The fashion secrets of Irish designers

Niamh O’Neill, Sandra Walsh, Ann Chapman and Paula Rowan tell us about their unique personal styles and pick their favourite outfits


An NCAD graduate who made her design debut with her 2012 autumn-winter collection, having honed her skills in London, Paris and New York with Diane von Furstenberg and John Galliano 

“My style is minimal and quite clean-lined, and I would never wear track

suits or too much jewellery. My favourite item is my own Emma dress, because it’s flattering and I can always rely on it. If you are not feeling your fittest, it makes you feel good.

“My fashion sense may have come from my mother, who used to have a fashion boutique called Options, in Dunleer, which is where I am from, though she closed it the year I was born. I am the youngest of six, none of whom are into design, so there is no other obvious link with fashion.


“As a designer there is a certain amount of looking the part, but I live and breathe it, though I can never pick out what I am going to wear the night before. It is in me to dress for the way I feel, taking into account whatever my mood might be on the day – and the weather.

“Black will always be in vogue but I think Irish women should try to cut it out when shopping, and experiment with other options. The other thing to remember is that some outfits need accessories and others don’t, and knowing the difference is important. I am very fussy about them; I prefer statement pieces to a lot of smaller items.

My three go-to outfits: 

  • For all occasions, my go-to dress is one from my collection called Emma. I mostly wear it in cream and rose gold, my little signifier being a bow: I always end up wearing one in some way.
  • My second is cropped, check Zara pants in cream and black, with a silk blouse and a gold scarf.
  • My everyday outfit is a full-length midi-skirt with a fitted knit. I have a selection of colours.


Designer, founder of Canopi, fashion agent and former nurse

“My style signifier is an Umit Kutluk black fur capelet with pockets. I like to dress up every day. I love Hermès scarves and tailored knits.

“At 50, I am allowed to have a tummy as I’ve two children. I just dress around it rather than over it. I am small at 5ft 3in and a size 10. I dress from my bust and shoulders, because that’s what people see first. I think that shoulders sculpt when they fit properly, and I like to look neat. I do love coloured pattern, but at the moment am tending towards soft flesh tones and silver, and those blush tones for spring.

“I represent thee brands: Adrianna Papell, an affordable US dress label (Julie Walters wore one to the Baftas); my own brand, Canopi, which has just been taken on by Harrods; and Art & Fashion from Northern Ireland.

“I don’t wear wine or brick ever; these shades that are hard to sell in Ireland because brick, for example, makes a ruddy Irish skin even ruddier, and you need a lot of make-up to carry it off.

"I love black and grey. I don't like cheap clothes and prefer one good piece. My favourite item is my mink coat from Barnardos. My parents used to own a fur shop in Tipperary town, and I sold my first fur coat to Richard Burton when he was filming Lovespell in the Glen of Aherlow. I make no apology for wearing fur: it raised six of us, so it was our livelihood.

My three go-to outfits:

  • Workwear: a sleeveless tweed-look dress by Adrianna Papell with Canopi instant sleeves. Fur capelet by Umit Kutluk.
  • Occasionwear: silver crepe dress with embellished Canopi sleeves.
  • Casualwear: Cream herringbone jacket and leather skinny jeans (both by Gustav), a black top, Hermès scarf, platform boots and a limited-edition Chanel brooch.


Goldsmith, jewellery designer and owner of Stonechat in Westbury Mall, Dublin

“My style signifier is a silver and gold bangle by Seamus Gill; it is quite a wide piece and goes with everything. I wear his earrings with it or the bangle on its own. My style is simple and clean-lined, like my jewellery. I prefer structured pieces and the smart-casual look to flowy styles.

“My mother, now in her 70s, would be very stylish and always encouraged me to wear the right outfit for whatever occasion and would show me what neckline works with what necklace or how a slim-fit top works with an A-line skirt.

“I would never wear a leather skirt or trousers, or anything with leather panels; leather can look really cheap if you’re not careful. I love colour, although I am not mad into pattern; I prefer muted shades with one vibrant colour, like a black top and skirt with a wine-coloured handbag.

“Women have more jewellery now than before. They are spending more on themselves and it is no longer considered lavish to have a wide range. Everything depends on the outfit – if I wear something simple, it needs a bigger piece to lift it. I wear rings, bangles and drop earrings; the bigger the better. Irish women are experimenting more with different coloured metals. Yellow and rose gold look great on Irish skin and are better than white metals like silver, white gold or platinum.”

My three go-to outfits:

  • A little black dress from Louise Kennedy, which works as day-to-evening wear.
  • Casualwear: skinny jeans from Rag & Bone or J Brand with a colour-block top from Cos or Theory.
  • A patterned wrap dress from Cos or Massimo Dutti.


Glove designer and owner of Paula Rowan shop in Westbury Mall, Dublin

“I wear black all the time because there is so much you can do with it. It’s like a blank canvas and you can lift it with accessories, which is my business. Through accessories you can convey whatever message you want and they reflect your mood as well. Even the most conservative dressers can express themselves with a pop of colour in their gloves or bags.

“I have to dress up for what I do and I love feminine, tailored clothes. Roland Mouret is good for showing off the feminine curves. I consider myself stylish, but I like to wear something a little quirky, too, in the way of gloves, shoes or bags. I think shoes are really important, as they change the shape of your body and your legs, and I feel properly dressed when I wear a heel. Good shoes are an investment and will last; I have a pair of red Armani shoes that I’ve had for years, and people are always asking to photograph them. It’s also a huge compliment when people ask to photograph my gloves and I can say that I designed them myself.

“My mother is still stylish in her 80s, my sister Jackie was a model and my grandmother was interested in fashion, so it’s inherited.

“My style signifier is my ring. I don’t feel I am dressed until I put it on in the morning. Jewellery is imbued with memories, and this one signifies my drive and ambition and where I am hoping to take my business. It’s a gold Chopard ring inset with diamonds that I bought more than six years ago. It is very classical and quite chunky, with a modern twist. Men, women and even children remark on it.”

My three go-to outfits:

  • For Milan and other trade fairs: black Capri pants with a Roland Mouret asymmetrical top and heels.
  • For travelling: a Roland Mouret black pencil skirt with a white T-shirt by Isabel Marant from Costume and three- quarter-length coat, very tailored and structured which I've had for 10 years.
  • For evening: a classic black Sandro dress.