Thursday 29 September 2016

Jewel heaven at Kamouflage

Constance Harris

Published 11/07/2016 | 02:30

Vintage silk kimono, €160, Jenny Vander. Necklaces, €125 each, both Vivien Walsh
Vintage silk kimono, €160, Jenny Vander. Necklaces, €125 each, both Vivien Walsh

In the 1980s, fashion was at a crossroads in Ireland. A generation of new Irish designers, a newly emerging high-fashion high-street and an era of no-rules fashion meant traditional 'couture' fashion was on its way out.

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International designer boutiques were uncommon. But there was one boutique all on its own for edgy direction, international design and pure cool. With labels such as Plantation by Issey Miyake; Romeo Gigli; Tokio Kumagai shoes; and jewellery by Erickson Beamon, Claude Montana and Slim Barrett, that boutique, now closed, was called Kamouflage, and it was founded by Vivien Walsh, herself a jewellery designer.

Amazingly, it all started with 1980s chunky knits.

"In the 1980s, I had worked in London for a number of years, for an Italian company. I opened about 10 shops for them there," Vivien explains. "I came back to Ireland to do a start-your-own-business course. My actual idea was to set up a knitwear company. It was the 1980s, and jumpers had all kinds of jingly stuff such as beads and baubles hanging off them. It was from those that I started to make jewellery.

"At the time, I knew no one. Then I met Betty Bunn [nee Wall, a highly respected stylist at that time, renowned for discovering new talent]. She told me all about the new Irish Fashion Design Centre and so I met with Nikki Creedon, John Rocha and Michelle Kavanagh [who were running it] and soon I was selling my jewellery there. Later, I opened Kamouflage."

Throughout her career, Vivien's work has always involved a love of fine beads, colour, and layering to sensual effect.

"I am inspired by lots of things. I am inspired by my customers," Vivien tells me. "I get very inspired by the materials themselves. I might find a bead in a certain shade of green, and then it builds in a funny kind of way. I will develop a key piece with that bead and then I will create a range around it.

"I always need to make something that is more affordable and wearable than the original, first piece. That way, customers can find something beautiful, that is priced within their reach."

Everything is hand-made by Vivien in her studio and store in 93 Monkstown Road, with prices for earrings and smaller pieces from €45 to €50. "We have a lot under €100. There are fewer pieces between €100 to €150, and only a very few pieces priced above that," she says.

Vivien does special commissions. Currently, she is working on a unique headpiece for a bride. Last year, for Brown Thomas Create, Vivien created the most amazing beaded sleeves and elaborate necklaces.

"I am very lucky," Vivien says. "I am very thankful for all I have got, and the little bit of talent I have got, that I can live my life doing what I love. I call it work because that is what people call it, but I am doing what I love."

Photography by  Greg Dorney

Styling by   Mari Paduano

Fashion edited by  Constance Harris

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