Carol O’Callaghan.


Cork designer Aiveen Daly on leaving a 'sensible' job to follow her passion

Creativity and innovation, along with an eye for design and detail, plus getting the attention of the most discerning clients, has helped make an Irish success story abroad, writes Carol O’Callaghan.

Cork designer Aiveen Daly on leaving a 'sensible' job to follow her passion

It's lovely to hear of someone from home doing well, and, of late, television programmes have been devoted to ex-pats who’ve hit the big time in New York real estate, successes in Hollywood, and those working for the rich and famous, but we rarely hear of the more low-key and often unexpected successes which the Irish have abroad.

One is luxury upholsterer Aiveen Daly from Cork, who, after studying Russian and business at Trinity College moved to London in the time-honoured fashion.

After several years in the corporate world in marketing, she developed what is now one of the most sought-after luxury upholstery studios in the business.

“My degree took me into a sensible job working in marketing for a magazine publisher, but I wanted something creative,” she explains.

Prompted by a lifelong love of textiles and sewing, she enrolled in an upholstery course by night and she instantly fell in love with the craft.

Ditching the day job, she set up a little studio in north-west London upholstering a collection of exquisite chairs she called Stiletto, made to her own designs and often inspired by her

appreciation of fashion and couture.

It’s little more than a decade ago since I first visited that studio located above her workshop.

At the time a team of upholsterers beavered diligently with an incredible eye for detail, applying beautiful luxury fabrics onto the frames of Stiletto chairs as Aiveen and I sat down with a cup of tea to chat.

“When I started, I saw that upholstery was stuck in terms of design and innovation,” she explains, “Everything was about the fabric to choose rather than what to do with it, so I started experimenting with different techniques.”

Recalling her early days, she tells the story of working to a deadline to complete a white silk Stiletto chair late one New Year’s Eve which was needed the next day for a photoshoot with Vogue magazine.

In the finishing stages her work was stymied when she pricked her finger with a sewing needle and spilt a tiny speck of blood onto the upholstery.

Aiveen Daly's Mandala ottoman made in luxury tobacco cotton velvet.
Aiveen Daly's Mandala ottoman made in luxury tobacco cotton velvet.

It meant ripping off the fabric and starting all over.

But it’s this attention to detail which has helped garner her studio a reputation for meticulous work, along with her constantly evolving innovation in the use of materials and techniques, and her eye for design.

Everything is done inhouse so quality control is exacting; where tools like surgeons’ scalpels are employed to get a clean finish on leather, and where, sometimes, they even make their own tools to accomplish the quality of workmanship expected by a discerning clientele.

The workshop has since moved to new and bigger premises nearby, converting the old one into a showroom for clients and commissioning interior designers to view Aiveen’s upholstery, textile panels and accessories for projects often located in places like Shanghai, Lagos, New York, Rio and Mumbai.

Currently the workshop is busy producing for a French chateau, an eight-roomed penthouse in Mayfair where the commission is for headboards, tie-backs, inserts into joinery and wall panels, plus another for 24 hand-beaded dining chairs to take up residence in a royal palace in Qatar.

Aiveen Daly's Flower headboard is decorated in meticulous detail, elevating it to an artwork.
Aiveen Daly's Flower headboard is decorated in meticulous detail, elevating it to an artwork.

“These are people with multiple homes,” Aiveen explains, “where everything is bespoke, even down to their photo-frames.

"We have to use the best of fabrics and trimmings as they have the best of everything — art, properties, clothes, cars.

"We buy in detailing for our work from the same companies as Fendi and Chanel — although not the same stuff, but the same quality.”

Typically, each chair, headboard or decorative panel takes days and days to make to achieve precision, where pleats, folds and the application of beading and other decorative detailing has to be exact.

For all that, it remains a craft business with just half a dozen skilled employees producing such high-end products.

Ever innovating, Aiveen has now launched a collection of cushions which can be bought on her website.

Like all her work, they’re exquisitely made to the standard of couture, reflecting the luxe materials, craftsmanship and time-consuming techniques applied to her bespoke work.

With conversion from sterling to euro, they start at close to €600.

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