Saturday 21 April 2018

Fit for a princess: the royal stylists could do with meeting Irish designer Niamh O'Neill

Wool-crepe coat, €595, Niamh O’Neill. Shoes, €125, Buffalo, Arnotts. Scarf, €125, Lisa Ryder
Wool-crepe coat, €595, Niamh O’Neill. Shoes, €125, Buffalo, Arnotts. Scarf, €125, Lisa Ryder

Constance Harris

Though I am not necessarily a 'royal watcher', I do keep an eye on their style. I thought it was dreadful how the Duchess of Cambridge - Kate - was dressed so frumpily during the Queen's 90th birthday celebrations.

Basically, Kate was dressed in clothes as plain as the 90-year-old monarch. I know the aim was to avoid any style controversy and not to upstage the Queen, but still, Kate is a young woman. She should be dressed with some youthfulness and femininity.

Which is why I can't stop myself thinking that the royal stylists could do with meeting Irish designer Niamh O'Neill, and buying into her collection for the young duchess.

Niamh O'Neill is a designer of refined fashion. I would nearly go so far as to say there is daintiness about her work - and she employs a rigorous self-discipline. This is evident in the simplicity of her designs and the very subtle, feminine details that I know she considers very carefully; such as the gentle curve to the hem of a dress, or delicate bow-cuffs to a blouse, or her use of a highly modern fabric which she tames into wearability.

"I am an occasion-wear designer in that I design for anything a person needs to dress up for," Niamh tells me. "A lot of my work consists of draping, though you might not necessarily realise that from the end result. But I love draping, and so I will start creating a piece by first putting the fabric on the mannequin and working the shape from there."

It is an atelier-like way to work; it is the way in which the hauts couturiers of the past used to go about creating their masterpieces. Niamh also has their love of fine fabrics; her autumn/winter 2016 collection comes in wool crepe, silk satin and silk organza. This season, too, she launches cashmere knits.

"If you are going to be at a certain price point, it needs to look it. People are very educated about fashion," she explains. "A piece needs to stand out."

Though a native of Meath, Niamh worked abroad for many years in design houses such as John Galliano, before returning to Ireland, marrying her fiance and setting up studio in her new home of Belfast. She became a member of the Council of Irish Fashion Designers and soon won a spot on Arnotts' fashion floor. Their customer instantly fell in love with the Niamh O'Neill label for its elegance and gentle quirkiness. In 2013, Niamh O'Neill was voted Fashion Designer of the Year at the Irish Fashion Innovation Awards.

"There has to be a base of wearable pieces in a collection. [It's important] that a woman will see a dress and know that she will look good in it," Niamh explains. "Then there are pieces which require you to try them on to discover whether they are 'you', or not. It's about gentle changes."

Niamh O'Neill does great service to her wearer: she sets a tone of subtle femininity, with inherent strength; class with cool modernity. The 'right' stuff.

Photography by  Anita Sadowska

Fashion edited by  Constance Harris

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