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‘A true wow piece’ – Budding Offaly fashion designer wins major River Island bursary

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A young Offaly fashion design student has claimed a prestigious design bursary from River Island.

23-year-old Dennis Lawless from Edenderry, Co Offaly, won the €3,500 2024 River Island NCAD Fashion Design Bursary last week, and will now take up a three-month internship with River Island’s design studio in London as part of his prize. 

Former St Mary’s Secondary School student Dennis is a final year fashion student at the National College of Art and Design (NCAD) in Dublin. He has already enjoyed a first step into the world of high fashion via an erasmus year in Paris and an internship with Molly Goddard in London. Goddard designed a blouse worn by Harry Styles on the cover of his album Harry’s House in 2022.

This year marks the 20th year of the River Island Bursary which offers final year fashion design students at the National College of Art and Design the chance to win a paid internship at River Island. The bursary will provide Dennis as the winning graduate with an invaluable first step into the commercial fashion world. Past winners have already had their designs sold in River Island stores worldwide.

This year the NCAD students were briefed to consider their favourite River Island moment in time and use this to create the ultimate celebration collection. Taking inspiration from a blue suit he wore to his cousin’s wedding in Los Angeles a number of years ago, Dennis created a collection designed for individuals who use clothing as a dynamic form of self-expression and fearlessly break fashion norms. Dennis was inspired by his own childhood experiences with clothing, self-discovery and identity.

“The suit was quite traditional in its style and colour,” Dennis explained to IMAGE magazine. “I looked at the idea of deconstructing and reconstructing it as a starting point. I used suiting to create a more feminine silhouette – putting suiting on the body in an interesting way. I think clothing should be fun and be experimented with – that’s what I’ve tried to do with this collection – to push the boundaries a bit and to use clothing to express how people feel.”

The judges recognised that the collection offers modular gender fluid pieces that are bold and experimental. Naomi Robertson, senior designer at River Island explained: “We decided to choose Dennis as the bursary winner as he showed inclusive forward thinking; fusing the idea of structured tailoring with soft feminine tulle to create a true wow piece that really embodied the brief. At River Island we are dedicated to employing talented young fashion graduates and through the NCAD bursary in Ireland we continue to fulfil this promise.”

Speaking to IMAGE magazine, Dennis said: “I was shocked to be whittled down as one of the five finalists and to be chosen as the winner was incredible. I’m really looking forward to moving to London and this is a wonderful opportunity.” Dennis says he is interested in bringing this gender neutral style to the high street, pointing out that while it’s appearing more on catwalks, he hasn’t yet “caught on” in everyday style. 

The bursary, which was first launched in 2004, has proven to be extremely successful for aspiring fashion designers studying at NCAD, with many past winners going on to become full time members of River Island’s 100-strong design team.

The National College of Art and Design (NCAD) occupies a unique position in art and design education in Ireland, offering the widest range of art and design degrees at undergraduate and postgraduate level. It is ranked in the top 1% globally for Art & Design.

“The winning prize of a bursary and placement in the River Island design studios in London offer invaluable experience for our graduates and a superb launch pad into the fashion industry,” Angela O’Kelly, Head of Design for Body and Environment, NCAD said.

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