As well as being one of Ireland’s leading stylists, Aisling Farinella is the editor and co-founder of Thread Magazine. Since beginning her career in fashion, she’s brought an edge and vision to Dublin that the city had been seriously lacking.
In collaboration with Keith Nally and Indigo & Cloth’s Garrett Pitcher she created the bi-annual fashion publication, featuring design and subject matter seldom covered on these shores. There was an acute focus on fashion, but forward-thinking names in art, design, film and music all appeared, perhaps representative of Aisling’s varied cultural palate.
With design at the heart of Thread’s content and production, it’s no surprise that Aisling and David Wall were drawn together. David is the co-founder of WorkGroup alongside his business partner Conor Nolan. Formerly known as Conor & David, WorkGroup is one of the most important organisations in Irish graphic design. They’ve collaborated with brands as diverse as 3FE and An Post to create unique identities and campaigns, outside the usual realm of corporate design.
David is also a board member at The Institute of Designers in Ireland, a founder of the 100Archive “a living archive which maps the past, present and future of Irish graphic design” and type foundry TypeGroup. He’s also a design writer for monthly publication Totally Dublin.
On top of that, the pair also live in Dublin 8 with their two kids, putting the cherry on top of their hectic, but beautifully designed life together.
Aisling, what prompted you to start Thread Magazine?
Aisling: Thread was born out of a time when things were definitely changing in Dublin, [I] really wanted to represent the Dublin that I knew, in terms of fashion. There was a great community and there was really amazing stuff happening internationally and such a presence of Irish people working in fashion internationally but there was always a kind of, “Oh fashion in Ireland?”, you know? They never really went hand-in-hand, always felt it was really important for people to start looking at fashion as design and not just as a commercial process and following trends.
Obviously, working as a stylist for over 15 years now, the way I connect with fashion is through the process, through the cultural and community aspect and I really wanted to have a space to explore that and share it with other people.
Thread is a group project, it wasn’t just me, those were just my personal reasons for beginning it, but I started it with Keith Nally who’s a graphic designer/creative director and Gareth Pitcher who is an independent retailer who has a menswear store [Indigo & Cloth] who also works as a creative director.
Keith and Gareth came from very different angles as well, but there was that joint feeling of wanting to position Dublin and Ireland in the amazing way that we experience it and put it on an international platform as opposed to keeping it too indigenous or too isolated.
David, tell us about how you started WorkGroup?
David: I suppose I had always thought that I’d like to work for myself, growing up both my parents were designers. They’re both architects and they both worked for the civil service and they always said, “You should work for yourself”. I suppose they had a view of what that would be like and that’s what they sold me on at a relatively young age. The defining reason was that I met Conor Nolan, who’s my business partner. He’s a designer too and we met in college, we work really well together and I think I realise more and more now that it’s something really rare to get, that good working relationship where you have different skills, different kinds of personalities and, to a certain extent, a different way of seeing the world.
We’d both worked in other studios, I was really keen to do that and to get experience elsewhere and then there was this opportune moment for us to work together full-time. We started our business at the tail end of the Celtic Tiger, looking back now it was a really great, or arguably easy [laughs], easy time to start a business in Ireland. It was 2006 and it was very fortunate in a lot of ways and I guess we continue to be fortunate in lots of ways, but those were the factors that we were at play when we started to work together.
You mentioned finding someone that you can work well with can be incredibly rare – obviously yourself and Aisling are both involved in the creative industry, what’s the best elements of having someone you can go home to and say, “I want your opinion on this”?
David: It’s brilliant to have someone that has a really good understanding of what your world is like in a work context and hopefully that’s reciprocal [laughs]!
Aisling: You have to have your own space, but we do collaborate, definitely. It’s amazing to be able to come home to somebody who understands exactly what you’ve been put through that day, or the amount of variables that you’ve had to negotiate, or all of the different issues because every day is different, we don’t have 9 to 5’s. We’ve got two kids and it’s great that we can both have our independent creative careers and have our two kids and work all our logistics around that.
How much do you inspire or motivate each other?
Aisling: David is the hardest working person I know. He loves graphic design and that’s something that definitely drew me to him, he’s so passionate and really involved in the work that he does. He gives everything to every project that he’s working on and I really admire that. I’ve also learnt so much about graphic design.
David: [Laughs] Yeah I never shut up! With regard to working together, for me it’s really important to be able to come home and that our relationship isn’t all about work.
What do you love to do together that has nothing to do with your respective careers?
David: Eating dinner together every night, I like cooking. I’m no great Masterchef, but I enjoy it.
