Emily Maree discusses Viktor & Rolf, the Fashion Innovation Awards, Frank Gehry, NCAD and being Fashion Designer of the Year with talented international designer Niamh O’Neill
When did you first decide you wanted to go into fashion design?
I have always wanted to be a designer and always saw myself doing what I’m doing now. I remember drawing dress after dress when I was around 10 years old. I used to cut them out and stick them really carefully into a scrap book!
What institutions and designers did you study with?
I studied in the National College of Art and Design (NCAD) for a degree in Fashion Design. After university, I worked with Diane Von Furstenberg, John Galliano and Martin Grant. It was all great experience for having my own fashion design business.
When did you start your eponymous label and why?
My first collection was for Autumn/Winter 2012 and it was the most amazing feeling to have launched my new label and started my business. I arrived home in Ireland after working abroad for a few years and was unsure if I should go away again and get some more experience or to dive right in and get started. I am delighted I chose the latter as I have gained more experience than ever whilst running my own fashion label and it is going from strength to strength.
What was your first collection about and how have your designs evolved since then?
With my first collection, I wanted to establish a ladylike aesthetic, but not in a ‘safe’ way. The collection was inspired by the strong Hollywood actress, Marlene Dietrich. I used simple silhouettes, with luxurious fabrics and added some leather and suede details to keep a certain edge to the look. The fifth Niamh O’Neill collection is now in store and I am happy to say that this aesthetic is still running through my designs.
What has influenced your latest collection?
For the Niamh O’Neill AW14 collection I took inspiration from the work of architect, Frank Gerhy. Gerhy uses fantastical curved lines around fully functioning structures and I wanted to bring this idea to my clothing. It features curved lines, jutting out of nowhere and running beautifully into the clothing, ultimately creating very flattering forms.
Who is the Niamh O’Neill woman?
The Niamh O’Neill woman is smart, vibrant and confident. She knows herself and her clothes echo her personality, they never overshadow it.
How does it feel having your designs in shops like Arnotts and the Kilkenny store?
Arnotts and the Kilkenny shop have been supporting Irish designers for many years. I am very proud that the Niamh O’Neill collection is in these stores and performing very well. I am delighted that our customers have good access to the collections through stores like Kilkenny and Arnotts and various other really wonderful boutiques nationwide.
You won Fashion Designer of the Year at the Irish Fashion Innovation Awards in 2013, what did that mean to you?
Winning the Irish Fashion Designer of the Year award was a wonderful feeling for me personally, as well as offering some great new opportunities to the Niamh O’Neill label. Winning the award helped to boost the profile of the label immensely. The business was one year old so it was still quite unknown and the award helped to bring awareness to the brand.
Who would you most love to see wearing your designs?
I love seeing my customers wearing my designs. I design for my customer and keep that woman in mind throughout my design process.
Who are your main style influences? What national/international designers do you look up to?
Whilst I don’t take influence from designers for my collections, I look up to designers such as Viktor and Rolf who are fearless when it comes to breaking boundaries in fashion. They still manage to keep an underlying classic look to their collections in between all the fantasy, which I find very interesting. I also look up to relatively new designers such as Roksanda Illincic, Mary Katrantzou and our own wonderful Simone Rocha, each with completely different aesthetics, who are making huge waves in the fashion industry now.
What are your thoughts on the rise of Irish fashion designers?
I think there is a new wave of fashion designers emerging in Ireland, who are enthusiastic, full of creativity and prepared for the hard work involved with running a fashion business. I hope that there will be more supports in place in the near future for designers to stay in Ireland and create global fashion brands, as we are in danger of continuing to lose these talents to other countries.
What has been your career-defining moment to date?
This season’s collection is the strongest to date and has been a turning point for Niamh O’Neill as larger stores are now stocking the label. This season’s collection has also garnered interest from other stores with export potential, so we are looking forward to developing the brand from here.
What does the future hold for you and the Niamh O’Neill brand?
As we develop our brand we will add to the product range and begin to export our collections to new markets around the world. The future is bright for Niamh O’Neill and I am delighted to be a part of that!
Images c/o niamhoneill.com, facebook.com, independent.ie