ALL CHANGED, CHANGED UTTERLY…

In the two decades since Menswear published its inaugural issue, the industry has witnessed phenomenal change, whether it be in personnel, in how businesses is conducted or in the struggles independent retailers have faced. Here the magazine’s first editor, June Considine, looks back on her time in the role and shares some of her best memories

June Considine

I’m forever arguing with time. Where did it go? When will it stop flying like an arrow through my life? Imagine, therefore, my surprise when I was contacted by Menswear in Ireland and asked to write a column for the magazine’s twenty-first birthday.

“You must be joking,” I gasped. “Surely Menswear in Ireland is still only a child or, at most, a teenager? When did it get to be twenty-one?”

That’s the trouble with blinking. You close your eyes for an instant and, suddenly, you’re reeling in the years. As that wonderful performer, Nina Simone, used to sing, ‘Who knows where the time goes.’

So, here I am, staring at the first edition of Menswear in Ireland and it does, indeed, state that it was produced in 1997. That gorgeous hunk on the front cover remains as disturbingly dashing as he did when I decided he should grace the cover of our first edition. Am I allowed to use a word like ‘hunk’ nowadays – or could it be construed as sexist in this era of political correctness? Hopefully not, as many hunks featured on that edition and have continued to do so ever since.

But, I digress. Back to the beginning. I’m looking back at myself from the editorial pages, twenty-one years younger and looking decidedly calm, despite deadline pressures and the adrenaline rush as I worked alongside Avril Smith (the beating heart of Futura and Menswear in Ireland) to launch Ireland’s first dedicated trade menswear magazine.

We’d been having a coffee together one morning when the idea took root. “We should examine menswear trends in a forthcoming issue of Futura,” Avril said. “We could put together a supplement on the industry.”

I agreed, willingly. We’d always worked well together. Avail had, and still possesses, the professional skills and intuition of a born advertising executive. I had, and still possess, a bloodhound nose for sniffing out a throwaway remark and building it into a newsworthy feature.

We set to work and our supplement was going as planned. In fact, it was progressing even better than anticipated. The enthusiastic reaction Avril received from buyers and manufacturers encouraged her to think beyond this one-off supplement. Why not produce a standalone magazine on a bi-annual basis at the start of the spring and autumn seasons, she suggested.

There is a right moment for everything and, suddenly, this was deemed by us to be the one. More discussions and more cups of coffee followed as we planned how to proceed. We hung out a lot in cafes in those days but we were coffee addicts rather than aficionados. Starbucks had yet to mushroom on our horizons, beans belonged to Batchelors, and if anyone had described themselves as a Barista, we’d have assumed they wore a wig and hung out in the Four Courts!

Needless to say, coffee didn’t prevent us suffering moments of utter panic as the deadline drew nearer. I remember one frantic phone call to Avril – I think it had to do with the cover, but it could have been one of many things. All I remember was an overwhelming urge to breathe deeply into a brown paper bag.

Some of the features stand out in my memory. I interviewed Tommy Hilfiger, whose brand was also about to be launched into Brown Thomas that autumn. I sent reporter, Giselle Scanlan, on a stroll through the Hibernian Way and its surrounds where she spoke to Tom Kennedy (Alias Tom) Ian Killock (Monaghans) Susan Horan (Custom Store) Stephen Walshe (Michael Barrie) and Patrick O’Neill (Massimo). Today, reading through their various comments, I’m struck by how little has changed in terms of brand importance, customer service, niche marketing, and the changing attitude of the male customer.

Nor does the magazine look particularly dated since its inception. Many of the brands are still going strong and the six-pack torso, now so ubiquitous, was very much in vogue even then, as evidenced by our undercover story about boxers versus briefs.

Magee was doing what Magee does best – and spring 1997 was a mix of relaxed and classic designs with a new casual, unstructured jacket called Errigal.

Arnotts had opened up their new menswear department and was targeting the young, fashion conscious male with a collection of trend-setting brands. The Cobra group had established its first Irish outlet on Henry Street with more planned in major Irish cities. Gallagher, the Irish shirt and jeanswear company, was opening a retail outlet on London’s Kensington High Street.

Businesses and brands toing and froing, expanding, down-sizing, reshaping, constantly evolving and battling the counterfeit market; these were the main stories that featured in our first edition. Sportswear was deemed to be the success story of the 90s, its styles evolving from the demands of snowboarders and rollerbladers, who wanted relaxed, loose sportswear for their leisure activities.

On the home front, the late Charles Haughey’s finances were coming under scrutiny. Little did we realise that we, as a nation, would soon discover that there was more to shirts than plains, checks and stripes, and that a certain brand, namely Charvet, was going to become a whole other shirty story.

I travelled extensively during that time, Germany, London, France, Portugal, Spain. Apart from seeing the finished menswear products at trade fairs, I visited factories and studios to watch the process of spinning, weaving, designing and manufacturing. I felt as if I was in the eye of the industry, not just seeing it in its finished perfection.

I was particularly intrigued by the mannequins on display at the front of exhibitions stands, dressed in suits of powdery blue and soft salmon pink. I longed to see those colours flowing down Grafton Street, lounging in Irish pubs, streaming from offices across the country. How dull the standard grey, navy and black always seemed when I returned home.

Certain incidents stand out in my mind but the one that still causes me to shiver was my inability to work the German train ticket machines. On one occasion, I jumped aboard a train in Cologne, hoping I would not be caught. The train had no sooner started when three inspectors swept through the carriages checking tickets. Two young women were marched off for questioning but I survived the journey without anyone coming near me.

Imagine my relief when I reached Dusseldorf Central and disembarked. Imagine, also, my horror, when I realised I’d left my briefcase on the train. I won’t go into all the details of the hours that followed, except to state that when I finally located the lost property office, which was somewhere in the bowels of the station, the first thing I was asked to produce was my ticket! But, being in Germany, where efficiency is the key word, my briefcase was recovered eventually, contents, including my plane ticket and passport still intact. All that was missing was my flight, which had departed three hours earlier.

Since those early days, Menswear in Ireland, under the capable hands of editor, Alexander Fitzgerald, has gone on to bigger and better things. So, all that’s left for me to do is wish owner, Pat Codyre, Avril, Alexander and everyone involved in its production a very happy twenty-first anniversary and continued success!