Rebecca Devaney first landed in Paris in 2017 to follow her dreams and study haute couture embroidery at the prestigious École Lesage. With a BA in Art and Design Education and an MFA in Textile Art and Artefact from the National College of Art and Design in Ireland, there were already two recurring themes in her life, embroidery and inspiring young people.
Before arriving in Paris, Rebecca was generously granted funding by the Thomas Dammann Junior Memorial Trust Award to undertake a research trip that aimed to investigate the cultural importance, craft, and aesthetic of Mexican hand embroidery. She traveled all over Mexico to meet craftspeople, artists, ethnographers, and anthropologists to study how embroidery is heavily embedded in their culture. She heard how women embroider their personal stories, memories, and experiences in each beautiful piece of work. Her research resulted in the exhibition Bordados, a collection of photographs, interviews, and textiles, which has been presented internationally and is now part of the permanent collection at the Mexican Consulate to France.
Rebecca is also a textile artist and her work has been exhibited in Ireland, the United States, and even here in Paris at the OECD inaugural conference on Violence Against Women. She has completed artist residencies in Abu Dhabi and India, teaching children how to combine creativity and sustainability to create beautiful works of art.
She is currently working with Fanatikart in Paris, teaching young children to use embroidery to tell their stories, which will be exhibited at Centre 104. She had always dreamed of incorporating the embroidery and embellishment techniques of haute couture in her textile art practice. Enrolling in École Lesage was her opportunity to do this, to learn the techniques mastered – and, in some cases, invented – by one of the world’s greatest artistic embroidery houses.
She spent six months training in the intricate arts of Lunéville embroidery, traditional needlework, and embellishment. After qualifying, Rebecca began working as an embroiderer for the world’s most renowned Maisons de Haute Couture such as Chanel, Dior, Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent, Dolce and Gabanna, Louis Vuitton, and Valentino. She embroidered gowns for celebrities and royalty worn at the Met Gala Ball, Cannes Film Festival, and of course, Paris Fashion Shows, you could say, she was living the embroider dream life.
Rebecca established Textile Tours of Paris in 2019 to share her love of the rich heritage of textiles woven through the fabric of Paris on guided walking tours. She also runs embroidery workshops and the Threads of Connection embroidery evenings at Shakespeare & Company.
All of those experiences and passions would soon collide when Rebecca was working with the Irish in France at the Irish Cultural Centre to create children’s costumes from recycled materials for the St Patrick’s Day Parade in Paris in 2020. She was approached by Junk Kouture, a fashion competition founded in Ireland in 2010, who were planning to expand internationally. She knew the competition well from when she worked as an Art teacher in Dublin and had participated each year with her students who absolutely loved it. Rebecca loved the idea of bringing Junk Kouture to the home of Haute Couture!
Junk Kouture is aimed at providing a platform for teens to express their creativity and engage with sustainable fashion. Teens create their own fashion out of 100% recycled materials and the results are inspiring, Nespresso caps, plastic bottles, orange peel, sea glass, and much more throwaway items are sewn, woven, crocheted, embroidered, and knit, transformed into beautiful designs fit for the catwalk! Each year the grand final is held in the 3 Arena in Dublin, the teens showcasing their creativity and talent to the cheers and applause of an audience of 5000 and the admiration of celebrity judges.
The founder, Troy Armour, stated “ My goal in life is to change attitudes [to art and design]. We live our lives in clothes and they are a great way of expressing who we are.”
The competition awards fashion design, emerging talent, make-up and hair, performance, and circular fashion, and the prizes include scholarships and bursaries to study at Fashion, Design, and Art universities. Junk Kouture will be collaborating with some of the leading fashion educational institutions in France to give their participants here similarly exciting opportunities and awards.
Paris has been the capital of fashion for centuries, from Marie Antoinette to Coco Chanel, the appreciation for fashion, design, and style is embedded in the French culture. The savoir-faire of French artisans and ateliers is celebrated around the world and I think it’s wonderful to give the next generation of aspiring creatives and fashion designers an opportunity to showcase their talents.
Sustainability is a critical challenge for the future of the fashion industry but the teens in Ireland have shown us that it is possible to create stunning gowns, fit for the red carpet, from 100% recycled materials. In France, there is already such a strong commitment to recycling and the environment and the new measures from the Ministère de l’Education Nationale for sustainable development education and organizations like Eco Ecole will encourage and nurture our future change-makers. I have no doubt that teens in France will rise to the challenge set by Junk Kouture!”
Rebecca has already begun spreading the word about Junk Kouture, visiting schools, and making valuable connections. A teaser competition is open to France this year, with the deadline for entries is April 2021 and then the global competition will launch officially in September 2021, with entrants from Ireland, London, New York, Dubai, Milan, and of course, Paris. The grand finale will be held at the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Conference in January 2022. Any teenager between the ages of 12 and 18 is permitted to compete for free and Junk Kouture has set up an app and website to guide schools and teens through the whole process.
Rebecca hopes that Junk Kouture will be a success in France, that teens will enjoy the fabulous experience of designing and creating recycled fashion, and join an international community of creative, environmentally aware, socially engaged, and entrepreneurial peers.