Tuesday 12 December 2017

N&C Kilkenny: The sumptuous but well-priced Irish label

Jacket, €264; blouse, €97; skirt, €99
Jacket, €264; blouse, €97; skirt, €99
Coat, €356.
Dress €213

Our customer is 30-plus," Caroline Kilkenny told me when we met in her design studio. I appreciate her honesty. So many people in fashion pussyfoot around the age issue, thinking people will not look at their collections if they are honest about who buys them. But then Caroline Kilkenny is the straight-shooter type.

Caroline worked in the Middle East before returning to Ireland in 2001 to launch N&C Kilkenny with her younger sister, Nicola. Their collections were always about colour, vintage — when no one else was doing it — and a contemporary touch that was both feminine and practical. They garnered a loyal following.

But life changes happen: Nicola has had two children and has taken a break from the business, though she is teaching part-time, as is Caroline, in Portobello Institute. Caroline carried on with the label on her own for a while, then decided to take a year out. “I wanted to re-evaluate what N&C was about, where we were going, who we were designing for, what we were designing.

I decided while Nicola was out of the business for the moment that I’d get on with designing in my own name,” she said. Caroline’s new tack brings great clarity. It is instantly apparent that there is clear thinking and strength here. I can see clearly who the woman is who would wear this collection. She is strong, sure, feminine, works hard and needs her clothes to work, too. Above all, she really loves her style and savours dressing gorgeously each day. “I decided I wanted to make a complete wardrobe,” Caroline told me. “I wanted to pull back from occasionwear and be about fulfilling more practical needs — clothes for work, clothes for weekend life, as well as some dressier wear.”

The launch of the Caroline Kilkenny label couldn’t come at a better time for the Irish retail scene. With Quin & Donnelly, those stalwarts of Irish women’s wardrobes, in legal dispute, there will be no collections from the team this season, or for the time being.

So a practical-minded, yet sumptuous, well-priced Irish label is badly needed. Caroline Kilkenny is just such a collection. It has gentle Forties-era styling, evocative colour, fine Italian and French richly textured fabrics with lurex and metallic details. It includes romantic blouses, a sexy skirt and this season’s hot trend, the high-waisted trouser.

Her stunning coats cost about €350 — they look twice the price — dresses are about €175 to €240, tops €97, skirts and trousers from €99.

This is affordable, investment fashion. My kind of fashion.

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