20 May 2022

The Arts Interview: Niamh O’Leary

The Arts Interview: Niamh O’Leary

Designer Niamh O’Leary whose latest collection has been inspired by the challenges borne by Alzheimer’s sufferers

Brought up on a farm in Castletown, a little village near the outskirts of Limerick, I attended the local primary school in Ballyagran, followed by six years in Hazelwood College.

 Both schools were great for me as all I ever wanted to do was to draw and to paint. Throughout my time there, I started to piece together the most enjoyable concepts from different subjects, and the common thread in all of them was Fashion Design. Based on this revelation, I put all my efforts into making sure that I was accepted into Limerick School of Art and Design (LSAD). I began my entrance portfolio in fourth year and dedicated my weekends and summer holidays to perfecting it. The support of my two art teachers, Maria Curtin and Marian Sugrue, kept me firmly on track.



Looking back, I always knew that I would be involved with fashion.

 My favourite part of the week was heading to Sunday Mass to show off my Sunday finest, (feeling like a princess in my pretty dress!). But at the same time it was the worst part of the week for my mother. I have a twin sister, and from a young age, we have had very different personalities and interests. She’s a sporty girl, and my mother spent the early part of every Sunday morning chasing her through the house, trying to make her put on a nice dress (for one day out of the week at least!). My mother would then have to spend the entire mass scolding me for standing-up on the pew, waving to everyone so I could show off my pretty outfit.



My style of designing has gradually evolved to incorporate soft, elegant, tailoring, that maintains an overall feminine silhouette.

 This is the great thing about being in Fashion Design – there is endless versatility for you to express your vision. I’m also delighted to have the opportunity to express my ideas. For example, the concept of finding ‘beauty amongst brutality’ is something that I learned from the late fashion designer, Alexander McQueen. The themes of his work are dominated by life’s harsh dichotomies, such as life and death, happiness and sadness, good and evil, and so on. At first, it allowed me to grasp what it meant to be a Fashion Designer; namely that easily understood themes can be transformed directly into collection pieces. However, I soon realised that there was so much more to his work, and that anything could serve as a form of inspiration. 



I found college to be as most people find it – tough, but rewarding. 

Late nights and endless deadlines were a routine from the get-go. However, seeing my graduate collection being presented on the catwalk was the culmination that made all of the hard work worthwhile. The collection was entitled ‘EVANESCE’, and was based on the failing health of my aunt. She suffers from dementia, and my objective was to portray the gradual deterioration that comes with that disease. The fading of an individual’s memories is a difficult concept for anyone to face and we all cope in our own way; my coping mechanism was through creating the graduate collection. At times, sensitivity towards my Aunt’s illness made me rethink my right to address the issue through a collection. However, Aristotle’s quote; ‘the aim of art is to represent, not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance’, anchored me throughout the process, and made me realise that there is beauty to be found amongst the suffering, ergo McQueen’s work.



The materials used in my designs were kept as natural as possible; in order to present a more earthed collection. 

For example, ‘Look 4’, from my final year show, is a suede and chiffon dress with a neoprene centre. I feel it best captured the story I was trying to tell. The repetitive use of broken lines and circular shapes signified the breakdown of the limbic system, which is a set of brain structures that stores long-term memories.  



Eventually I would like to return to Limerick and establish my own Fashion Boutique store. 

I have been modelling with the legendary Celia Holman Lee for the past four years and during that period have been able to wear the amazing works of leading Irish designers at fashion shows. Seeing the detail that goes into curating fabrics and patterns up-close really makes me appreciate the talent that is currently on show here, and I certainly do not want to miss out on joining that growing elite!

For more information about Niamh’s work please see: www.lsad or email:

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