When Róisín Pierce, freshly graduated from NCAD in Textile Design, entered the 2019 International Fashion and Photographic Festival in Hyères on the French Riviera with her artistic all-white collection called Mná i Bhláth (Women in Bloom), this caused a stir. Hand-smocked and embroidered, its rich, sensual textures were reminiscent of the christening, wedding and communion dresses made at the Magdalene Laundries, so it was “a visual symbol of a deeper message,” she said. Working in white, traditionally associated with purity and innocence, emphasized the unusual finishes and silhouettes.
Its exceptional craftsmanship and embellishment broke new ground, and apart from having to explain what Magdalene laundries were to a confused French and international press, she won two awards at the festival – the first Chanel Metiers d’Art award and the Prix de PUBLIC .
Since then, her status and recognition have grown worldwide. As one of the five winners of the RDS Craft Award in 2020, her Chanel award earned her a partnership with renowned Parisian hat maker Maison Michel, as well as another opportunity to collaborate with Maison Paloma, another Chanel specialist responsible for some of the RDS’ products House is known for the most complicated inventions. “The partnership showed how important craftsmanship and origin are,” she says.
As we meet in Dublin, she laments the fact that the preservation of women’s craftsmanship in Ireland is not being taken as seriously as it should be and that there is very little support for Irish fashion designers. As someone with a “meaningful and considered” approach to design and retaining traditional skills, she says “people on the business side don’t see the potential, which is why Irish designers have to go abroad for support”.
Maison Michel said they had never met a designer with so many design ideas. With Paloma, at the helm of the storied house, Priscilla Roya immediately understood where Pierce wanted to go and made it happen. One of the results was the remarkable Pierce-designed Egg dress, made from wire with tiny scalloped floral details densely appliquéd and hand-cut. The same folding and pleating technique was used on the matching bolero. This dress and bolero, along with one of the hats made by Maison Michel, are on display in Paris at La Galerie du 19M, a cultural center on Place Skanderberg in the 19th arrondissement.
Even before Chanel’s recognition, the US luxury department store Nordstrom had discovered her exceptional talent and many of her intricately handcrafted pieces – organza bubble skirts, flower-dot T-shirts, star-point smocks – can now be bought online (nordstrom.com).
As one of the 20 international names nominated for the LVMH Prize for Young Fashion Designers 2022, she will receive a €300,000 endowment if successful and a one-year mentorship at LVMH. She was recently named as one of the “Talent Young Visionaries” in this year’s Forbes magazine’s annual “30 Under 30 in Europe” list as a rising star in the “Arts and Culture” category.
Back in Dublin, she’s working on a zero-waste, inside-out, satin-backed crepe piece as part of her latest collection. Zero waste and working with multiple squares and stripes is her trademark, “and creating a pattern with the repetition of pintucks combined with smocking and alternating patterns. It’s like detail by detail by detail. I’m a bit of a hotshot when it comes to texture upon texture and the unexpected silhouettes it creates,” she says, tossing back her long brown hair.
Dressed in black, she is surrounded by bolts of white fabric, finished pieces, and other fabric in progress. On the table are books on embroidery and patchwork, including a rare one on lace called The Irish Flowerers by Elizabeth Boyle, which she says with a smile she found “in a rare bookshop in the French Alps”. Interested in art since childhood, she has always wanted to explore different types of clothing making and benefited from NCAD’s Fine Arts Textile training under tutors Helen McAllister and Nigel Cheney.
Storytelling and craftsmanship are in the family DNA. Her grandfather, Francis Doyle, wrote short stories and her mother, Angie, an artist and singer, recognized and encouraged the creativity of her daughter, who grew up as the family moved from Dublin to Galway, then Buckinghamshire and later back to Dublin, prompted by her father work was dictated.
Angie taught her to crochet and recalls that her daughter “was always very happy to create little things herself and really focused, fascinated by things no one else was”. She particularly remembers an incident when Róisín threw a gold necklace that belonged to Angie on the ground and studied the shape it was making, then threw it again, carefully observing the now different shape. “She must have been about four or five years old then,” Angie recalls.
Her latest collection, named “Two for Joy” after the traditional children’s nursery rhyme, is another hand-sewn, hand-embroidered feat of spun sugar lightness, smocked, ruched, embellished and manipulated with her own zero-waste techniques, incorporating the work into one piece material or with many multiples of stripes or squares.
“Working in white in an all-over tone makes you tougher because it’s challenging. I like it when each piece shows the thought process and I’m always trying to achieve something I’ve never seen before. It has to come from me. Creativity is a muscle and needs to be trained.
“When I create an unexpected piece and it feels very fresh or very me, very beautiful and new – it’s a piece of joy and I want to share that joy with others.” Her work has an appealing sweetness, but its soft, intricate construction is both feminine and powerful.
So who are your customers? “I get a lot of requests for wedding dresses,” she replies, rolling her eyes. “But my clothes appeal to people of all ages in the art and design world who are open to wearing things in a different way, who find me on Instagram for bespoke pieces that are all made in-house. It’s not just a business, it’s a part of you.”
Forbes recognition is an honor, she says, “it legitimizes the business and it will open more doors. It has strengthened my brand’s recognition with executives outside of the fashion industry and brought my design ethos and visual narratives to a global audience.”
Still under wraps is a collaboration she is planning, as well as a live presentation of her work, possibly in London or Paris, “as all my collections have been digital launches and it’s never the same with images”.
Keeping traditional artisanal techniques alive and using them in new and creative ways makes their work special. She loves the intricacy and layering elements involved in fabric manipulation—showing off embroideries on the skin that make them more decorative. Finding the right shade of white is an ongoing conversation with suppliers – samples that arrive in the evening need to be viewed in the light the next morning, both indoors and outdoors.
“Optical white is almost blue and milky white changes in sunlight. You never mix the two. The optics are easier to color match,” she explains. “Colors excite me, but it’s not the right time yet. I think white is beautiful and flawless and shows more manipulation. In a way I see [what I make] as thought formations, organic forms that are so bizarrely constructed that they have their own beauty”.