Wild Geese: Dubliner makes her a mark on New York fashion
Jacqueline Quinn’s designs have been worn by Selena Gomez and Gloria Steinem
Jacqueline Quinn, designer and founder of Quinn New York Inc: her new couture collection, Touched by Gods and Angels, has mental health awareness as its theme.
Jacqueline Quinn took her first bite of the Big Apple on a J1 visa in 1985. She spent that summer working with Willie Smith from Williewear. “That was where I got the buzz for fashion, making coffees and feeling uber-fabulous,” she says.
After graduating from the Grafton Academy in Dublin, Quinn worked in retail for a short while before making her next move abroad.
“In 1986, I went to London, where I spent four years working in fashion manufacturing, designing and making patterns for the grottiest manufacturers in the Finsbury Park district.”
Then her mother called and said to get home fast: there was a position for a fashion designer at Traffic, in Phibsboro.
“My mother started the Centre for English Studies in Dame Street in the 1980s,” Quinn says, “and her business acumen and drive have been an inspiration to me. I took her advice and started in Traffic the following week.”
While in Northern Ireland, Quinn met a man who connected her with John Roberts in New York.
“My husband wanted to go into pathology, so we had no option but to go to New York,” she says. She worked with John Roberts for eight years, designing dresses for supply to the big department stores Macy’s and Kohl’s. “Our plan was to stay in New York just for a couple of years, but I’m still here.”
Quinn moved on to spend 18 months as head designer at Perry Ellis before she was headhunted by Bill Blass suits. And so, a couple of weeks after giving birth to her daughter, she was moving again.
“It was such a great opportunity,” she says, “and I worked there for two years.”
While there, she produced a wardrobe for Bobby Kennedy’s daughter, Kathleen Kennedy-Townsend, for her campaign for election as lieutenant governor of Maryland.
Work ethicQuinn’s advice for anyone moving to New York is to know the work ethic and be punctual – and allow for time for your commute.
“There’s so much to learn, and the Americans are really good teachers if you are willing to hone your craft. Prepare for long hours. If you are working in the garment industry, it’s 7am to 7pm. And during fashion week, that could be 7am to 11pm for two weeks solid.”
As much as 30 or 40 per cent of clothing manufacturing has been brought back to the US from China, she says. “But you don’t see the trolleys filled with garments rolling along 7th Avenue like you used to 20 years ago.”
In 2007, Quinn decided that she wanted to go out on her own. So she started Quinn New York Inc.
“I was freelancing for several big brands, like Susan Lucci, and I’ve worked with big brands putting their names forward with my designs behind the scenes.”
One of the highlights for Quinn New York was working with New Balance. Using the brand’s materials, she designed a couture garment that opened the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in 2012. It was worn by Olivia Culpo, Miss America (who went on to be Miss Universe), and it caused quite a stir.
Quinn has worked with several big brands, including Randolf Engineering, in creating a couture dress for Tina Turner’s niece, Nadia.
Hilton Hotel group provided room keys that created the basis for a garment to open Miami Fashion Week in 2010, while Viviscal provided the pills for a dress that wowed at the Grammys.
“Living in New York means I’ve had the opportunity to work with big names at high- profile events that would not be open to me if I had stayed in Ireland,” she says.
At the moment, Quinn is working on a new couture collection that represents mental health awareness.
“I decided to put a visual on something invisible, as I think people need to talk about depression, suicide, Alzheimer’s etc,” she says. “I’m currently working with Joan Freeman of Pieta House to show the collection of 18 pieces in Dublin later in the year.”
The collection, “Touched by Gods and Angels”, has been chosen by Passport and Vive magazine and photographed by Ezequial Delarosa. American Vogue has picked out a skirt for the big book’s September issue.
Quinn is also launching a new line based on women of the 1960s, called simply “Jackie”. Based on the style of Jackie O and her sister Lee Radziwill, this collection will launch for September.
“I like designing new products,” she says. “My range of clutch bags was picked up by Selena Gomez who modelled the ‘Gabrielle’ on the cover of Insight magazine. I was also commissioned to design a one-off bag for Gloria Steinem’s 80th birthday.”
The Irish Diaspora has a strong presence in New York. Quinn is a member of the Irish International Business Network and finds they are good for networking worldwide.