Face masks: Five Irish designers embracing the latest fashion trend

Paula Burns talks to five Irish designers embracing the latest fashion trend. Born out of necessity, with a whole lot of invention — it’s the couture covering.

There’s a new kid on the block in terms of street style. Born out of necessity to protect our selves and those around us, face coverings have become the newest must-have accessory. In keeping with the sustainability factor, most of us would prefer the option of a reusable mask.

Irish designers have risen to the challenge by creating and designing quirky, unique face coverings made to bring individuality to those who wear them. Turning fashion literally on its head, being covered up has never looked so good.

Aoife Kirwan

This time of year usually marks the beginning of the wedding season and the glitz and glamour of ladies day at the races. Milliner Aoife Kirwan would ordinarily be at her busiest. However, this came to an abrupt halt as the country went into lockdown.

“I make mainly custom orders and also ready-to-wear pieces for customers attending events. That all had to stop just as we were coming out if the quiet season” says Aoife.

Face masks: Five Irish designers embracing the latest fashion trend

Finding herself in a precarious situation Aoife decided to think outside the box in order to keep her business alive.

Bringing her masterful millinery skills to designing facemasks she has created designs worthy of any ladies day main stage. Made to order by Aoife herself on her trusty 80-year-old Singer Treadle sewing machine, the roots of her millinery skills are evident.

“What was most important to me was that they were fit for purpose with an emphasis on good craftsmanship,” says Aoife. “I wanted to do my bit to support other Irish businesses by sourcing the fabrics along with my recycled thread from them.”

Made with 100% organic cotton in pretty designer prints and fun colours for children everybody in the family is covered.

Order at www.aoifekirwanmillinery. com/masks (A percentage of sales will be donated to Kildare Animal Wildlife Foundation)

Thea by Thea Design

A recent graduate of the Grafton Academy of Fashion, Thea Shannon was just at the brink of creating her brand when things came to a standstill because of the pandemic. Not to be discouraged Thea looked to new ways to kick start her brand.

“I wanted to create something that could spread some positivity at this uncertain time and that is where the making of face coverings blossomed and my business has really started,” she says. Hearing the stories of frontline workers struggling to get PPE, as a designer Thea wanted to put her skills to good use.

Face masks: Five Irish designers embracing the latest fashion trend

“I had some printed and plain fabrics at home so decided to start making face coverings,” she says. 

“I wanted to make this a sustainable project by using cuts of cotton fabrics I have collected over the years and pieces I have got in fabric swap shops.”

Handmade by Thea, her face coverings are bright statement pieces with florals to animal print there is a style to work with any outfit. What was a project born out of crisis, Thea has been overwhelmed by the response.

“So many people reached out to me with such kind words and support making it a very special project,” she says.

Order at www.theabytheadesign.com (A percentage of sales will be donated to charity)

Natalie B Coleman

In a time of crisis and with many of her orders on hold, designer Natalie B Coleman took the pandemic as a chance to think about what direction she wanted her label to go in next.

“I had already switched to a model of one collection a year and I have been running a more sustainable and socially conscious practice so this current situation has reinforced how important these responsibilities are,” says Natalie.

Face masks: Five Irish designers embracing the latest fashion trend

Known for her innovative and unique design aesthetic, Natalie’s face coverings are anything but boring.

“I wanted them to be conversational, but to be fun and still communicative and to represent our brand aesthetic,” she says.

Natalie’s silk masks with pleated trim details and giant bow are a statement piece made for maximum impact. There’s an element of Victoriana, which softens a garment made to hide our smiles. Other styles include the Love Barrier mask, perfect if you are missing showing off your favourite lippy.

While creating remarkable designs fabric and comfort were just as conducive to the design process.

“There are 100% organic cotton jersey masks,” she says.

“We are also making fabulously beautiful silk taffeta masks compiled of two layers of silk with a pocket to place a filter.”

Order at www.nataliebcoleman.bigcartel.com (A percentage of sales will be donated to Women’s Aid)

Nimcake by Niamh McCabe

Interior and homewares designer Niamh McCabe has found herself in an entirely new realm of design since lockdown began. With her Interior design studio, Spacey Studio, Niamh had been in the process of renovating a workspace for a client when things came to halt.

Despite having recently founded a homeware line called Spacey Does Home Ware, it didn’t feel the right time for her to start designing new products.

Face masks: Five Irish designers embracing the latest fashion trend

“It felt wrong to design for the sake of design. But design is about solving problems, it’s functional art. And that’s where the face coverings come in,” she says.

As an interior designer who has the repertoire of designing a sci-fi bathroom behind her, she has translated this ingenuity to her quirky facemasks.

“Through all my design work, my aim is to bring a little more joy into the world. Colours and patterns, in soft, organic flowing shapes, enhance our mood. Bright colours help lift our spirits, help us to feel creative and more alert,” she says.

True to form, her hand-painted geometric swirling shapes on organic cotton wouldn’t be out of place in a museum of modern art.

Order at www.nimcake.com (A percentage of sales will be donated to the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre)

Jennifer Rothwell

It is thanks to a persistent client that a reluctant Jennifer Rothwell began making and designing face coverings.

“The jury was still out on how effective masks were but I had a client who kept asking me to make her one. I did and then put a few on Social Media and the positive feedback I got was amazing,” she says.

Face masks: Five Irish designers embracing the latest fashion trend

As with all of her designs, Jennifer wants her masks to bring joy to people’s lives especially during this weird time.

“My designs are very identifiable, they are unique,” she says.

“My motto for this collection is to stay safe and stylish while feeling protected.”

Jennifer clearly loves doing what she does. The response from clients all around the world to her masks has invigorated an already blazing flame.

“Making people feel good is the real joy of designing,” she says.

Since she has embarked on the making of masks, Jennifer is learning to evolve her business.

It has given her the opportunity to create designer pieces at a more accessible price point, which has given her food for thought for future collections.

As a strong advocate for Irish-made design all her collections are hand-printed and produced in here.

“It’s very important in these times to love Irish fashion so we can help our local economy to survive and thrive,” says Jennifer.

Order at www.jenniferrothwell.com (A percentage of sales will be donated to Capuchin Day Centre for Homeless)

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