Avoca Autumn


This is not the usual way Jean Butler dresses; nor is it the way Avoca Handweavers will usually be portrayed. Where clothes are concerned, the New York-born dancer says her emphasis is always on comfort - so at least she has that much in common with the long-established Wicklow company.

"I had fun wearing everything today," Jean commented over coffee after the photographs had been taken in the arboretum adjoining Avoca Handweavers' Kilmacanogue outlet. "I guess it's the antithesis of how people see me - I've never been dressed like this for a shoot. Normally, I get put in Prada or Gucci, but this is natural."

Natural is what Avoca has always done best. The company offers wonderful, traditional fabrics such as tweed and linen with an emphasis on supporting domestic businesses. "I think it's important to support Irish design - whether Marc O'Neill or Avoca," explained Jean. "That's one of the reasons I was happy to do this job." Modelling, she insists, would never be her first choice and she rarely agrees to be photographed.

However, having agreed, she was an enthusiastic participant with a very definite opinion on what she felt did and did not look right. Her preference for understated simplicity meant at least one item had to be shed from each outfit; a pair of earrings in one instance, a long suede coat in another. "I can't stand it when people get dressed and it changes their personality. You should have the confidence to be who you are." Even so, she was willing to try a different style on this occasion. "Even though I wouldn't normally be dressed like this, what I wore certainly made me feel young and happy.

"Generally, my clothes tend to be mannish, quite structured and fitted. Ann Demeulemeester is probably my favourite designer. I do wear too much black; I feel safe in it. I buy a lot of names, but I mix and match them all the time."

As for shoes, "my feet have to be happy. After all, I use them for my work. I can't stand wearing heels. I have about 50 pairs of trainers; anywhere I can, I'll wear them even with a Dolce & Gabbana suit if I want." In Kilmacanogue, she could hardly bear to be parted from a pair of green wellington boots. Knitwear also features consistently in her wardrobe, with many sweaters coming from her grandmother in Co Mayo.

Sweaters therefore feature abundantly in today's pictures, worn in the customary way but also thrown over the shoulders like a shawl or knotted around the waist. Instead of using a belt to hold up her pair of men's corduroy trousers, Jean opted for a scarf. She loved the cut of the roomy jacket but turned down another with a more tailored cut. Her choice in skirts was for long and loose styles. Taking this approach, Jean Butler has not only given herself a new look for winter, she has also provided Avoca Handweavers with a fresh take on the season.