universe,” she said. “My favorite book is photos from the Apollo of the Andromeda galaxy; it is insanely beautiful. I like to think of the vastness of earth—not in a negative way—to be reminded about how insignificant we all are on this planet when things get too serious or overwhelming.”
She finds the theme the cosmos to be relaxing, but at the same time serves as a reminder that time is limited and must be enjoyed. From these photographs of the galaxy, she finds ideas for colors, shapes and details that become the basis of her artwork.
Neenan uses this process to create art prints that become the basis of her fashion designs. Her favorite was a silk satin dress called Red Horizon. “It was so simple, but I loved it, and there was a lot of good response to it,” she said. “My sister said she loved it, so I gave it to her for her engagement present!” Very happy with the design, Neenan admits to cutting of fabric off the bottoms so she could keep a reference.
Eventually, she found a way to start using fabric samples to create art in another form: jewelry. “I saw some trims in work that I thought would make cool chokers,” she said. “So I basically started collecting fabrics and trims I liked, and started hand making them in my bedroom to sell online.” Neenan expanded this online store to include paintings, jewelry, prints and textiles.
In 2017, she launched PYGMNT Designs. This new company allows here to create a product lie that combines her art into a product line that balances luxury with modern style.
Neenan’s latest collection takes its influence from the stark contrast between day and night. Her new collection is entitled LVD: the Light V Dark apparel collection.
“This is my first apparel collection for PYGMNT Designs,” she said. “Everything about this collection is represented in the name. For the longest time I have wanted to create this collection, I had the visual concept in my mind, but work, money, excuses, held me back from moving forward.” This project finally moved ahead for Neenan during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I ended up with the spare time that allowed me to concentrate and spend energy on this project. This collection is the light I have found through the dark times of COVID-19.”
The artwork for the LVD pieces began as paintings and manipulated photography she created. This imagery was digitally printed onto silk, stations, and charmeuse; this was constructed by hand into garments. Aesthetically speaking, this collection is for print lovers, but Neenan sees it connect with all-black clothing wearers who are looking to introduce some subtle color into their wardrobe. “What makes this collection unique is that each top is a random cut, the prints landing on different areas of the body each time, so no two shirts are the same,” she added. “I hope that when people wear my products that they can be reminded of happiness and light when life feels too heavy or dark.”
Through PYGMNT Designs, she showcases the work of other Irish artists, including Mala creator Hannah Whelan, photographer Elsa Brightlin, animator Ross Ryder and embroidery artist Kristen Roe.
Neenan enjoys heading PYGMNT Designs, as it gives her a chance to be her own boss but the opportunity to continue to find ways to be both positive and creative.
“We are so blessed to wake up every day,” Neenan added. “No matter how bad things get, there is always a light waiting to guide you. I’m the kind of person that can be inspired by the way the sun rises day after day, so really, life, love, pain, and experience influence everything I create.”