Claire O'Connor's upcoming bridal wear collection, her official foray into the wedding industry, was sparked by a single conversation. Last year, the Dublin-based designer, 32, received a phone call from a stylist who was on the hunt for bridal gowns in the Design Centre, a downtown Dublin boutique that stocks clothing and accessories from Irish designers, including O'Connor.
|O’Connor displays her new bridal looks
against the backdrop of Dublin’s urban
landscape. Photograph by James Horan.
Photograph courtesy of Claire O’Connor.
"She rings me and says, 'Have you got any wedding dresses?'" O'Connor recalls. "And I'm looking at three rolls of fabric going, 'Of course I do. What colours would you like?' So I spent about two and a half days with no sleep and made three wedding dresses. They were a huge feat."
The gowns sold immediately and led to a number of private commissions. The overwhelmingly positive response prompted O'Connor to create a bridal collection, which she plans to launch this summer. The collection will consist of about 15 different styles in her signature look, which she describes as a combination of London and Paris - the edginess of the former mixed with the elegance of the latter. In an effort to cater to all styles of brides, the dresses will range from cocktail to evening gowns and from the theatrical to the more classic.
O'Connor believes that her first bridal gowns were such a success because they brought something new and different to the Irish market. Here, the majority of bridal shops tend to sell the same strapless, bodiced dress in one hundred variations, she says. "You're hard pressed to find something that's not too wedding-y or not your typical bridal dress. … There are 30,000 of them in a factory somewhere in outer Indonesia and they're going to send you the nearest size and alter it and people think they're getting this beautiful, tailor-made dress for them."
On the other hand, the small size of O'Connor's business - it's mostly a one-woman show - allows her to make one-off designs and tailor garments for individual clients. "So many people that I've made dresses for have said to me, 'Wow, I can't believe I got exactly what I wanted,'" she says.
Since establishing herself in 2005, O'Connor has evolved into one of Ireland's top designers. She has dressed a whole host of national TV personalities, appears regularly in the country's major newspapers and magazines, and in May 2010, her talent was displayed on the world's stage when she created a purple, jewel-embellished gown for Niamh Kavanagh, Ireland's entry into the Eurovision Song Competition.
While she speaks quite nonchalantly about these accomplishments, there is one feat she happily gushes about: receiving recognition from American First Lady, Michelle Obama. When President Obama and the First Lady visited Ireland in May 2011, O'Connor saw an opportunity just waiting to be seized. "I decided I would make two dresses for her, put them in a nice little box and send them to the American Embassy," she recalls, her face lighting up. "I know they probably get loads of stuff, so I didn't really expect anything to come of it and I didn't put in any contact details. I just wrote her a little card and signed it 'Claire.'"
About two months had passed when she received a phone call from the Design Centre. A letter had arrived for her. It was postmarked from America and adorned with a stamp from the White House. When O'Connor went to collect it, she found a personal letter from Michelle Obama. "She said it was a very kind gesture and she loved the dresses and all the rest. So, yeah, that was pretty cool. I remember walking around town with the envelope in my bag going, 'Please don't mug me, please don't mug me,'" she says, laughing.
Since establishing her own label in 2005,
In the last two years, recognition from prominent figures like Michelle Obama and publications like Runway, Irish Tatler and ELLE Canada has helped O'Connor survive the economic downturn, which she says eliminated a lot of people who "just kind of liked clothes," leaving Ireland's true talent to shine. With her elevated profile and unwavering dedication to fashion, O'Connor has caught the eye of an increasing number of stylists, editors and photographers both in Ireland and abroad.
One fashion industry insider with whom she has built a relationship is Melissa O'Connor Regan, another stylist who discovered O'Connor's work while browsing Dublin's Design Centre. "I was dressing [actress] Victoria Smurfit for something and literally they didn't have anything that would work for her body, but I really loved Claire's work," O'Connor Regan recalls. "They rang [Claire] and asked her to make something up. The shoot was the next day, so she stayed up all night making a dress. I sent her a thank you note and we've stayed in touch since then. It's been really great. She's amazing."
In June, O'Connor Regan will open Beloved, a specialty bridal boutique with an emphasis on supporting Irish designers and providing personal styling services. The boutique will cater for fashion-forward clientele by stocking O'Connor's collection along with English designer Caroline Matthews of Caroline Atelier. O'Connor Regan is also working to add two more designers whose looks will suit more classic brides.
|The designer promises a collection with
something for every type of wedding,
ranging from the big, fancy affair to
a quick stop at the registry office.
Photograph by James Horan.
Photograph courtesy of Claire O’Connor.
"Weddings are hugely popular in Ireland, but so many girls buy dresses that come from all over the world," O'Connor Regan says. "We never really think to look to our own and especially with such a big-ticket item, it's crazy that that money should be going abroad when we have designers of equal merit and talent here in the country."
Bringing in O'Connor's designs was a no-brainer for O'Connor Regan. "Claire pattern cuts everything to perfection," she says. "You could turn her dresses inside out and wear them; they're that good. And also, she really understands structure and women's bodies, and that's what I wanted; I wanted dresses that are truly flattering. I don't want girls to have to wear really tight underwear or any of those hold-in garments under the dress. I think you should be comfortable and beautiful on your wedding day."
O'Connor Regan is confident about the venture and is looking forward to providing brides with a complete styling service. "There are so many millions of dresses, but a lot of people go for exactly the same thing, which is kind of sad," she says. "There's a different dress for every girl. It's just a matter of getting the dress to the girl."
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