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Sarah McDonnell


Falling in Love With Japan

Japan is world-renowned for being at the forefront of retail architecture and display so it was with real delight that I hopped on a flight to Tokyo earlier this year, in search of new trends and inspiration for various projects I was working on. Of course I wanted to visit in spring, in cherry blossom season, when the trees are at their prettiest. I stayed in Tokyo and Kyoto (at the wonderful Four Seasons there), at Gora Kadan, a former retreat of the Imperial Family, now a hotel, in Hakone National Park, about an hour from Tokyo. I also visited Hiroshima, which was chilling, but I felt, almost mandatory, to understand the impact of this event in our relatively recent past.

The frantic pace of Tokyo is tempered by the genteel manner of the Japanese. I was so struck by how polite and considerate they are, how delicate the Asian women, and how, despite the pace of life in a vast, non-stop city, they display perfect manners and exude a sense of inner calm. (I was also thrilled and honoured to dress one of the royal princesses, but that’s a story for another day.) Design, clothing and food – both its preparation and presentation, exquisite but understated – is approached with a sort of quiet reverence which I found utterly seductive.

So the psyche of the Japanese was revelatory, but also the culture – the temples of Kyoto, the countryside, their Zen gardens, their textiles. Less is definitely more, except when more is more – they seems to know how to perfectly balance excess (in intricate designs and embroideries on textiles, for instance) with restraint. The lines of the kimono influenced a number of my designs this season: I was privileged to meet real geishas, at a tea ceremony, wearing traditional kimonos, and see how the garments were constructed and wrapped. Everything is beautifully wrapped in Japan – from a small box of sweets to an elaborate gift. Origami is just a beautiful part of everyday life.

I visited museums of ancient Japanese art and a royal palace and I followed the cherry blossom-lined Philosopher’s Walk in Kyoto for miles. I soaked it all up. And I returned full of resolve to bring some of that Japanese sense of calm and order to my life. It’s not always possible, with a collection to be designed, and a diary full of dates in three cities!

But what I did take away with me from Japan was a notebook full of ideas, just waiting to be expressed. I hope you love them.


What’s In My Kennedy Bag?

When travelling, a great tote bag is a must for me. It must be capacious enough to hold a microcosm of my life, but still comfortable to hold and not too heavy to carry. Since we launched our Kennedy 32, I have used my Black or Kerry Blue versions weekly. There is nothing quite like a statement bag to add panache to elegant dressing.

Designing our signature tote bag was one of our most exciting design projects. We consulted many of our loyal clients who travel regularly for their perfect handbag wishlist: in particular, the features which would make their airport journeys less stressful. Their ideas were  invaluable and all fed into the Kennedy’s final design.


The Kennedy has little compartments to hold vital travelling essentials. It includes many small compartments and inner zip pockets for added security for wallets and jewellery. Most important of all was a dedicated pocket for a phone: the stress of not being able to locate a ringing phone lost in the abyss of my bag was paramount in designing the Kennedy!

When heading to the airport I have a list of must-haves, including a notebook and pencil, my iPhone, iPad, Visine eye drops, Tiger balm, Louise Kennedy eau de parfum, a good book on my iPad (I’m currently re-reading one of my favourite novels, Perfume by Patrick Susskind) and loving Kitty LaRoar Valentine’s Eve, which I listen to when flying. Kitty recently played at a cocktail party at 56 Merrion Square to introduce  The Rosewood hotel in London to my Irish clients. The Rosewood’s managing director, my wonderful friend Michael Bonsor, co-hosted with me.

But I digress, as ever! My other travelling must-haves are a wrap  (my favourite is a wool “Zinnia” wrap for travel – it doubles as an umbrella when caught in a downpour!) I love Chanel sunglasses, the best accessory when disembarking a long-haul flight. I also carry Black Rose Precious Face oil by Sisley, or the wonderful hydrating capsules from Biologique Recherche on longer flights: a few tiny drops prevent dehydration.

We also designed a Kennedy 26, designed at the request of our clients who adored the 32 but preferred a slightly smaller version. We love bag accessories and each season we add new coloured pom-poms for glamorous fun. In November we will launch a new series of limited edition Kennedys in taupe and feminine rose pink, the perfect Christmas present or a gift to oneself.

The Kennedy is the perfect handbag for a woman who works. We were so delighted to be part of The Gloss Magazine’s Look the Business event this week, an evening of fashion and inspiration for professional women, and to present a Kennedy as part of the LTB Designer Handbag Draw. One very happy business woman who attended is now the proud owner of a Kerry Blue Kennedy 32.


Paris In The Spring

Paris in the springtime … it’s a travel cliché, sure, but one I’m very happy to adhere to. I do love an injection of the city at the beginning of the year. The Hotel Relais Saint Germain is my base for a few days while I attend Premier Vision, the fashion industry’s fabric show, to …


An Interiors Trip To Amsterdam

My new year began with a trip. I’m just back from Amsterdam where I spent a couple of days immersed in interior design – I’m always looking ahead to keep the boutiques in Dublin and London fresh and forward-looking and there are so many interesting retail concepts at play in the Dutch capital.

The Conservatorium Hotel

Combining simplicity and casual luxury is something they do very well and there is a cool edge to their design. I stayed at The Conservatorium, the city’s newest design hotel and former music conservatory. My design inspiration began there.

