The Couture of Ireland

January 12th, 2011


Last week, my friend and I took a trip to Dublin to visit another friend in her home city. She took us around to her favorite spots, starting with Butler's Chocolate Cafe where we were given our choice of a small chocolate with our cappuccinos. Coming from a gal who doesn't really have a taste for chocolate, I was surprised to find I absolutely loved the dark chocolate with chili spices. After we got our caffeine and sugar fix, we hopped on a train and headed out to the quaint fishing village of Howth (that's pronounced Hote – the local dialect doesn't pronounce the th, so thirty is tirty, etc.) Upon stepping off the train, I could see why people fall in love with Ireland. The small colorful buildings hugged the bay full of sailboats that seemed to be lulled to sleep by the mild early sunset. I know, it's a bit of a hokey poetic sentence, but in case you can't feel the atmosphere through the photographs, then there it is in words. When I thought it couldn't get any more idyllic, we saw a group of seals bobbing along the harbor wall, looking to us for a free meal from one of the local fish markets.

    Neillí Mulcahy designs

In case you doubted, yes, this article is about couture clothing, but I thought it necessary to first paint a picture of the Ireland that is not associated with leprechauns or the tacky drinks, green rivers, and decor of St. Patty's Day. Another enjoyable stop we made was to the Decorative Arts & History exhibitions at the National Museum of Ireland. On display were the works of Irish fashion designer Neillí Mulcahy. Up till this point, I had not equated Ireland with the couture fashion houses such as Christian Dior of France, but there were a few designers who made a great impact on the fashions in America at that time. With a Bauhaus-esque appreciation of honesty, Mulcahy, and other prominent Dublin designers like Sybil Connolly and Irene Gilbert, drew inspiration from the innate qualities of traditional Irish fabrics. Mulcahy often worked with wool and tweed, and said the cloth dictated the design and shape of the piece. After training in the fashion house of Jacques Heim in Paris, Mulcahy returned to Dublin and opened her own couture house in 1952. Mulcahy become known for her clean lines, slightly shorter pencil skirts, fitted jackets and fine tailoring. A path to the American market had already been paved by Sybil Connolly, so Mulcahy's designs were instantly and enthusiastically well-received. So next time you see one of the Mad Men women wearing a sharp tweed suit, you'll know the fashion was inspired by one of these three influential Irish designers.

   Sybil Connolly designs

To my surprise, information on designer Neillí Mulcahy and photographs of her works are quite scarce. If you have any more to contribute, please do!

Caroline Engel for Danish Teak Classics

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