Internationally recognised as one of Ireland’s most successful fashion designers, Louise Kennedy remains at the forefront of Irish design. GALWAYnow caught up with Louise to talk about her incredibly successful career.
When did your love of fashion begin?
I have always loved colour and fabric and texture and details, and when I studied fashion at the Grafton Academy in Dublin, it cemented my love of the design process and I knew that the fashion industry was where I wanted to be.
Who inspired you to follow your passion?
My parents. They allowed me and my siblings to follow our dreams, there was no pressure to follow traditional options. Both my parents worked hard to provide us with every opportunity to help us with our education and, ultimately, our careers. At no point did they steer me towards working in the family business, a small department store in Thurles, but they were very open to me working there during school holidays. That was my baptism into the retail world and I remain as passionate now about retail as I was when I made my first sale at the age of 12!
Did you always have the desire to create your own label?
As a student, I was determined that one day I would start my own fashion label – a premium Irish brand for the international market. That was my vision and I wasn’t prepared to compromise. I wanted to work with the best fabrics, quality manufacturers and the best retailers to stock my collections. What I wasn’t expecting, while in my final year, was a call from Brown Thomas who wanted to purchase my graduation collection to sell in their flagship store on Grafton Street the following season. Buying a graduate collection was unprecedented in the industry.
When and where did the Louise Kennedy brand begin?
When Brown Thomas, to my absolute delight, decided to invest in my collection, it was a fabulous start my business, no designer could wish for a better endorsement. While I was confident of my design skills, I had no experience of manufacturing a collection and I had less than six months to deliver the order. My mother, despite being seriously ill, called in every industry contact and my father went guarantor on a £10,000 bank loan to produce the collection. It was a swift immersion in the fast-moving fashion industry but the best one I could have had. 35 years later, the business and the label is thriving, and as well as 56 Merrion Square, we have a store at 9 West Halkin Street in London, regular trunk shows in New York, and now in Palm Beach, and I am thrilled to say we are still stocked in Brown Thomas.
When did you start designing wedding dresses?
We launched our wedding collection in 2011 at our flagship store in Merrion Square. We already made bespoke wedding dresses for clients, but we decided to formalise a collection of 15 designs in silk and ivory lace, many of them hand embellished with crystals and beads. All our dresses are made to measure and are meticulously fitted for our clients. Having several styles means there is choice for clients, and a shape and fabric to suit each bride.
What do your clients look for when they want a bespoke wedding dress?
Most brides have done considerable online research before they book their appointment with us and they have chosen the styles they wish to try. I have such a fantastic team and great friendships are forged with our clients. It’s a six month process as we find and fit the perfect dress so we all love the wedding dress design process as much as the bride does. Fit, along with craftsmanship and quality of fabric, and the opportunities for the client to personalise the dress and make it her own for her special day, are what make us different to many bridal shopping experiences. It is such a privilege to be part of one of the most important days in a woman’s life.
Do you find that brides are looking for more alternative options now?
Our brides are not looking for a traditional wedding dress. When we launched we knew our sophisticated client would be seeking something with a Louise Kennedy signature. Our wedding dresses have fluid lines, many are cut on the bias, and most have subtle and elegant jewel embellishments. I add new styles each season but we have some fabulous classics that always remain in the collection.
What inspires your collections each season?
We love art, architecture and nature. As a team, we travel constantly and we are always inspired by visiting a new country or city. We get ideas for colour, shapes, fabrics and styles from the new and the old, but also by other cultural events or trends, such as a great art exhibition. History is also a great source of inspiration. New fabric technologies allow us to develop new silhouettes. We are also inspired by our clients who wear Louise Kennedy in their own individual way. It’s great when they tell us what they love, and what they’d like to see more of.
What was the inspiration for your spectacular A/W 18 collection?
The movie Black Swan was a starting point for our current collection. The beauty and grace of the dancer, the tulle ballerina skirts, lots of feathers with black dominating, along with an ease in the shapes and the movement of the pieces. We also focused on the wardrobe. There are more separates than ever so our clients can add to or augment their wardrobe with beautiful sweaters, blouses, tops, skirts, trousers and jackets. There are new proportions and shapes, intricate jet details, and gorgeous Lurex novelty fabrics, a bigger range of knitwear. We also added lots of colour pops including a stunning purple and a vivid red.
For more, pick up the December/January issue of GALWAYnow!
Louise Kennedy designs are available online from louisekennedy.com, from her flagship store in Dublin’s Merrion Square and in store in Brown Thomas, as well as other stockists nationwide.