In conversation with Jennifer Rothwell

Jennifer Rothwell is an Irish fashion designer, who spent many years living between the Big Apple and the Fair City.

After graduating from Dublin’s NCAD in 1995, she gained practical experience with some of New York’s biggest design companies. Then, upon her return to Dublin, she launched her own brand: Jennifer Rothwell Design. By the following year, she had won the ‘Brown Thomas Designer Award’ at Dublin Fashion Week. And, since then, her designs have attracted celebrity clients and been worn on the Oscars red carpet.

Her designs also made a splash during the pandemic, when her stylish silk face masks were in high demand. She creates matching scarves, tops and hair accessories now too.

At her studio in Dublin, Jennifer carefully crafts her designs – many of which are inspired by her Irish heritage. Lynn Harding with Dublin.ie spoke with her about life as an Irish designer and how she found the move back to Dublin.

A tale of two cities

I was born in New York and brought back over here when I was ten months old. I was raised here, I went to college here – but I always knew I’d be going back there [to New York]. Then, in 2005, I moved back to Dublin.

You go out in Dublin… It’s always an adventure.

How would I say Dublin has changed since I came back? It’s just a lot more multicultural, I suppose. It’s very modern, all around the Docklands is very cosmopolitan and it’s a bit more like London.

The old part of Dublin, I love; I love South William Street. I think it could still be more diverse when it comes to creative industries – but it’s a great place to people watch!

On taking inspiration from her Irish heritage

I have two children. I’m doing my best to keep the heritage there! When I went away and came back… Now, I really appreciate our culture. I appreciate the beauty of the landscape.

Meet a Dubliner - Jennifer Rothwell, Fashion Designer. An Irish fashion designer, born in New York, spent many years between the Big Apple and Dublin City. Image: Harry Clarke-inspired Oscar dress.

Jennifer’s Harry Clarke-inspired Oscar dress

I love Irish music with lyrics sung in Irish… It’s the most beautiful, haunting, fabulous language. And we really don’t appreciate it. We need to keep our culture. I’m sending both my kids to a Gaelscoil.

I am inspired by the world I live in and influences of the past, particularly our Celtic heritage, Irish artists, folklore, legends and traditions.

I had always wanted to design a stained-glass print and several friends suggested Harry Clarke’s works, as they saw a huge similarity between the colours we both used. When I visited The Hugh Lane Gallery, I was blown away by Harry’s art.

It’s so weird – I really believe there are a lot of coincidences in the things that he and I love, like Northern Ireland and the fairies.

I didn’t realise that until after I decided on the collection. I went to the north and found all these fairy glens; then I spoke to his niece and I was hearing the stories. It was phenomenal!

Irish design needs a hero

When I opened my shop in the Powerscourt Centre, I wanted to support other designers… It’s very difficult to get a Dublin stockist… All the Tourism Ireland research says that [tourists] want to find independent Irish designers that they can buy from. Bring it back!

I am inspired by the world I live in and influences of the past, particularly our Celtic heritage.

We’re waiting for somebody good in the system that wants to help, that wants it to be their legacy that they say: “I helped the rebirth of Irish design”. And who wouldn’t want to see something beautiful flourish and know that they were a part of it?

A designer’s life in Dublin

I didn’t realise until I came back, what I missed about Dublin when I lived [in the US]. What I found lovely was the friendliness.

I lived in Queens for a few years. If you’d go to a local bakery, it was very like: “Next. Next.” And when you try to be nice to them: “Next!” You were just shut down.

Whereas, I remember coming back and… you go into the butcher’s and they’ll have a little bit of banter with you. Or you go with your trolley and you might not have change, so they’ll say: “You can have it, love.” The friendliness!

I always have great stories to tell the next day.

When I do go out, I love [it] because I always have great stories to tell the next day. Grogans, Pygmalion; we like Madigan’s, that’s kind of nice. That’s an old Dublin pub. I like Bruxelles too.

You go out in Dublin and it’s brilliant. It’s always an adventure. You can go to four different pubs and you can meet such a diverse group of people. And you can have such a great laugh. The Irish are the best. They are.

You can check out Jennifer Rothwell’s latest designs on her web store.

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