Fashion: Weaving a new narrative at Kilkenny Design
The 60-year-old company is intent on fresh beginnings, with an own-label fashion collection the first of many gambits to come
Change can happen slowly, then all at once.
And it is all change at Kilkenny Design, the company founded by the Irish government in 1963. The government’s innovative idea was to coalesce Irish craft-making skills; to train makers in these often ancient skills and to commercialise the process.
Kilkenny city was selected as a hub, and the Kilkenny Design Workshops – which evolved to become Kilkenny Design – were established. Candle-making, weaving, tapestry, knitting, bog oak sculpture, glass work and more made Kilkenny a nexus of creativity.
Craftspeople were taught how to become businesspeople. Sustainable design was central to all thinking, making the Kilkenny Design Workshops, from today’s vantage point, decades ahead of their time.
In 2023 Kilkenny Design is an entirely commercial enterprise, but its dedication to promoting Irish design holds firm. With 17 stores and an increasingly profitable online presence, Kilkenny Design is this year celebrating 60 years of Irish design, and using the milestone to suggest a new direction.
At the Nassau Street flagship store you’ll find a fresh appearance, and there’s an undeniable novelty to the brands being brought on board.
In beauty and wellness, Nunaia, Seabody, and Pestle & Mortar typify a brave new breed of internationally regarded Irish entrepreneurs, where the products are not Oirish but Irish made.
This trend is permeating fashion, too, where the contemporary chic Irish Linen Shirt Company has recently been added to the Kilkenny roster. Does all this modernity signal the end of the Claddagh ring, or the sensible aran jumper? Not quite, says Kilkenny Design chief executive Evelyn Moynihan.
“It’s about staying true to our roots,” she tells the Business Post Magazine, “but always reinventing what we can offer, and what Irish design can mean.” This expansion mindset is perhaps most evident in Kilkenny Design’s latest launch: The Heritage Collection.
The Heritage Collection breaks the mould for Kilkenny Design, as an own-brand label that will likely, Moynihan says, be the first of many. Launching today Thursday July 6, the collection is the product of several years of in-house product design and development, with specific colours, stitches and symbolic patterns found in the Kilkenny Design archives.
“We know our international customers love knitwear, so it made sense that our first own brand label would be a mixture of Aran sweaters, cardigans, and accessories,” says Moynihan. “And we hope this modern approach to knitwear will appeal to our customers at home, too. This launch marks the start of an exciting journey for us as a business.”
It helps that the aran sweater remains on trend; see Celine’s aran cashmere sweaters, selling out at €1,500. The Heritage Collection meanwhile retails from €40 for a beanie, and from €99 for a 100 per cent wool sweater, and the quality is certainly good for the price.
“I can see the jumpers being worn for a day at the office,” says senior own brand designer Megan Burns. “Whilst they’ll also work at a festival.”
If you buy one piece from this first collection, I’d suggest the classic cream Valerie aran buttoned cardigan (€115) as a year-round reliable, or perhaps the beautiful burnt orange Jane v-neck (€99) to wear with jeans any time, or worn slouchily with a midi skirt and knee high boots for wintry meetings. For men, meanwhile, the George full zip cardigan in grey (€125) ticks every box.
The Heritage Collection also includes throws, scarves, gloves, hats and purses. All pieces are available to buy now at www.kilkennydesign.com and at select Kilkenny Design stores.