Rembrandt’s The Night Watch At The Rijksmuseum

How could Amsterdammers not be inspired, as I always am, by the culture, specifically the art, in the city? If I have only a limited amount of time, I visit the stunning Rijksmuseum on Museumplein, with its massive collection of Dutch old masters, to get a sense of the artistic heritage. I love in particular the moody Vermeer interiors which of course highlight how important the home was and continues to be to the Dutch. I also saw the amazing Yves Saint Lauren Mondrian dress in the modern department. Close by is the Van Gogh Museum, a dizzyingly large collection including many works and self-portraits) I had never seen before. Rembrandt’s House is extraordinarily well-preserved, despite the thousands of visitors who go through it every year. It was both home and studio and where Rembrandt’s clients came to visit – not unlike 56 Merrion Square!


Womenswear at De Bijenkorf

Department store De Bijenkorf (“The Beehive” in English) is part of the Selfridges group, owned by Galen Weston, of which the Brown Thomas group is a part. Originally a small haberdashery shop, the 140-year-old store on Dam Square is an institution, with a terrific line-up of brands, including Celine, Hermes, Gucci, Dior and Ferragamo, a vert interesting interiors floor and an innovative events calendar. Their annual Chinese New Year festival is coming up next month. This year is the Year of the Dog. I can tell you that every year is the Year of the Dog in my house, for a certain entitled member of the family.

Women in their 30s, 40s and 50s in Amsterdam dress casually but very well. A good coat, boots and a huge scarf or snood are the order of the day. Trousers trump dresses and skirts, since they are mostly cycling on their wonderful high-nelly bikes. I wore my Alexia wool tailored coat, which has been reduced in our winter sale, along with many other pieces. It’s the final week of reductions in all our stores – do check them out as it’s a chance to buy beautiful investment dresses and coats. And next week, the new collection will be in store. I can’t wait to tell you all about that. Stand by!


A Party At The Palace 

This was a Red Letter Week for me – a London Fashion Week like no other. As well as some lovely receptions and shows, I attended a very special party at Buckingham Palace by kind invitation of the Duchess of Cambridge and Sophie, Countess of Wessex, to celebrate a new initiative, the Commonwealth Fashion Exchange. The initiative places the fashion industry in the role of supporter of sustainable designers, artisans and craftspeople all over the world, encouraging them to share resources and ultimately to reduce poverty in communities which rely on the industry for employment and economic support.

The Duchess of Cambridge and Sophie, Countess of Wessex

 It was thrilling to be at the Palace. British Vogue editor-in-chief Edward Enninful, American Vogue Anna Wintour, Naomi Campbell, Erin O’Connor and Livia Firth, whose Eco-Age company is running the initiative. The exhibition looked wonderful in those grand rooms and there was a huge feeling of goodwill and energy. One of the highlights was spending time with Hamish Bowles, editor-at-large for American Vogue. Hamish curated the stunning installation and is such an authority on vintage clothing, being one of the largest private collectors. He has had a lifelong love affair with Ireland and we caught up on lots of Irish interests!

The Exhibition At Buckingham Palace

It was also fabulous to catch up with my friend, royal milliner Jane Taylor, who we had the pleasure of hosting in Dublin to meet our Irish clients last year. Jane and I were among the lucky guests to have time with Sophie, Countess of  Wessex ,who we have have also had the pleasure of dressing.

Of course, the following day Queen Elizabeth attended the Richard Quinn show – her first time in the FROW, as we call it. She looked wonderful – and utterly relaxed. It’s interesting to see these three royals working together to raise the profile of the valuable – and influential – fashion industry. It was her first time in the FROW at LFW but during the state visit to Dublin in 2011, I had the honour of presenting our collection to Her Majesty and Prince Philip who sat front row on that occasion.

Fera At Claridges

No less exciting  – and fun – was a dinner at Fera, the restaurant at Claridges, with wonderful Irish ambassador to London, HE Adrian O’Neill and his delightful wife. Dinner was hosted by designer Guy Oliver who designed Fera (which means “wild” in Latin and refers to the provenance of the exceptional food there, overseen by Australian chef Matt Starling). Guy has been working on a restoration and refurbishment of The Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin, including guest rooms and the wonderful Residents Bar and terrace, which he showed me just before it opened. It literally raises the bar – sure to be a summertime must-visit.

While in Claridges I also had the good fortune to catch up with David Downton, one of my absolute favourite people in fashion. David was just off his flight from New York Fashion Week where David had been commissioned by Michael Kors to design an illustration which Michael printed on silk, one of the most talked-about collaborations during NYFW. He is also launching a very exciting new book and of course, having launched his last book in Dublin in our very own Downton room (we are the proud owners of 24 specially commissioned Louise Kennedy Downton sketches) we are eagerly awaiting the next one.

As you know, I have an exciting association with Turnbull & Asser, having designed a collection of women’s shirts, including the Louise. I had breakfast with CEO Jonathan Baker and we are plotting some exciting new projects, of which more news later. I also spent time at the gorgeous Rubelli fabric showroom in Chelsea Harbour Glamorous, elelgant, timeless, Rubelli (and its creator Angela Donghia) epitomise sophisticated Italian design and quality. We are co-hosting an event with Rubelli MD – the equally glamorous and gorgeous Vivienne Griffin – in March and seeing the space really crystallised our plans for how the Louise Kennedy collection could be displayed. We love to collaborate with companies with the same ethos and attention to detail as we do. If we speak the same language, the planning process is seamless.

It was an amazing week. This week will be no less exciting and busy. We are off to New York to prepare for our SS18 Trunk Show at The Carlyle. We can’t wait to show the collection to our US clients. I will tell you more soon …