This Friday, March 31st, the 2017 Franco-Irish Literary Festival begins and will continue right through the weekend. Organised by Alliance Française and the Cultural Service of the French Embassy in Ireland, this annual festival celebrates the unique relationship between Ireland, France and other francophone nations through highlighting the work of their writers.
With fashion as the theme of this year’s festival, Betimes Books’ own Jackie Mallon had her first novel, Silk for the Feed Dogs, selected to be included.
Silk for the Feed Dogs follows Kat Connolly’s first steps as a fashion designer after she leaves Central St Martin’s School in London. Kat’s career brings her from one major fashion capital to another and, as an Irish girl trying to make her way in the international fashion industry, Kat not only encounters plenty of culture shock, but also finds herself having to compete for a spot with people who aren’t afraid to cut down those in their path. Based on her own experiences as a globetrotting fashion designer, Mallon humorously shares with us what it was like to work in this industry as an Irishwoman from Co. Tyrone.
As part of the Franco-Irish Literary Festival, Mallon will be speaking at a panel discussion on Saturday, April 1st at 12.15pm in Dublin Castle. We would love to see you there on Saturday to hear Mallon discuss fashion and writing with French writer, critic and film director Frédéric Beigbeder and Irish journalist Deirdre McQuillan, as well as her experience writing Silk for the Feed Dogs.
But for now, to celebrate this wonderful achievement, we would like to (re-)introduce you, to some of the colourful characters from Mallon’s debut novel.
Ever since she was a little girl, Kat has never followed the rest of the crowd. As a child growing up on a farm in rural Ireland, Kat was just as content feeding cows as crafting tiaras out of sweets and colouring pencils.
“…my ‘rainbow tiara’, constructed of three tiers of Caran d’Ache pencils adorned with clusters of M&Ms and trailing ribbons. Da laughed as the calf lapped contentedly at the candy, the ribbons tickling his nose, making him snort.”
The same individualistic spirit follows her to London and Milan when she begins her career as a fashion designer. Tired of copying other people’s designs in her first job in London, Kat makes a sudden decision to follow her friend, Edward, to Milan. Kat finds Italy’s fashion capital to be teeming with artists and fashionistas – but which are friend and which are foe? In the highly competitive fashion world, will Kat be able to distinguish between who she can and cannot trust?
Edward and Kat did not get off to the best start. When they first met at Central St Martin’s School, Edward made sure to demarcate a boundary line on their shared desk, with none of Kat’s fly-away sketches or rolling pencils permitted to trespass.
Despite the chilliness of this first encounter, the pair strike up an enduring friendship, built on their dry sense of humour, taste for the eclectic, and determination to succeed in spite of the naysayers.
“He sparkled from wherever he was in the room. The sequined head of Debbie Harry — actual size — emblazoned the left boob and shoulder of his t-shirt, silver discs flashing like a smashed heart of glass.”
As their careers progress in Europe’s fashion capitals and they grapple with shrewd landlords, exploitative bosses, and the might of the continental male, their friendship means they always have each other to fall back on.
“She was one of those women: the ones that intimidated me just passing them in the street, a lioness.”
Lioness – this is Kat’s word for the beautiful, confident women she sees every day in Milan. Ginevra, her Italian roommate, is just such a creature; her dainty frame may lead you to believe she’s a delicate flower, but in fact she’s a no-nonsense woman with her eye on the prize. Her prize? A strong Italian husband.
“With her tumbling tresses and prominently displayed bosom, she called to mind a saloon madam stepping between two cowboys who were brawling over one of her ‘girls’.”
With experience searching high and low for the ideal man, and having met one too many bambinos and Lotharios, Ginevra is well-trained to be Kat’s cultural advisor on the Italian male. Cocky or passionate? Or both? Kat’s at a loss. But Ginevra can help with that.
“They seemed to dance with a fire just behind the pupil. His black hair spiked every which way and his wide smile looked almost sinister outlined by a thick goatee like the ones people draw on posters at bus stops.”
The barman from Atomic who stares at Kat every time she’s there. Massimiliano looks like a cross between a wild pirate and a mysterious rock star, and it doesn’t take him long to grab Kat’s attention. But how will this Irish girl deal with his advances? With Ginevra’s vast wisdom at the back of her mind, can Kat work out whether Massimiliano is someone she can trust, or whether he is just another Lothario in it for the thrill?
“She was addressing a blond, middle-aged woman in a long coat and green gloves. It was an expensive coat that had led the life of an inexpensive one.”
Having missed out on featuring her designs in the graduate fashion show, Kat doesn’t feel very confident about her job prospects after college. While roaming through a clothes market in London, Kat comes across Lynda, her first boss. At first, Lynda and her design business look like the image of success, but not long into her job at Lynda Winter Designs, Kat begins to wonder what exactly she has gotten herself into. How long can she put up with Lynda’s ever-changing mood and love of pitting employees against each other?
A visionary. A shining beacon of fashion. One of the most renowned designers in the world – and Kat managed to get a job with him.
No one, including Kat, can understand how she stumbled across a position at the illustrious House of Adriani. Rude and unreasonable, Adriani does not warm to Kat at first; in actual fact, he treats her exactly the way he treats the rest of his employees.
“He’s like a child responding to a tone of voice but paying no attention to the words. You see, he’s so removed from the real world, he has no idea what’s going on.”
The difference though is that Kat has never been one to fall at the feet of another. Stubbornly refusing to become another one of his submissive “Adroids”, Kat has to find a way of keeping true to herself while keeping her job at the same time.
“The Adroids clucked approval at Signor Adriani’s every decision: if he said ‘white’, it was met with enthusiastic nods; if he abruptly changed to ‘black’, they chorused anew in the affirmative. When he talked down to them, they agreed wholeheartedly”.
Arturo and Paola
In Kat’s eyes, Arturo, the Creative Director of the House of Adriani, and Paola, his co-conspirator, closely resemble phantoms.
“Arturo and Paola floated silently by like two characters from a Japanese horror movie, pale faces gazing alertly through the glass. Both wore black, their bottom halves billowing.”
It seems to her that they lurk ominously around every corner, intent on proving to Adriani that she is an imposter undeserving of sharing their workplace. Arturo and Paola are Adroids through and through; they shower Adriani with praise and are hostile to anyone else’s ideas. But a fresh insight was exactly why Kat was hired. How is she going to be effective at her job while fending off Arturo’s and Paola’s repeated attacks?