Art under the Skin: Róisín Gartland - Thirty Years in Leather

Snow is falling all across Ireland but it’s warm inside Róisín Gartland’s studio on the day we visit. This warmth is not only due to the luxuriously warm leathers and lambskins which Róisín specialises in, but also to the offer of hot coffee and homemade bread and the designer's own warm welcome.

Photo of Art under the Skin: Róisín Gartland - Thirty Years in Leather

Thirty years seems an extraordinary length of time for this talented craftsperson and fine artist to have been working with leather, but Róisín started young - learning at the hand of her father, a furrier by trade. She still uses her father's tools (although she doesn’t use fur) and says she can still feel him showing her how to hold the blade properly every time she picks it up.

It hasn’t always been easy for Róisín to marry the many strands of her creativity, but she seems to have reached a harmonious balance between her fine art practice and her commercial retail fashion business. If fashion you can call it. In reality Róisín’s garments are timeless - informed more by the material itself and her own design sensibility than by any passing trend or fad.

Photo of Art under the Skin: Róisín Gartland - Thirty Years in Leather

Róisín Gartland creates garments such as lambskin gilets, stretch leather trousers and tops and hooded lambskin jackets that are warm and functional yet look and feel beautiful.

Working for a consistent list of private clients has been key to the success of her business for the past three decades. Her clothing also retails in the high-end Havana Boutique in Dublin - well known among style mavens - and in Granny’s Bottom Drawer in Kinsale, Co. Cork.

Photo of Art under the Skin: Róisín Gartland - Thirty Years in Leather

Making for private clients is, says Róisín, “instinctual”. “Each client finds their own thing in the process. When I am making for specific people they are in my mind while I create. I’m in tune with the material as well as that individual person.”

Róisín says that her customers are those who love well-made clothes but who are also not afraid to wear something a little bit different. “I think the one thing that is common among them is that they are not afraid to be themselves,” she says.

Photo of Art under the Skin: Róisín Gartland - Thirty Years in Leather

Discreet by nature, Róisín seems to have a way of reading her clients - working with their own tastes to create garments that really do stand the test of time.

When Design Ireland visits, a customer of Róisín’s, boutique-owner Carmel Looby, arrives wearing a long black suede and leather coat that she commissioned the designer to make as a wedding present to herself 26 years ago. The woman looks stylish and strong - assured in her own choice of clothing. The long black coat is like a form of elegant armour, and, despite its age, it hasn’t dated.

"What is it that makes Róisín unique? Like their creator, each piece is honest, understated, always contemporary and yet a timeless classic. Róisín's garments​ are not precious, in fact they improve with use and wear, building character as they go."

"To this day people comment on its design and the quality of the suede. This morning I wore the coat as I cleared snow from my car before driving to work, shaking down the coat before entering a very smart business meeting only to receive a compliment from an Italian executive about my Róisín Gartland design," says Carmel. 

"Over those 26 years I have invested in three other garments. What is it that makes Róisín unique? Like their creator, each piece is honest, understated, always contemporary and yet a timeless classic.  Róisín's garments are not precious, in fact they improve with use and wear, building character as they go. Róisín cuts and creates with her client in mind as she truly values and respects that they have chosen her designs to wear. For me, Róisín's work is art created with love, passion and attention to every last detail. I know this because I feel it every time I wear a piece of her work."

Photo of Art under the Skin: Róisín Gartland - Thirty Years in Leather

Not only does Róisín Gartland create desirable items of clothing but, having obtained a masters degree in sculpture, is in the constant process of formulating her own artistic practice. This year she also created the garments worn by Olwen Fouéré in Jesse Jones’ Tremble Tremble at the 57th Venice Biennale. The designer has also worked with Joseph Walsh Studio on various furniture projects requiring leather elements.

Her artistic practice and the creation of 3D sculptural work is one that also makes sense within the context of her fashion business. “I’ve long experience, so I’m good technically and can work in 3D form. I like clothes to fit well and be comfortable as well as look beautiful. It should be the case that you don’t even know you are wearing them,” she says. 

Photo of Art under the Skin: Róisín Gartland - Thirty Years in Leather

Róisín’s bright studio has all the tools of her trade - the machine for dealing with the light suedes and another for the heavy leathers, the fabric sewing machine and overlocker for linings and the 1980s fur machine rescued from a garment factory, that no-one but Róisín knew how to use.

The designer sources her quality leathers from only the very top-end of the market - often sourcing from the same suppliers that companies such as Hermès use. Her leathers and lambskins are those without surface pigmentation - they are the very best raw materials which are transformed into her garments, handmade from beginning to end her Dublin studio.

Photo of Art under the Skin: Róisín Gartland - Thirty Years in Leather

In the showroom beside Róisín’s studio, where she is currently sharing space with fellow designer Alison Conneely, there is plenty of choice for such customers and the garments can be purchased off-the-rail or serve as inspiration for private commissions.

Here you’ll find reversible long-haired lambskin jackets with hoods, cap-sleeves jackets worn over stretch-leather tops and soft, stretch-leather trousers which wear like comfortable denim.

Neutrals lend themselves easily to Róisín’s designs, but there are also pops of rich colour this season - cherry red and saffron and calming grey-blue suede take on the form of warm gilets, trousers and scarves from small to double-width sizes.

Photo of Art under the Skin: Róisín Gartland - Thirty Years in Leather

Róisín Gartland’s studio and showroom in the Trinity Design Tower Dublin is open from 11am to 4pm without appointment until the 23rd of December. For appointments outside these times call: 087 2490984.

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