Sunday 20 January 2019

Straight-talking couturier Richard Lewis who 'hated fashion, but loved style' dies at 73

Revered: Courturier Richard Lewis dressed everyone from Mary Kennedy, for the Eurovision, and Marian Finucane, for her wedding, to Maureen O’Hara and Nell McCafferty. Photo: David Conachy
Revered: Courturier Richard Lewis dressed everyone from Mary Kennedy, for the Eurovision, and Marian Finucane, for her wedding, to Maureen O’Hara and Nell McCafferty. Photo: David Conachy
Bairbre Power

Bairbre Power

One of Ireland's last remaining couturiers, Richard Lewis, died yesterday at the age of 73.

Richard was a highly respected practitioner of bespoke fashion and in 50 years in business, he dressed everyone from social belles to brides, their mothers and a dynamic breed of business women who broke through the corporate glass ceiling but still wanted to look feminine, in a sea of pinstripe suits.

"I hate fashion, but I love style" was a favourite line from the Drimnagh lad who started out in the ragtrade in the '60s.

Born Patrick Richard Lewis, he didn't go into school uniforms like his mother and after studying at the Grafton Academy, he turned heads with his silhouettes and his cut.

Richard Lewis was a genius with matt-jersey, his fabric of choice. It played to a woman's curves and he was playful too. His 'nun's dress' had a high neck but was sublimely sexy.

The moniker of 'Ireland's Jean Muir' was all too easy. They both worked in crepe jersey, but Richard always infused his own handwriting and you would find little touches of Schiaparelli and Poiret too.

Richard's clothes did not have hanger appeal but, boy, did they have impact. Awards poured in and Richard's influence radiated from his studios on South Frederick Street. Some women regarded him as much a confessor as a wardrobe guru and he happily doled out helpful advice.

"Look in the mirror before you go out and take one thing off," was his way of saying don't over-accessorise. "The only initials you should wear are your own" and "the best accessory is a smile" but top of his style tips was for a woman to make sure she wore the dress and that the dress didn't wear her.

Hugely popular in the Irish fashion industry, from clients and colleagues to young talents coming through in the Council of Irish Fashion Designers, he was "a gentle, warm, unassuming man and a wonderful craftsman and artist," remembers Mary Kennedy. Richard dressed the RTÉ star when she presented the Eurovision from Dublin's Point in 1995. Mary recalls the solution devised by Richard's partner, Jim Greeley, for her to hide her three battery packs under her two glam by sewing pouches into cycling shorts she wore underneath.

Richard's life was full of love and he shared it for 31 years with his beloved life and business partner, Jim, who died from a heart attack in 2006.

The pair were devoted to each other, and were joined in later years by their dog, Tramp. Richard found life tough without the two of them in recent years. He had a wide circle of devoted friends and neighbours and in 2015, he retired from the fashion business.

An enthusiastic traveller, Richard was a great supporter of the arts. He loved collecting art and was a voracious reader. In recent years, he went back to his love of sketching.

Richard died peacefully on Tuesday with his devoted sister, Mary, at his bedside. The last few years were lonely without Jim, his "soul mate." .

A celebration of Richard's life takes place next Monday at Mount Jerome, Dublin.

Irish Independent

Also in this section