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‘Forbes made people realise I’m a business’ – meet Dublin designer and international rising star Róisín Pierce

Named on the influential US magazine’s 30 Under 30 list earlier this year, Róisín Pierce’s sculptural creations have caught the imagination of international fashion. It’s all about listening to the fabric, she says

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Designer Róisín Pierce. Picture: Ellius Grace

Designer Róisín Pierce. Picture: Ellius Grace

Róisín Pierce's sugar gemlace embroidered bateau-neck top from her new Two for Joy collection. Picture: Jackie Nickerson

Róisín Pierce's sugar gemlace embroidered bateau-neck top from her new Two for Joy collection. Picture: Jackie Nickerson

A design from Róisín Pierce's new Two for Joy collection. Picture: Jackie Nickerson

A design from Róisín Pierce's new Two for Joy collection. Picture: Jackie Nickerson

Róisín Pierce’s floral milk patchwork satin and organza dress. Picture: Jackie Nickerson

Róisín Pierce’s floral milk patchwork satin and organza dress. Picture: Jackie Nickerson

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Designer Róisín Pierce. Picture: Ellius Grace

Róisín Pierce was so engrossed working on her new collection last February that her mum, Angie, had to remind her that it was her birthday.

The Dublin designer turned 28 on St Valentine’s Day, and within weeks, she had a reason to celebrate again.

This time it was her inclusion in a roll call which only a tiny percentage of high-achieving twenty-somethings can ever dream of getting on: Róisín was listed on the prestigious Forbes 30 under 30 list.

Since her first career break three years ago when she won Chanel’s inaugural Prix Métiers d’Art prize at the renowned International Festival of Fashion, Photography and Fashion accessories in Hyères, Róisín has gone on to achieve rapid success and has garnered immense respect internationally, to the point where she is now probably better known abroad than she is in her native Ireland.

Reflecting on her recent listing in Forbes, Róisín says “there’s been a really strong interest, especially in Ireland and what Forbes maybe did was make people realise, ‘oh, this isn’t just a young creative, she’s a business’. They needed that to understand what I was doing.”

To better understand what the visionary Dubliner has been doing to become the subject of enormous curiosity and intrigue on the international fashion scene, you need to open your eyes to the level of handcraft and extraordinary surface detail on pieces in her third and latest collection, Two for Joy.

“The pieces are almost like sculptures around the body,” says Róisín, explaining the background to her signature process of three-dimensional manipulation of fabric using a series of handcrafted techniques like smocking,
embroidery, crochet, patchworking and appliqué. “What I really like is the challenge of seeing how I can get the fabric manipulation to build something three-dimensional, that’s what really excites me and it’s almost like a new way of embroidery.”

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Róisín Pierce's sugar gemlace embroidered bateau-neck top from her new Two for Joy collection. Picture: Jackie Nickerson

Róisín Pierce's sugar gemlace embroidered bateau-neck top from her new Two for Joy collection. Picture: Jackie Nickerson

Róisín Pierce's sugar gemlace embroidered bateau-neck top from her new Two for Joy collection. Picture: Jackie Nickerson

The designer’s skills at turning lace and embroidery into radical, romantic sculptures using zero-waste techniques has marked her out internationally for special recognition.

So far, 2022 has been a golden year and Róisín was one of only eight finalists in the prestigious LVMH Prize, which spotlights original and innovative young designers.

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Hers is a world of endless experimentation exploring surface textural opportunities.

The fact that each single garment she creates is different from the next adds to its desirability and Róisín’s one-off garments command prices of up to €3,000 each — amounts happily paid by her growing international fan base.

At her studio in Dublin, Róisín acknowledges that working solely in white highlights the craft that has gone into the work and those artisanal techniques using lace, organza, satin and tulle.

“People compare them to cakes and confections, which I think is quite sweet,” says Róisín and the synchronicity isn’t lost on the designer as she tells me that her grandmother, Mona, was a cake decorator in a hotel in Wexford.

The youngest of three children, Róisín lived in Dublin until the age of three. “I had my childhood in Galway, which was really nice. Then I moved to the UK, which was also very special, before coming back to Dublin when I was about 11.”

At school, Róisín says she was more drawn to the arts, “maybe because of my dyslexia”. During her early teens, she was continuously creating and experimenting with different pieces, fine art and textiles-based pieces in her spare time.

Her mum, Angie, paints and, speaking of those formative years, the designer says: “My mum was very creative and she was always creating or knitting things. I was always surrounded by that growing up so that was very inspirational to me to see”.

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A design from Róisín Pierce's new Two for Joy collection. Picture: Jackie Nickerson

A design from Róisín Pierce's new Two for Joy collection. Picture: Jackie Nickerson

A design from Róisín Pierce's new Two for Joy collection. Picture: Jackie Nickerson

After studying textiles at NCAD, her graduate collection, Mná i Bhláth (Women in Bloom) received huge praise at Hyères and through her pieces, Róisín introduced people to the tragic women of the Magdalene Laundries whose stories had resonated with her.

Her brand philosophy is to explore the tradition of craftsmanship and its symbiosis with Irish women’s history. Her second collection was titled Blathanna Fiain (Wild Flowers). Her third collection, Two for Joy, launched late last year, is “about magical childhood moments of creative discovery”.

