She began her career in fashion in Next in Douglas. Today, Úna Joyce is Womenswear Director at Reiss. The Cork native talks to Ruth O’Connor from her London HQ The Reiss stuff.
“I always had a strong interest in design and some of my earliest memories are of my mother making our clothes, laying the patterns out on the floor, and using her big fabric shears. I remember too that I couldn’t find the dress I wanted to wear to my debs so I drew it out myself and had it made,” says Úna Joyce, womenswear director at fashion brand Reiss.
You’d be hard pushed to find out much about Úna Joyce on any social media or professional networking platform. Unlike many other fashion directors, she has always kept a low profile online, something she says she learned during her time at Next, where she worked for over two decades, rising through the ranks from trainee buyer to womenswear director at the company.
A native of Cork City, Joyce started out as a shop assistant working weekends in the Next store in Douglas while studying for a bachelor of commerce degree at UCC. “It was a wide degree and gave me a little bit of time to figure out what path I wanted to take,” she says of her choice of studies.
“I started to become very curious about the collections while working at Next; how they were put together and who was responsible for them. I contacted the head office and they had a graduate recruitment programme so I went to the UK, did the interviews and assessments, and got my first job as a trainee buyer on womenswear.”
Her experience at Next during a period of massive growth for the brand is proving invaluable in Joyce’s role at Reiss. She works closely with the design team to set the design direction each season, travels extensively to research collections, works with the trading director to allocate how the budget will be spent each season, and travels regularly to meet with brand partners such as Brown Thomas in Ireland.
The UK company, established by David Reiss in 1971, is bucking any downturn affecting other retailers by seeing substantial growth, with a reported 23.7% jump in sales in the first half of this year alone. By the end of 2019, Reiss will be trading from 226 points of sale across 15 countries globally. In the US, Reiss is available in eight standalone stores as well as 60 Bloomingdales and Nordstrom stores and growing.
“And obviously being in Brown Thomas in Ireland is super exciting for me and something very close to my heart,” says Joyce, who visits Ireland regularly to see her family.
"My dad lives in Cork, and I have nephews in Dublin who I love spending time with, so Ireland is home although I haven’t lived there for 23 years,” she says on the phone from her office in London.
After many years at Next, the offer, from chief executive Christos Angelides, to work as womens-wear director at Reiss, was one Joyce could not refuse: “Reiss is a brand I’ve always really admired, it has great heritage, it has a brand aesthetic I could really identify with, and it was going through the second phase of its life. I had an opportunity to put a stamp on what I saw was a great brand and take that into a period of growth.”
The company has enjoyed both investment and a refresh in the past couple of years but has retained the core principles of the original brand. “I think we focus on great product. We very much have our own handwriting and we stick to that,” says Joyce.
“We are not chasing trends or the catwalk or doing what other brands are doing and we work with very authentic design, spend a lot of time researching, looking at vintage designs, using print archives... so we are very much our own thing.”
In many ways, Joyce tells me, Reiss operates like a premium brand, and members of the design team have worked previously for Tom Ford, Gucci, Stella McCartney, Victoria Beckham, and menswear label Ermenegildo Zegna.
“We have our own atelier, we cut all our patterns in-house which leaves no room for error, we do a lot of draping on the stands, and hand-dye all of our colours — I think you can see that when you walk into the store. It stands out.”
The label has never been a slave to trends, and savvy customers who want to buy less but buy better are opting for Reiss with its quality fabrics, expert cut, and attention to detail, says Joyce. At the same time, discerning customers who have traditionally shopped designer are realising they can buy clothing of a similar quality at Reiss for a fraction of the price of a garment from a luxury brand.
A typical day for Joyce starts in Hampstead, London, at around 6.30 am where she walks her dog with her neighbour Malcolm who is in his 80s. “Malcolm was one of the first friends I made when I moved to London from Leicester — he gives me great advice and is like a hit of positivity every morning. It’s a lovely way to start the day — with a great friend, outdoors with our dogs.”
She gets to work around 8 am when she’ll check the sales figures before heading into meetings with colleagues. “I am very hands-on which is the beauty of working with a small to medium-sized business — you can get involved in the detail,” says Joyce. “That is what our founder David Reiss always advocated — every detail, every button is important. Meeting with the design teams, meeting with the buyers, travelling a lot… it’s pretty varied and pretty flexible.”
When she’s not working in the city or travelling across the world, Joyce likes to train, runs one or two half-marathons each year (“I’ve given up running full marathons”) and is still exploring London where she has lived for two-and-a-half years since starting with Reiss.
A busy schedule requires flexibility in fashion and Reiss has always been about timeless, effortless collections that stand the test of time, featuring garments that you can pull out of your wardrobe season after season. Versatility has become key to modern dressing and this season the Reiss collection includes solutions for any occasion, from great suiting for work or knitted dresses for day, to glamorous eveningwear looks, including cocktail dresses and red carpet-worthy designs.
“I like the idea of garments that are versatile,” says Joyce, who adds that Reiss works with some of the best fabric mills worldwide.
"The current collection is very party-focused. My favourite colours are the smokey blues and olive tones — red and berry tones are always important at Christmas but I like these unusual mid tones as well.”
Some of Joyce’s personal favourites this season include the Eden one-shoulder satin dress and Elyssa satin trousers which can be worn with a big chunky sweater during the day or an amazing black jacket at night for a totally different look and feel. “I also love the Vixena velvet blazer and the Ally sharp tux jacket.”
Reiss was originally established as a menswear brand, going on to expand into womenswear and accessories. Joyce says this aspect of Reiss’ DNA is still apparent in the brand which continues to be admired for its focus on great tailored pieces. “Even now we study men’s tailoring and internal details of men’s suiting and we still source fabrics from mills that would traditionally be associated with menswear. It delivers a very sharp and clean aesthetic which is very much who we are.”