She's a medical doctor who designs clothes that are made in Ireland. Deirdre McQuillan meets Sheila Considine.
SHEILA CONSIDINE'S husband Peter Mulholland, an anthropologist, describes his wife as an OC PC person - an obsessive-compulsive pattern-cutter. This modest, hardworking Irish designer who makes quiet, understated clothes and who believes in the primary importance of the pattern in any design is unique in many respects. Completely self-taught, she is a mother of a young son, has a fashion design studio in Dún Laoghaire, lives over the shop, and works at weekends as a doctor in a Dublin hospital. Her medical work has helped support her real obsession - making clothes. Passionate about fabric and fashion design from childhood, this multi-tasker is a perfectionist about detail and, although her collections are small, they are made from quality materials and carefully structured to flatter Irish figures. "The problem with a lot of mass-produced clothes on the high street is that they're made for perfect-figure models and mannequins, not real people," she says. A summer jacket from her collection, for example, has been fashioned from linen with a high thread count, is cut with attention to the shape of the body with strategic pin tucks and seaming, the sleeves are three-quarter length, the buttons well-chosen and the fabric tumble-dried for extra softness and luxuriance. A wrap dress in a bold Liberty print in fine jersey has been specifically made so that it doesn't gape on the wearer, a common problem with wrap dresses. "People are really surprised when they try this on. I think the most important things are fastidiousness and attention to detail," says Considine. Her current collection is typical of her minimalist style and classic mix of plain linens from Irish companies, such as Ulster Weavers, John England and Emblem Weavers, and patterned fabrics, the latter mostly Liberty jersey and cotton prints with the occasional designer finds from Paris. Considine's signature coat-dress design has been perfected to the point that it can work in any fabric, while a trouser shape with flat inset pockets is deliberately made so that it sits on the waist without a full waistband for extra versatility to suit different figures. What's really selling at the moment are summery black-and-white polka-dot shirts and jackets that can be worn to great effect with black-and-white pinstripe trousers and a shot of red somewhere, for example. "My limitation is getting fabric," she says. "If I won the Lotto tomorrow, I would spend it all on materials." Hesitant to take risks, she says that exhibition costs are huge - to show in Pure (a major trade show in the UK) costs €5,000 for each season, a prohibitive cost for a small designer. "But driving around Ireland [to sell] is just as good and I want to be in control of what I do. I own a shop and if my collections really take off, I will continue to manufacture in Ireland." Prices are reasonable too ranging from about €125 to €185 for trousers, €175 to €285 for dresses and a small selection of her handmade accessories such as glass-and-enamel or colourful felted-wool necklaces are from €55 to €75.
Constance Harris (Sunday Independent, 31st May 2009)
Taking liberties with Irish style Clever Sheila Considine transforms vintage fabrics into cheerful, comfortable collections, says Constance Harris:
I was heartened last week to hear Aisling Kilduff, of the Design Centre, say that customers were coming in asking specifically for Irish labels. In recent years, with all our Celtic Tiger, nouveau-riche behaviour, Irish designers were left out of the picture in favour of the more brash power of the Italians, and American branding. But as you may have read in the Cha Cha Seigne interview in last week's LIFE, times are even harder than ever before for Irish labels. Boutique owners are not only refraining from ordering next season's collections, but some owners are reneging on paying for this, and last, season's -- regardless of having sold some of the pieces. This sort of behaviour is not only heart-breaking to our designers, but will bring businesses to their knees and even closure, as banks aren't willing to extend credit to small businesses. So when you consider that is the landscape for our poor designers, you can't help thinking that Sheila Considine's modest dress design business in Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin, may be the best way to go to survive these harsh times. Sheila opened her shop six years ago and sells directly to her customers. Unfortunately, the site next door has gone into receivership and its hoarding makes it difficult to see her shop window. Before opening her store, she designed a range that sold nationwide in good boutiques around the country, including Avoca. She is currently working on a range to wholesale again. Sheila designs and makes all the clothes on her premises, which is generous in size -- so no air miles and very little carbon footprint. She is passionate about buying Irish and our heritage, and makes a point of using Irish linen, wools and fabrics where she can. Being a fabric addict, she is constantly picking up pieces; she has oodles of Liberty, and some fabulous Italian limited-edition prints, including those of Gianfranco Ferre, stashed all over her premises, her house, even her mother's attic. "Fabric is a compulsion for me. I adore it. And I cannot get rid of it if I love it." She told me, with a big grin on her face. As Sheila has been indulging this habit for more than 20 years, you will find on her rails some pieces made in vintage fabrics -- therefore the garment is 'one of a kind'. Sheila has been making clothes all her life, despite working as a doctor. She was always passionate about fashion and the construction of clothing, and is largely self-taught. But, she told me, she came from a family of creatives and she wanted to prove that she could be clever, too. So she trained in medicine and has supported herself, and her passion, via medicine. "Actually, medicine was good training for this because you learn to cross reference everything." Sheila told me. "In teaching myself pattern cutting, I would cross reference the instructions in one book with that of another and I think that gave me a really precise knowledge and grounding in pattern design and cutting." Sheila is a bit of a fashion boffin. She designs very much with the customer in mind, but she is doing it for the love of it. The shop features little thoughtful pieces, such as handmade necklaces, or felt flower brooches, that she "just felt like doing" that day. Sheila's style stamp is very simple. She makes for women who generally are 30 plus. The clothes are designed to be comfortable, easy and cheerful. Always in natural fabrics, they are cool -- ideal for our humid climate. Being a mother of a small child, she thinks in terms of activity and practicality (most things can be put in the machine) and also the fact that maybe one doesn't want one's roundish belly to be the sole focus of attention in an outfit! Sheila's is not a shop to be compared to other shops with their dramatic merchandising and constant influx of new looks. This is a private, more considered place, with a small, concise offer of clothes. To whizz in and whizz out would be to misjudge it. Stop, take a deep breath, relax and peruse. I defy anyone to find elsewhere a better, soft-shaped, boiled wool coat with such excellent fit, and as gorgeous to the touch, as Sheila's coat featured here. A timeless piece, she makes them each season in new colours. I am obsessive about shoulders being snug and following the line of the arm (my pet peeve is Irish designers' use of too- broad shoulder pads, which take all the beauty out of their designs). Sheila doesn't do made-to- order but that doesn't mean she isn't accommodating to individual needs. 'I will if I can,' is her motto. She loves bright colour, while also having a fondness -- and therefore a great eye -- for lovely indigos and dark greens. I love the tiered linen skirt and wrap shirt above. It is like something one would have found in the wonderful Anastasia, a gorgeous boutique in Drury Street in the mid-Eighties. "A skirt like that is massively labour intensive," Sheila told me. "It is very important to wear a more sculpted piece on top to give the body shape with all that fabric below. "I also think it is important to build in comfort. I want women to feel they are able to eat, to enjoy their four-course dinner on a night out and not worry about their stomachs hanging out." Which is the kind of sympathetic thought process Irish designers give to their customers -- and which international businesses will never offer. Another damn good reason to support our own.
Crofton Summer Camp
Crofton Summer Camp with group leader Anne-Marie Greenan present their minature designs on July 22nd 2009