Interview : Vivien Walsh, jewellery designer

Vivien Walsh has been a leading fashion jewellery designer in Dublin since the '80s. Déshabillé talks to her about her love of jewellery, her shop in Monkstown, and her exciting online plans.

Q. How did you get into jewellery making?

Vivien Walsh Tassel Pendent

A. Accidentally, believe it or not. I came back from the UK to set up a knitwear business and did a Start Your Own Business course. I realised from all my research that financially I couldn’t afford the cost associated with starting a knitwear company so I had to change direction.By chance I had stumbled across beads and trinkets which I was intending to use as embellishments so I started making jewellery with those instead! It was a complete accident, but as soon as I fell into it, I thought it could be an interesting alternative.

I really wanted to work for myself. My father was a furniture designer with his own business, so there was a family background of entrepreneurship and I wasn’t afraid to make that leap. There was no one in Ireland designing fashion jewellery at the time. My first outlet was The Irish Fashion Design Centre where many of my contemporaries also began.I feel lucky to have had that break all those years ago and to still be doing what I love today.

Vivien Walsh Oval Bracelet

Q. Did you find it hard setting up the business initially?

A. I can’t say that I did. Honestly I think I was very innocent, but determined at the same time.I didn’t really think about the obstacles that might have been put in my way, I just went for it.The Irish Fashion Design Centre gave me a great platform to display and sell my work both retail and wholesale. Boutiques from around the country would come to buy from the various designers and there was a great buzz around what was happening in Irish fashion at the time. That’s not to say it was easy but we didn’t really think too much about it.

Vivien Walsh Maxi Hoops

Q. So, who or what are your inspirations?

A. My mother loved jewellery and my father was a great gift buyer…She was a very stylish woman and always wore pieces to compliment her outfits.She had good jewellery, but she also had lots of costume jewellery, as did my grandmother. She would pick up pieces anytime she went away on holidays.When I first started making jewellery I would think about the things she had. Then, as I became more interested in the subject I began to research it.I bought books about costume jewellery and learned about the important designers and the history of how it came into being.I just got involved in it, as you do when you like something. I look at historical things, fashion through the ages, travel and pattern, nature and colour and whatever else comes to mind. It's a visual thing for me.

Vivien Walsh Shell Column Earrings

Q. Tell me about your shop then in Monkstown?

A. I’ve been in Monkstown for seven years and prior to that for over 20 years in the city centre. It's a nice big shop, lovely and bright with great proportions as it's an old building. The front room is the retail area where all my collections are on display and then there's a little archway into the backroom, which is my studio. People can see us working and the pieces being constructed and if someone wants something special made we can show them a selection of stones from our huge inventory. It makes it an authentic experience for people. They know the pieces are actually physically being made on the premises and they appreciate that. I work with a couple of people who have been with me for many years. It's a flexible arrangement as they can come to the studio or work in their own time from home. I don't think people realise how long some of the pieces can take to make until they see how it is done.What we do is real artisan type work which is labour intensive and time consuming, but very rewarding when someone walks out with something they totally love!

Vivien Walsh Mini Starfish Earrings

Q. What are your future plans?

A. I am building on my online presence. It's another outlet for my jewellery and it's something that has been growing over the past few years. I find we are now selling all over the world including Australia, France, the States and the UK as well as all over Ireland. Those world markets would have been out of my reach twenty years ago but today with technology are only a click away. People are naturally curious and may find you if you pop up in a search. But I don’t want to leave it to luck! I felt the need to learn more about how to make my brand more visible and have attended various courses to educate myself in all things digital. Our online sales are growing all the time so I need to concentrate on that aspect of the business and nurture it. I am targeting the UK to expand my wholesale business and exhibited at a boutique trade show in London last January. There are also a selection of independent stores throughout Ireland that carry the collection. The market is constantly moving and developing so I need to be flexible too. The one thing I cannot be flexible with is the quality … it always has to be the best.

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