There are simple things that stayed with her, golden-tinted moments she remembered almost in a decorative way and which she now references into her new work in satin, high-shine embroideries.

Inspiration came from the simplest of things, like the CD her grandmother sent her in the post. “I didn’t actually listen to the music but I used the CD as a prism to create beautiful light in the room and that finds its place in the high-shine satin,” she explains.

“Two for Joy was about embedding these really happy memories and almost like trying to translate them into clothing for other people to experience and I feel like that’s really a summary of the brand.”

The Two for Joy collection is currently available to buy exclusively on the ‘Nordstrom Space’ at nordstrom.com and the Dubliner’s clothes are also stocked in their New York and Seattle stores. Róisín’s connection to the retailer goes back three years, and is all the more special as a result.

The ‘Nordstrom Space’ is a special curated part of the American luxury retailer, which features emerging, established and avant-garde designers, Róisín explains.

“They’re really great because they actually contacted me way before, I think, even the awards in France. They had seen the work, they really respected the vision of the brand and they wanted to buy, so it’s really cool and I’m really happy to be partnering with them first.”

Explaining her process, Róisín says, “fabric sourcing for me actually takes a huge amount of time because different consistencies and different weights really determine the outlook.”

Her bubble-smocking technique stands out in her work, as do the fabrications with undulating peaks which appear in clusters or quarterfoils, providing high relief in contrast to the pin-tucking and sheer, embroidered sections.

Her modus operandi in her Dublin studio intrigues me with all the intricate work that goes into her embroidered patchwork slip dresses, starburst skirts, the sugar gem-lace embroidered top, organza jackets and tube-smocked wrap skirt. Does Róisín require total silence and absolutely no distractions in order to carry out her intricate handwork?

“No, not at all. I mean, sometimes I listen to podcasts, and then sometimes I’ll listen to literally any type of music,” she says.

A major element in her unique process is listening to how the fabrics want to manipulate. “Different fabrics have different ways of manipulating so when I talk about listening to the fabric, it’s not so much the sound, it’s listening to how they want to interact.

“I’m listening to how the fabrics want to manipulate and I go with that, I don’t work against the fabric, I go with exactly how it wants to. I don’t determine, I don’t set out, ‘let’s do these tubular trousers’. I’m working with the fabric and that’s what’s really exciting about the work and how to design this way.”

The designer says she is “quite addicted to the designing and the sampling process. I’ll always find time to sample because it just informs so much and so much can happen. There’s so much potential always so I just find it always very, very exciting.”

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Róisín Pierce’s floral milk patchwork satin and organza dress. Picture: Jackie Nickerson

Róisín Pierce’s floral milk patchwork satin and organza dress. Picture: Jackie Nickerson

Róisín Pierce’s floral milk patchwork satin and organza dress. Picture: Jackie Nickerson

She can go between working flat or working with one piece of fabric draped around the stand while other times it can be multiples worked up into one piece and then she figures out at the end what exact construction it will take.

“It varies from each sleeve to the bodice to the tubular trousers, nothing is ever the same. Each piece is very different.”

Across her textural journey, Róisín also honours the craft of the Carrickmacross lace makers but in a new way, incorporating the needlework into her arsenal of techniques in order to fuel her fabrications.

“These collections are actually designed way in advance, it takes a year to produce and design, it’s just respecting the work that goes into them, not rushing them and keeping to the usual fashion calendar. I don’t think there’s a point in doing it for these kinds of pieces since I want to explore and use these techniques which I wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.”

She concedes that there has to be something emotional in what she does and it is important to her to design from a new place of joy..

Her latest collection was photographed on the east coast of Ireland by Jackie Nickerson and the background of blue skies and skies provided a stunning backdrop to the fluid whites which create a constellation of exquisite grace and thoroughly ‘experiential’ pieces, which Róisín likes her clients to enjoy.

Given that her work is executed solely in white, and with extraordinary detail, it is inevitable that Róisín should find herself a major source of interest amongst future brides who reach out to her on her website for bespoke orders.

When it comes to her own wardrobe, you are most likely to find Róisín wearing black.

“I like things to be more minimal and not so much about me. The collections are quite personal, about things that I care deeply about. I wouldn’t say autobiographical but they are, you know, a big piece of me.”

In her spare time, Róisín likes to go for walks. “You know, it’s awful to take me on a walk because each plant I see, I’m always stopping to either pick them or take photos, many things are very inspirational to me,” she laughs.

She also likes to read, loves poetry and especially loves getting books on traditional craft history. In the future, Róisín says she would “like to work with more artisanal workers and revive more craft, that’s something that I’ve always wanted to do, staying really true to that.”

After all that creativity and experimentation during the working week, it is not surprising then that Róisín and her partner cherish a quiet life. There’s time for movies, and walks and they like to travel. In Róisín’s case, she likes to go to Chamonix, in France, in the off season.

However, by her own confession, Róisín’s not big on booking lots of holidays and the homebird prefers instead to take time out to get stuck into her next collection and savour the joy that comes from that.

“That is like my treat almost and I really look forward to blocking out everything. I have already started on my next collection and it is just developing so there’s a lot more to explore fabrication wise, even conceptual wise, so it feels like early days.”


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