WEARINGIRISH NYC 2018 showcases ten top designers from Ireland. In this series, meet the makers and hear their stories. Here Margaret chats with Gemma O Leary, Creative Director, Inner Island.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND. I started my journey through various short courses and internships in Canada, Scotland and Dublin. Having little formal education, I learned my trade on the job and through experimentation. WHAT WAS THE MOST DEFINING MOMENT OF YOUR CAREER? Releasing my first collection was the most defining moment of my career. It can be frightening to put your heart into something and then show it to the world. Overcoming the fear was the first step on this adventure. Without taking that step, everything that followed would not have happened.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND.
I started my journey through various short courses and internships in Canada, Scotland and Dublin. Having little formal education, I learned my trade on the job and through experimentation.
WHAT WAS THE MOST DEFINING MOMENT OF YOUR CAREER?
Releasing my first collection was the most defining moment of my career. It can be frightening to put your heart into something and then show it to the world. Overcoming the fear was the first step on this adventure. Without taking that step, everything that followed would not have happened.
WHAT’S YOUR AMBITION FOR YOUR BRAND?
My ambition is to bring the INNER ISLAND brand to a wider audience and have a presence in suitable high-end stores in every country in the world. In addition, I’d like to increase sales by 50% each year for the next three years. I still want to retain an exclusive but affordable cult-brand vibe as I continue to grow.
WHAT SETS YOUR BRAND APART?
We think design integrity and quality are essential but that you shouldn’t have to pay the world to get it. To achieve this, we work on a separate design story for each collection and I personally make all the pieces using the ancient art of metalworking combined with modern technologies. The ethos of the brand is to bring a refined, subtle approach to design starting with simple shapes and introducing unexpected details. The intention is to create pieces that will surprise and delight with a modern contemporary aesthetic.
WHERE DOES YOUR BRAND NAME COME FROM?
The name INNER ISLAND comes from a song by a Swedish artist called El Pedro Del Mar. For me, it denotes that each of us has a sense of self that can be influenced by those around us, but we should not abandon our personal identity.
WHO IS YOUR DREAM MUSE? WHY?
My dream muse is Tilda Swinton. She is from a very rare group of women who do in fact represent everything a muse should be— influential, emotional and transformative.
YOUR DREAM COLLABORATION?
My dream collaboration would be with Issey Miyake.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU ABOUT THE WEARINGIRISH MOVEMENT?
Irish design has moved on from Claddagh rings and Aran sweaters. WearingIrish highlights the wealth of talent we have on this island.
WHO DO YOU WANT TO WEAR IRISH?
TELL US WHAT NEW YORK CITY MEANS TO YOU.
New York City is an exciting melting pot of culture. If you stand in Times Square long enough, you’ll see the entire world walk by.
TAKE US THROUGH YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS.
Inspiration can strike at any moment from anywhere. I have collections inspired by a seventh century stained glass window, the curve of a wooden boat and even an ancient board game. For me, a point of reference is important to help create something truly unique.
WHAT DOES BEING IRISH MEAN TO YOU AND IN WHAT WAY HAS IT INFLUENCED YOUR CREATIONS?
Being Irish has influenced every fiber of who I am and therefore what I create. We have an unrivaled and evolving culture. I take great inspiration and pride from our past and also feel a responsibility to continue the high standard of craftsmanship for which Ireland is renowned.
HOW DOES A SENSE OF PLACE INFORM YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS— SPECIFICALLY IRELAND?
As I live in a remote area of Ireland, it has a huge influence on my creative process. I look out my studio window at a huge expanse of countryside that calms my mind and allows the creativity to flow. Being remote also forces me to look inward in my creative process as I’m not bombarded with the stimuli that you would get in the city.
MOST COVETED ITEM IN YOUR COLLECTION?
The most coveted item in my collection would be the Large Ammil earrings. They are an oxymoron; a minimal statement earring.
THREE THINGS YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT?
I can’t live without my sketch pad, coffee and phone.
YOUR GO-TO STYLING TRICK?
Know when to stop. If you’re drawing attention to your face and neckline with layered necklaces, or a statement piece, perhaps you don’t need an armful of bangles to compete for attention.
TELL US ONE THING ABOUT YOURSELF THAT PEOPLE SHOULD KNOW THAT I DIDN’T ASK.
Rain is one of my favorite sounds.