maven46 meets: Electronic Sheep

The Irish Double Act with a Penchant for Illustrated Knitwear

Words by Síomha Connolly
December 27th, 2016

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Electronic Sheep is the dynamic design label of Helen Delaney and Brenda Aherne and was launched in 1998. The pair grew up next door to each other in Dublin and both went on to study at NCAD, before parting ways to explore the world separately. Helen is now based in London where Electronic Sheep has a studio in Dalston while Brenda is based in Dublin. Their contemporary illustrations and quirky designs have gained them stockists in Europe, China, the US, Japan and Australia. We spoke to Brenda and Helen about setting up their knitwear label, the process of creating an Electronic Sheep product, and the historical influences that inspire their designs.

On forming a label together…

It was a dream to work together at some point but not a plan. We wanted more to be musicians as teenagers. We went to NCAD together (Brenda in Fashion, Helen in Visual Communications) and there we collaborated on our degree project. So yes it happened organically – we started to work together professionally in the years after college. Brenda specialised in knitwear and at first Helen did the printed graphics for the Electronic Sheep label. After about a year graphics and illustration started to creep onto the knitwear and so the two disciplines of knitwear and graphic design became joined together.

On their individual roles at Electronic Sheep…

At this point there is a lot of overlapping. Obviously we have experience and skills in our separate disciplines but we both know a lot about fashion and graphics at this stage!  We design the collections very closely together but we research separately which is good as we live in two different cities – London and Dublin – so influences from both will be evident.

We have a lot in common aesthetically so we will often bring similar ideas to the table – literally. We are constantly discussing our next collection or new product while doing all the business side together at the same time. We will share up everything from accounts to orders and both hoping not to get the most boring thing! We clearly prefer designing over everything so we will spend as much time on this as possible. We draw up our ideas together in rough with our notebooks, pencils and paper – old school style! Then we will redraw digitally and depending on the illustration or spec it can take quite a long time… The production side in particular can be very time consuming.

On working from opposite sides of the pond…

The way things are in the digital world makes it all very easy and we speak and e-mail every day. However, it is much more enjoyable physically working together. We recently had a road trip to visit a manufacturer in Donegal and it was literally years since we did anything adventurous like that together. In the early days of Electronic Sheep we both lived in Dublin and had a studio in Stoneybatter so we had a lot of fun. Knocking off early due to local temptations like the Dublin Brewing Company. These days there’s no sneaking out for a local brew which is a real shame… so yes that’s the difficult bit not being able to see each other in real time.

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On the historical influences behind the AW16 collection…

The idea originally started when Brenda was reading a book by art collector/novelist/poet Gertrude Stein and her account of bohemian life in early twentieth-century Paris. Brenda was talking about how she loved the clothes they wore and that they had a great house and dinner parties so she was thinking we could do some ideas for our AW16 collection based on that. Helen loved the suggestion as she is a big fan of the artists of that time and realised it was 100 years ago when this was taking place – hence 1916. So we mixed all our favourite artists together – Picasso, Duchamp, Man Ray, Dadaists and also made reference to some Irish artists of that era – Harry Clarke and Joyce. Naturally 1916 is a very important year in Ireland so we included some historical references and landmarks to this which is seen mainly on our ‘Girl by the Liffey’ scarf.

We collaborated with Irish Architectural Historian Conor Lucey to get our facts straight and so the drawings are fairly accurate with a bit of poetic licence of course! For example our ‘Artist Party’ scarf is a huge drawing featuring Picasso eating spaghetti, Duchamp flirting by the bar and Boy Capel (Chanel’s boyfriend) hanging out in the lounge. We are not 100% it happened like so but based on their lifestyle it pretty much paints the picture! We got a bit nerdy about real events and threw in an Eileen Gray chair from 1916 and other artefacts from that time.

On the process of creating an Electronic Sheep product from start to finish…

Research, design conversations, pencil drawings, digital drawings, colour studies and production.

On their inspiration outlets…

Everywhere. But often our past and personal interests will inspire us. It has to be something that makes us genuinely excited to spend that much time creating it!

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On the biggest challenge of running a fashion label…

Making the right decisions – from what show to do, to how much product to produce. To learn to say no sometimes so you don’t do things that are not progressing your business or are not fun!

And the most rewarding part…

Seeing the finished product. An idea being realised and then somebody saying “ I love my Electronic Sheep” (meaning their scarf or jumper) or that they have a personal collection of the label – so they genuinely covet it and it makes them happy. That is the best bit.

On what 2017 will hold for Electronic Sheep…

Some changes are in the air… We are firstly collaborating with Irish knitwear company “Fisherman Out of Ireland’. The pieces will be shown at Showcase in January 2017 as part of an exhibition run by The Crafts Council. We have plans to introduce a new yarn for our scarves and are looking at introducing some new products that have been waiting in the wings a long while…

You can view more of Electronic Sheep’s work over on their website. All images included are courtesy of Electronic Sheep.