Affordable but elaborate jewellery with a touch of Disney magic

Wexford jeweller Bláithín Ennis’s latest collection - insipred by the 1940s film Fantasia - is a whimsical departure from her dark, black mesh work

For her many fans who associate jeweller Bláithín Ennis with dark, black mesh and crystal neckpieces and earrings, her new collection, Blush, comes as a surprise. Inspired by Disney's 1940s whimsical animation Fantasia, it is based around a single colour shade with accents of silver and gold. It combines some 30 ready-to-wear pieces – earrings, bracelets and necklaces – with more dramatic body adornment. These include her so called couture items such as the elaborate "Queen of Tarts" body-piece and intricately wrought corsets weighted with crystal and rope. "I love going overboard with everything in the couture range", she says. They take many hours of complex handiwork to produce.

The nautical reference is telling from a craftswoman who lives by the sea in Ballymoney, Co Wexford, and whose first collection was called Spinnaker. Many of the bespoke pieces are rendered by knitting and knotting yarns. "My dad and sister do a lot of sailing, so I got interesting in rope knots and the knitter Joan Spencer in Wexford taught me different knitting skills", she explains.

Her artistic bent began in early childhood and from the age of two she was making butterflies, bumblebees and Sylvanian houses out of Play-Doh. Her talents were fostered by her Montessori teacher mother and later her art teacher at Gorey Community School, Pat McCluskey, who encouraged her to study textiles at NCAD. "I was always good at putting things together and working hard", she says.

Embroidered textiles In college she specialised in embroidered textiles with tutors Nigel Cheney and Helen Fitzpatrick and cut her teeth in 2011 after graduation in New York with Diane Von Furstenberg in the accessories division. "I was thrown in at the deep end but learned a lot about how business and fashion become one in an organisation like that", she says.

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Her work entailed sourcing components for belts and bags and dispatching samples to China. That experience has stood to her now as she sources pieces for her own collections from Italy, Germany, Paris, New York and London.

Another interest is gardening and her first big break came at the Springmount Garden Design Fair in Ballycanew shortly after her return from the US where she showed a small collection of fashion jewellery using what was to become her signature – delicate mesh and crystal – in cuffs, belts and earrings. "It got a phenomenal reaction", she says, "and sold out, so I had to go home and make more. The seeds to my business were planted in that garden centre."

Since then she has gone from strength to strength. A part-time job in Gorey in Juliana Walters’ Place boutique, one of the first Irish outlets to stock her jewellery, gave her valuable retail experience. A grant from the local enterprise office in Wexford enabled her to set up her company in 2012 and she now works from a studio in the town centre. Gorey has over a dozen fashion boutiques and many customers are Dubliners with holiday homes in the area.

Unusual materials Czech crystal encased in mesh and her combination of unusual materials have become her signature and keeping her work affordable has been central to her business strategy. “Prices start at €35 for earrings because I try to keep everything accessible and easy to wear for the working woman”.

She has been showing sell-out collections at Create in Brown Thomas in both Dublin and Galway for the past two years and now has 40 stockists nationwide. In 2014 she won Jewellery Designer of the Year at the Fashion Innovation Awards in Galway and took home the Wexford Young Entrepreneur of the Year award. Last year she was a cultural ambassador for the Three Sisters – Kilkenny, Waterford and Wexford– in their bid to become European Capital of Culture in 2020. At her fourth Showcase in January, she secured further customers including three in Sweden and one in the US and she now has ambitious plans to export.

“Irish design benefitted from the recession because people were more considered in their choices about how they wanted to spend their money and they wanted to buy into a story of the maker,” she says. The jewellery’s delicate feminine appearance belies its underlying core strength – like the maker herself.