Life

Jennifer Rothwell, the Irish designer behind new Doctor Who Jodie's stunning suit

Jodie Whittaker, the first female Doctor Who, turned heads when she wore a striking stained-glass-inspired suit on The Graham Norton Show this month. Jenny Lee spoke to Dublin designer Jennifer Rothwell, whose creation it was, about her passion for prints and her pride in the fact that all her stunning clothes are fair trade and Irish made

Dublin fashion designer Jennifer Rothwell, wearing her favourite design the hummingbird print dress

JENNIFER Rothwell has always had a love of colour and an eye for design. Her first foray into dressmaking came as an eight-year-old when she made a pair of pink elasticated trousers for her Barbie doll.

As an adult, after graduating from the National College of Art and Design in Dublin, she learnt the "A-Z of the fashion industry" working for a number of high-profile New York fashion companies, including Norma Kamali and Calvin Klein.

At the cusp of launching her own line in New York fate intervened to bring her back to Ireland in 2006. Her dad was seriously ill and sadly passed away. She then discovered she had a tumour on her ovary.

After recovering, Rothwell set up her own self-titled label in 2007 and just seven months later won the Brown Thomas Designer Award at Dublin Fashion Week. Passionate about championing Irish design, she is proud of the fact she is the only Irish designer who digitally prints and produces all her pieces in Ireland.

"I believe everything happens for a reason. I pride myself that my garments are produced locally at my studio in Artane, Dublin. And as the garments are manufactured in close radius to the studio the carbon footprint of the garments is greatly reduced. I would love my legacy to be that I lent a helping hand and voice to help reignite Irish manufacturing in Ireland.

"It will be a thriving industry in 10 to 20 years time if investment and initiatives are put in place now similar to the initiatives and tax reliefs the arts received 30 years ago bought in by President Michael D Higgins, then Ireland's first minister for arts, heritage and the Gaeltacht.

"We need to spearhead the Made in Ireland campaign both nationally and internationally, resulting in the Made in Ireland brand being recognised worldwide as high end quality products.

"It breaks my heart to see Irish design talent have to emigrate and leave the country, as we should be creating employment opportunities here so we keep the talent in Ireland."

She describes the Jennifer Rothwell customer as "a sophisticated, confident individual who loves colour and wants to stand of from the crowd".

Her elegant and timeless prints have already graced the red carpet of the Oscars by Liselott Olofsson, wife of Newry-born Cartoon Saloon founder Tomm Moore, when their films Song Of The Sea and The Breadwinner were nominated for Academy Awards.

Irish singer Enya is another fan of her designs, while recently the new Doctor Who actress Jodie Whittaker sported her colourful geometric stained glass print suit on BBC's Graham Norton show.

"I didn't know Jodie was wearing the suit until the evening before the show aired. There has been an amazing reaction to it on social media and, yes, I have had an increase in sales of the suit as well," says Rothwell, who is now a firm Doctor Who fan.

"I love the fact that Doctor Who is a woman – what a great role model for young girls. Jodie's character is very enthusiastic, interesting and funny. I also think it's great that the new Doctor hasn't got just one assistant working beside her, she has a dynamic new team now."

In terms of future collaborations, top of her list is singer and poet Florence Welsh, from the band Florence And The Machine. "I love Florence's music and her sense of style and would love to work with her."

Rothwell tells the story of Irish heritage and culture in her colourful prints. This can especially be seen in her inspiration for her Kells Space Mythology collection, where tired with the shamrock connotations to Irish design, she added a modern edge.

"Living away from Ireland, on and off, for over 17 years in the US I gained a greater appreciation for Irish Heritage and culture. Therefore, when I returned I wanted to reignite the Celtic Revival of the 19th and 20th centuries in the 21st century," she explains.

These bold design statements form two of Rothwell's career highlights to date. "I was honoured when The National Museum of Ireland purchased three of my prints in 2016 for their Contemporary Design Collection and this year when the lord mayor of Dublin gifted the Duke and Duchess of Sussex my Books of Kells-inspired tie and matching scarf. I greatly look forward to seeing the lovely couple in my designs on their next trip to Ireland."

Her passion for Irish traditional crafts is also reflected in her Harry Clarke-inspired print collections, in which she fused the vivid colours from the stained glass windows made by Irish artist Clarke with Celtic folklore.

"I had always wanted to do a stained glass print design and everyone kept saying to me to look at Harry Clarke stained glass works. I decided to visit the Huge Lane gallery to view the Eve of St Agnes and was blown away by his work, and the the rest is history."

Fans of her designs will be delighted to hear that a new third edition Harry Clarke print collection will be available in the next few months.

"I am very honoured to be friends with Harry's Clarke's family and his grand-daughter has asked me to design a new Harry Clarke print inspired by an image that is very close to her heart," she reveals.

For her latest collection, Rothwell designed a new leisure range, inspired by Dublin's Bloom Festival and her love of birds and Japanese influences.

"I was excited to pair my statement vibrant prints into the world of contemporary active wear. My active wear collection focuses on combining high quality fabrics with comfort and style. The staple part of every woman's wardrobe, whether for the gym or to wear on a daily basis," she explains.

Looking further ahead, Rothwell isn't giving too much away, just further echoing her passion for sustainability.

"My new print is in the early stages. I can't really go into much detail but it highlights very important issues pertaining to the environment and our futures issues."

Rothwell's ethical conscience has translated into profit in recent years with her bow tie range, being made from leftover printed fabrics.

"I see them as my little babies which I am very proud of. Over the last 10 years I have kept all leftover printed fabrics as I could not bring myself to throw any away so coming up with the idea to use them up and make bow ties was a revelation. I love the fact that what was once bags of what some may see as throwaway, are now beautiful unique bow ties and pocket squares."

A mentor for the Design Craft Council of Ireland, and having given number interns valuable experience working alongside her, Rothwell is passionate about inspiring young Irish designers. Her advice? "Be prepared to work extremely hard. The fashion world is not as glamorous as everyone thinks – it takes talent, hard work, extra long hours and 100 per cent commitment."

:: You can purchase Jennifer Rothwell's designs at Jenniferrothwell.com. Clients can view collections or making appointments for bespoke orders at her Dublin studio. Tel 00 353 (0) 85 721 0702.

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