Louise Kennedy is an Irish fashion designer and businesswoman. Her design ingenuity led the first female president of Ireland, Mary Robinson, to commission Louise to make an outfit for her presidential inauguration in 1990.
This collaboration helped to propel Louise Kennedy into the spotlight, and that same year she joined the British Fashion Council, showing the world her collections at London Fashion Week.
With a great fondness for travel, family and beautiful fabrics, it has been hugely exciting to ask Louise these questions about her brand and the inspiration behind her colourful collections.
What inspires your products, and do you focus on trends?
Each new collection stems from our love of colour and texture. Nature always provides such an exquisite inspiration for our prints and embellishments. But first, you must have exceptional fabrics and we either source or create our own, with our wonderful mills in France and Italy. While many of our designs are timeless, there is a deep awareness of the fashion zeitgeist and how women are wearing and styling their clothes.
What is your product philosophy?
Quality and craftsmanship are paramount. A Louise Kennedy piece is the sum of all its parts: sophisticated, elegant design, fine-tuned after decades of designing, beautiful fabric, carefully considered details and embellishment. They are investment pieces which can last a lifetime.
Tell me about the young Louise Kennedy - what were her dreams and aspirations?
Colour was my earliest fascination and what truly inspired my love of fashion. I was interested in interior design and loved all the visual arts. Now I distill my interests and inspirations into fashion - having a well of inspiration afforded me by travel, means I’m always buzzing with ideas. From a business perspective, I must have always had the gene. My father was in business and I learned from him.
What’s your daily work routine?
No two days are the same. I am constantly travelling, to our design studios in Europe and Asia and between London and Dublin and New York, spending time in our boutiques and seeing clients. When I’m in Dublin, my day includes studio meetings and fittings, event and PR meetings, working on and reviewing brand projects, as well as meeting with press and with clients and perhaps an evening event. When I’m in Dublin, our atelier assistant, Miniature Schnauzer Paddy Paws, stays over. He’s the best stress-buster I know!
Tell me the story behind your latest collection?
Our current collection was inspired by the idyllic private island of Jumby Bay, off Antigua, in the Caribbean. I married sea greens, ocean blues, and turquoise, the colours of the Bay, in a collection of hand-beaded ombre pieces and hand-painted silk kaftans. Relaxed jersey and silk predominate in this part of the collection, in keeping with a glamorous island living vibe. I adore coral and pink, the colours of optimism and joy. Clashing colour is a huge trend this season. I love the idea of making flattering pink a joyous, spirit-lifting everyday colour.
You spend a lot of time travelling – how important is this in inspiring new collections and designs?
It’s key to everything I do. Travel awakens the senses, challenges perceptions, opens up new perspectives on the world, on design, architecture, art. I might be inspired by the patterned tiles on a building in Portugal, by the cherry blossom in Japan, or its wonderful kimonos; by the colours of India – especially pink – by architecture or by art. I visit museums in every city I visit.
A portion of my travels is also devoted to meeting new artisans with exceptional and unique skills and developing a relationship with them. Observing street style in different capital cities is valuable too. We have such a diverse client base, it’s essential to know how women all over the world like to dress and accessorise their clothes. My clients inspire me too – wonderful strong women with a super sense of style.
How do your designs come about – do you dedicate time for ideas, or do you get a lightbulb moment that you must act on immediately?
I go everywhere with pen and notebook and when I’m struck by something, I write it down. I’m also always shooting nature, objects, interiors, architecture, with my phone.
Brainstorming with the team in Dublin sparks ideas and I find working with our team in Delhi and Florence so inspiring.
Do you have a favourite colour, go-to piece from your collection; and is there one you just couldn’t live without?
Midnight is my go-to colour. There is nothing I love wearing more than a crisp white shirt layered with a cashmere roll-neck and skinny midnight Capri pants. I love to dress up too and would favour a long jersey evening dress – glamorous length and impeccable cut executed in an easy, effortless fabric.
What does good craftsmanship mean to you?
It’s the DNA of our brand. We strive for and insist on impeccable craftsmanship in every single garment we design and make.
How do you source fabrics and accessories for your collections?
We mostly source our fabrics in Italy and France. Over the years we have built up wonderful relationships with some of the most luxurious mills, and we work closely with their design teams.
We like to develop our own colours and weave our special one-off fabrics. We also develop prints in Lyon in France and Como in Italy. We visit Premier Vision, one of the largest fabric exhibitions in the world held biannually in Paris, reviewing trend boards and spending time with our mils who exhibit there. It’s always exciting when we discover a new mill. Japanese weavers are producing some of the most technically advanced fabrics which are always exciting to trial.
What’s been your biggest career highlight so far?
I’m lucky enough to be able to say there have been many, but opening my London store on West Halkin Street was certainly a very high point and really thrilling. Being honoured with a national postage stamp, An Post, the Irish national postal service, was a lovely moment. Dressing many wonderful women, from heads of state to award-winning Hollywood actresses, is exciting.
Who inspires you in the world of product innovation?
Apple is still my number one – brilliantly designed and instinctive. I admire Google and Uber – I use Uber a lot and find it easy to use. Mercedes-Benz too, for combining design with technological innovation.
What’s your advice for young fashion entrepreneurs of the future?
Find your niche in fashion – don’t imitate - and fight to maintain your ideas and vision, without compromising.
Can you give us a piece of fashion advice that you believe to be the most important?
Stay true to yourself. Create a signature style that is recognisable and plays to your strength as a designer, it’s vital to develop a handwriting that becomes synonymous with your brand.
Be patient: don’t allow your business to grow too quickly, growing at a slower pace can be a much smarter strategy, allowing you to learn and strengthen your brand with every carefully considered step. And control how your product is made and where your product is sold.
Who’s your role model, and what has been the importance of their impact on your life?
Manolo Blahnik, for his unwavering design aesthetic, the quality and craftsmanship of his exquisite shoes, how he has controlled the distribution of his brand - all worthy of admiration. He remains so relevant and so innovative. He is also one of the most charming and most elegant men I have had the pleasure of meeting.
My late dad was my personal hero and role model - sadly my mum passed away before I started my brand. His support, encouragement and years of experience and wisdom were so valuable to me. I was fortunate to see him run his own business with integrity and honesty over many formative years. I hold those values dear.
What’s next for the Louise Kennedy brand?
We intend to continue growing our US client base by hosting more trunk shows in the US. We would also relish the opportunity to open a store in The Middle East.
The full Louise Kennedy Collection is a feast of corals and sapphire hues, with understated sophistication and quality.