Irish designs on trend at prestigious London show

Thu, Sep 20, 2012, 01:00

THE MOLLOYS of Ardara understood export sales before most other people. In the 1920s James Molloy travelled frequently to New York, selling to tailors in an era before off-the-rail consumed all. In the 1950s, John Molloy was a frequent visitor to Tokyo, suitcase of samples in hand.

Today a new generation of Molloys stands at the looms in the family’s workshop a mile outside the Donegal town where Kieran Molloy works with his father, Shaun, in the sixth-generation business.

Now Molloys and Dublin-based furniture-makers, O’Driscoll Design, have united to produce a hand-made couch clothed in subtle Irish tweed evoking mountain heather that has proven to be the star attraction at the Craft Council of Ireland’s showing at London Design Week.

On Tuesday 300 leading industry figures crammed into the council’s “pop-up” shop housed in an old garage in the now trendy Shoreditch, which has become the home of designers and artists over recent years.

The Molloy-O’Driscoll co-operation was orchestrated by Jonathan Legge, curator of the design exhibition: “I loved the couch, but not the original upholstery and thought Molloy’s tweed would work well with it.” Once its day in London is done, the couch will be put away until it forms a centre-piece in the Irish EU presidency’s rooms in the European Council’s headquarters in Brussels in January.

The much-admired piece was among the work of several dozen Irish designers, including Cork furniture-maker Fergal O’Leary of Horizon Furniture, best known for his stackable hand-made oak chairs.

Back in Donegal after a week’s work in New York, Kieran Molloy welcomed the London profile: “Last year 95 per cent of our production was exported. Twenty years ago there would have been an awful lot of it sold in Ireland.”

Like everyone else in business, the last few years have been tough, says Simon O’Driscoll: “Shows like this give the opportunity to let the world know that Irish design has not gone out of business, so it is good to keep in touch.

“In the boom, it was short-term satisfaction for customers. Now it is different. It is about quality and heritage and passing on something to the next generation, something that is made to last and is beautiful,” he commented.

London Design Week, which began in 2003, is now one of the world’s key international trade fairs, attracting 350,000 visitors – many of them key figures in design, retail and media – to 300 events and exhibitions last year.

Basket-weaver Kathleen McCormick from Co Kildare had scored a success with her willow-woven lampshade “Let Our Light Shine”, while shoppers in a nearby shop gathered round to watch her at work. “It’s like people not realising that milk doesn’t come from bottles.

“They love the work, but they don’t realise until they come to see it that the willow has to be grown and to be cut in winter when the sap is down. There’s a lot to it,” she said.