Aisling: David likes cooking, I like baking so it’s a good match. Our lives are very busy because we both have very busy, very involved jobs and we’ve got a four year old and a seven and a half month old. Life revolves around them in the non-working hours. It’s amazing being in Dublin and being a parent, the area that we live in, Dublin 8, is so incredibly open, it’s a really interesting relaxed mix of people here. All our neighbours have opened their doors to us, there are street parties, laneway BBQs, you can just knock on somebody’s door and throw Franca (their four year old) in – it’s very ‘neighbourhood’ and that’s not something I actually expected.
We always wanted to live in the city, and we’re definitely city folk, but we didn’t quite expect to find somewhere to live with such great neighbourhood vibes going on.
David: Most of what we do together is hang out with our kids, who are brilliant, and Ais has said this is such a nice place to live in general and it’s a really nice place to live with kids. Our neighbours are brilliant, there are loads of cool parks nearby.
You’re both incredibly passionate about your careers, but do you have any other passions?
Aisling: Our kids, it’s all about Franca and Olive [laughs]! I like running, I haven’t been able to do it too much, it’s obviously quite hard to do when you’re pregnant, but yeah I love to run. It’s something I’ve been doing for years. I also do Yoga quite a bit and that’s definitely something that I need in my life in terms of headspace.
I love cinema, I studied cinema and that’s my background and everything goes back to that a little bit. I mean it’s definitely not the time of in our lives when we have much free time, or me time, but yeah there’s cinema and art… And we like to hang out in playgrounds [laughs]!
In your respective careers your seen as heads now, the people that are doing things, pushing things, is that something that you’re aware of, or something you enjoy being?
David: In some ways, yes it’s amazing, it’s very flattering. I suppose I don’t know how I feel about it really, I love what I do, I love my work and I’m very proud of it and I think it’s brilliant if someone sees something and thinks, “I’d love to do that too”. I mean that’s how I got into graphic design, I met a graphic designer. I used to sing in a boys choir and we were in Antwerp on tour when I was 11 and we were staying with local families and the dad of the family we were staying with was a graphic designer and I thought, ‘I can’t believe that’s a job, that looks like great craic’.
I studied in Finland when I was in college and I met a guy who had done game design for Atari in the late 80s and that guy really inspired me and I don’t think either of those people thought they were an inspirational character, so I’d be very wary of viewing myself as that at all. But they were really into their work and they were doing really interesting things and trying to do it on their own terms, so I think if there’s an iota of that in what I do then that’s brilliant but it’s a positive byproduct on the way really. I don’t think that kind of thing can ever be a goal, otherwise things will get too introspective, too self-indulgent and the focus would be in the wrong place.
Aisling: I think it’s hugely important to have people to look up to and I guess in a way that’s part of Thread as well and it’s not about people looking up to me, or looking up to Thread. It’s about using it as a platform to showcase amazing talent out there and about telling their stories about the process of their careers. To be able to showcase that all of this is achievable and attainable and everyone faces the same challenges. I think Dublin is a really unique space in terms of its ability to create opportunity, or if you take the initiative with your own ability to be able to create your own opportunities in the space. Instead of thinking these are my limitations why not think that if something is missing, why can’t you just make it?
Do you feel the landscape of Dublin is in a healthier place than when you started Thread?
Aisling: Yeah, it’s been up and down. When we started Thread it was at the start of the recession and people were losing their jobs, there was less money around but with that there was more creativity. There were great studio spaces opening up, there were so many small communities of designers working around the city and there was so much cross-disciplinary work happening, which is really interesting. All of that is still happening but the spaces in Dublin are changing, these spaces are being taken away, the rent is insane, the property market is insane and people are struggling to live in the city.
Do you feel that Dublin inspires you both enough for exactly what you want to achieve?
Aisling: Yes, but I don’t just look at Dublin, I look internationally, everybody does as well. I think that’s one perspective that perhaps needed to be changed, just because you live in Dublin doesn’t mean that’s your entire world.
We all live in a very global space now and everything is connected and we all know what’s happening in so many lives simultaneously. Even with the economy changing Dublin is still a great place to live, it’s a great place to bring up your kids, there’s a great openness to the people and people are genuinely willing to share their experiences in order to help you with your projects. Whereas perhaps in the bigger cities, where there’s so much more creative commercial activity, everyone has to be so much more niche and that’s one thing that I love about my work, it’s all so varied. From editing Thread to developing the Kildare Village Fashion Scholarship for an Irish student at the Royal College of Art, I’m pretty sure that if I was living somewhere else like New York or London my work would probably be a lot more niche.
How has Dublin affected your creative lives and lives in general?
David: I was born in Dublin, I’ve lived here all my life so I’m sure everything I do, everything I am is as a Dubliner really. It’s the city that I know, it’s the only city I know well, everything gets fed through that prism.