Jennifer Rothwell’s striking designs inspired by Irish mythology
Irish designer creates a dramatic collection in honour of St Brigid
Electric blue lame braided jacket, €695, St Brigid print silk draped skirts €995. Photograph: Una Williams
Scroll through Jennifer Rothwell’s website and the designer’s strong sense of vibrant colour makes a visual impact be they her crane, hummingbird or GPO motifs or her celebrated stained glass prints based on Harry Clarke’s famous windows. They decorate everything from bow ties and scarves, to bomber jackets, kimonos and leggings. Now she has turned her focus on a legend of Irish mythology, St Brigid, Ireland’s first female saint.
Rothwell’s two new prints are the Goddess of Fire and An Chros (The Cross), the St Brigid cross traditionally woven from rushes and hung on the kitchen wall to ward off evil. The story goes that in Christian mythology, St Brigid and her cross are linked together as she wove a cross at the death bed of a pagan chieftain who, on learning what it meant, asked to be baptised.
“I found books about her in Limerick and became fascinated by her,” says Rothwell. “She is a very powerful figure, a really strong woman who celebrated craft, song and poetry, so these prints are about bringing her to back to light in fashion.”
One of the 13 finalists in the Rose of Tralee competition in London wore Rothwell’s St Brigid’s dress for the festival, but unfortunately the saint didn’t work any miracles for her on the night.
Rothwell has her many fans, however, who include actress Jodie Whittaker, who wore one of her stained glass print suits on the Graham Norton show in September, and the current Irish ambassador to London, Adrian O’Neill, who commissioned a printed waistcoat to wear to Ascot and an An Chros print tie in February marking St Brigid’s Day at the embassy.
“My market is the Irish diaspora who love to wear something from Ireland and my prints tell a story. They are conversation starters,” she says. Her pocket squares were featured in the Financial Times as investment pieces and three of her dresses have been acquired for the National Museum in Collins Barracks.
Her new collection features striking printed dresses, long velvet capes, palazzos and sequined gowns, standout affairs for dramatic entrances or special occasions along with tie neck blouses, zipped jackets and bubble skirts for everyday wear. Nearly 15 years in business, she is Ireland’s only designer with her own commercial digital printing machine and it is her proud boast that everything is made in Ireland.
Printing is labour intensive – her machine, bought second-hand for €20,000, can print one metre an hour whereas newer more improved and more expensive versions can do 30 metres an hour.
“And then silk has to be washed, steamed and hand cut so there is a lot of work and most prints are one of a kind,” which explains why her clothes are expensive. (She also conducts digital textile courses at her studio in Artane, the next is scheduled for the weekend of October 5th-6th, find details on her website.)
St Brigid’s Day, traditionally marking the first day of spring on February 1st, is now increasingly being marked to celebrate the talent and creativity of Irish women. What started as an Irish community event in London in 2018 has grown into an international festival spanning six countries in Europe and five states in the US over five days.
An alternative to St Patrick’s Day, it showcases women in the Irish diaspora and that should now include Irish fashion designers as well as those establishing their reputations in art, music, literature, business and politics. Rothwell has made her mark in every sense.