“And then, ah-ha, I paid my first visit to Bergdorf Goodman, the incredible store best known as the greatest temple of style. I knew there and then that this was the arena I wanted to work in, and from that moment on, I knew my passion would forever be fashion and retail,” muses Irish fashion designer Louise Kennedy of her ah-moment when she knew she wanted to be a part of the industry. Remembering her eighteen year old self in New York City as if it were yesterday, Kennedy was a first year college student studying Foundation Arts. She was caught in between going into fashion or interior design. She gladly chose the former.
When one thinks of Ireland, a land of fashion designers doesn’t come to mind the way it does when thinking about France or Italy. “Traditionally, it has been difficult for satellite cities in Europe to compete with London and Paris,” says Kennedy. But she has made a name for herself, having won numerous awards including the Irish Designer of the Year Award, and, she has created pieces for former female Irish Presidents: Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese, as well as actresses Meryl Streep and Anjelica Heuston- and for European, British and Middle Eastern royalty.
And though Ireland isn’t known for fashion, Kennedy finds it easy to bring Irish designers to the London marketplace in a short fifty minute flight from Dublin. “I found it relatively straightforward and dealings were familiar when I opened my Belgravia store in London in 2000. Since then we have seen other Irish designers such as JW Anderson and Simone Rocha do the same. Establishing in London makes it easier to target the EMEA and US market- London is the stepping-stone to showcase Irish design to international audiences.”
The Louise Kennedy brand is timeless for women of all ages, and it’s not solely a fashion brand, it’s also a lifestyle brand. “The brand represents all the values I hope we bring to each new season collection,” says Kennedy, “from beautiful fabrics, excellent tailoring, exquisite craft details, understated confidence, and elegance.” The brand is for fashionable women who don’t need to follow strict fashion rules. “I dress women to feel empowered and confident, as opposed to feeling the need to obey new season rules.”
And while the brand is timeless and fashionable, it’s also luxury. For Kennedy, luxury is something more than just looking like big money. For her it’s about focus, discipline, and quality. “The focus will always be on perfection- the best tailors in Italy and Portugal, the best weavers in France, the best embroiders and craftsmen in India, and, I hope, the best design from my own team in Dublin. Discipline is needed to never compromise on any aspect of the design and production cycle, through to the customer engagement experience. Quality speaks for itself.”
The scarf is the perfect accessory
Just this year she partnered with Ballyfin Demesne a country house hotel in Ireland’s County Laois and unveiled an exclusive scarf design, inspired by the first Lady of Ballyfin. “This scarf was woven and printed in Lyon, France and is inspired by the stunning stucco details of the 19th century ceiling within the Lady Caroline Coote suite, the first Lady of Ballyfin. It’s gorgeous!,” says Kennedy. Made of pure silk, the scarf includes hues of Persian blue and optic white.
Scarves have a way of totally changing a look. “It’s the cleverest of accessories! It can multi-task in a way that’s almost imperceptible be that framing a neckline, disguising a part of the body, upscaling a well-worn favorite, or literally lifting your mood through colour, texture, and interesting details. The scarf can be tied around the body, or your handbag, and in truth it never goes out of fashion.”
2020, a year of perspective and learning to navigate an independent brand
What a year this has been for Kennedy but she has also found perspective. “The single most important thing I learned this year was the importance of knowing what makes us happy and content with work and in life. The pandemic took the tide out and what was left on the beach (I’m imagining the Hamptons!) were my close family and friends, my Georgian home in Georgian Dublin, and of course my fabulous team at work that keep my world turning round.
As a fashion brand, Kennedy points out that the industry has lots to take away from what wasn’t working in year’s past from “increasing demands and pressures placed by fast fashion, not to mention the associated detrimental effects on the environment,” she asserts. In an effort to be more eco conscious, Kennedy and her team- before Covid- created a Permanent Collection to house hand-beaded and hand crafted garments that should never be placed in an end-of-season sale. This Collection is something they can build on each season. They also made an effort of knowing their customer base more personably to create repeat designs and reuse fabrics to create newer pieces for collections.
Looking forward to 2021 with eyes of hope, Kennedy will produce a new rage of leather handbags made in her studio in Venice. “We hope to reveal the next collaborative range with Ballyfin Demesne; I am determined to host my first trunk show in the United Arab Emirates in 2021- it has been in the planning now for the past two years but Covid postponed these plans.”
Forty-two years later from her ah-ha moment of discovering her purpose, Louise Kennedy has had much success. Her Dublin flagship store at 56 Merrion Squares, her London flagship store at 9 West Halkin Street, and her US trunk shows has put her on the map of designers to know. She recognizes that she wouldn’t be where she is without her network, retail partners, suppliers and her clients. And to her twenty-year old self she’d say, “be brave, roll with the punches, take careful risks, stick to your gut instinct, and always remember to acknowledge the people that helped you along the way as they are key to your success”- now that’s something we can all learn from.
Find out more about Ballyfin Demesne collection, here.