Fashion: Tailored designs
Last month, I participated in the judging of the Irish Fashion Innovation Awards in Galway, devised by Patricia McCrossan, MD of Galway Now, and Edmund Shanahan.
The competition was excellent and evidence that Irish fashion designers are talented, creative, adventurous and courageous.
Niamh O'Neill launched her first collection for the Winter 2012 season, and the following year she won an Innovation award. For Niamh, it was confirmation that she was right to come home and start her own label. Upon her graduation from NCAD in 2008, she went abroad to work, first in New York for Donna Karan, and then in Paris for John Galliano, as well as Martin Grant.
"I came back in 2012 - not a great time to start a business," Niamh tells me, smiling, as we peruse her collection in the Irish-designer section of Arnotts fashion floor, where her range sits alongside the collections of Caroline Kilkenny, Emma Manley, Umit Kutluk and Lennon Courtney. Helen McAlinden is across the way.
"But the time really had come for me," Niamh says. "It was now or never. I am really glad I did - the label is established now, and I can play a bit more."
From Dunleer in Co Meath, Niamh married a Belfast man last year, so she now works between the two places. Also in 2014, Niamh was runner-up in the Ireland's Best Young Entrepreneur Award, winning €20,000, along with mentorship and pr. That, she told me, has been an incredible support in moving her business to the next level.
The Niamh O'Neill label is about tailored smart-wear. Beautifully cut summer coats and coordinating pretty, feminine dresses are the core of the collection. Niamh designs her own fabrics, often in strong colour combinations, which ensures her collection will never look like another's.
Initially, Niamh designs in black and white, and only when she is happy with the silhouette does she add in colour. It explains why her shapes are so strong.
"Apart from original design and fabrics, service is a big part of my design ethos," Niamh explains. "Clothes should be of service to women. I am always amazed at how other clothes are not. So I put pockets in most of my coats and dresses and I design features such as a detachable collar on a coat so that it can be worn differently."
Niamh's creations are deceptively simple, a mark of a lot of good thought.
"I design for women who like to dress smart, whether it is for work or an occasion," she says. "Every woman has things about her body she loves and things about her body that she is not so mad about. I help women with the things they are not so happy about, so that they can get on with their day feeling comfortable about themselves."
That's what we like to hear.
Photography by Anita Sadowska
Fashion edited by Constance Harris