Why The Emerald Isle is Booming?

Words by
Simon Brooke

4th October 2022

Ireland’s ramped-up luxury offering is simple, elegant and authentic, perfectly reflecting greener sensibilities in the current market. SPHERE explores the people, places and things making Ireland great again

Are we bitter about Brexit? When you see how well Ireland is doing as a part of the EU, the answer is a resounding yes. In the first quarter of 2022, The Republic’s economy, powered by a population of five million people, grew by 10.8%, one of the strongest performances seen anywhere in the world. Coupled with brand value growth of 11% to $670 billion, we can only look at what’s going on in the UK with a tear in our eye.

In the next year Calvin Klein, Watches of Switzerland, Crew Clothing and Bimba y Lola are planning  to open in Dublin.  Alongside these, Brown Thomas, the country’s principal luxury store, has ambitious expansion plans, having bounced back after the pandemic with an 11% increase in sales. Earlier this year it unveiled a £10 million store in Dublin’s Dundrum shopping centre, the first opened by parent company Selfridges Group for six years. Hosting brands such as Givenchy, Balmain, Alaïa, Stella McCartney and Moncler, it has a strong focus on luxury’s hottest current trend — sustainability. 

Voya Seaweed Spa Ireland

Voya Seaweed Spa

What’s powering this growth? Put simply, Ireland is having a moment. Or rather the world’s values have shifted, and everything Ireland stands for fits those values. This is a nation built on elegance, sustainability, craft, heritage, and luxury, and those with the taste level and budget are getting involved. 

LuxDeco is a UK-based interiors marketplace that curates luxury interiors products from the biggest names in design, alongside smaller makers and artisanal brands from all over the world. Ireland is an increasingly important destination; according to LuxDeco’s commercial director Jonathon Warren, year-on-year growth in Ireland is 43%.  

 “The booming house market is driving considerable demand that’s underpinned by the influx of new jobs created in recent years, especially around Dublin,” he says. This, partnered with their demand for a homeware refresh, has seen an increased demand for high-quality, long-lasting pieces.” 

Laura Weber's line LW Pearl Atelier

Laura Weber LW Pearl Atelier

Perhaps most exciting is the explosion of home-grown luxury fashion and design talent. Typical of this is Laura Weber, who trained at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin and specialises in hand-crafted stitching and bespoke embellishments and embroidery. Now based in New York, she is proud of her Irish roots and inspiration, and promotes what she regards as a particular type of Irish luxury.   

“Luxury products have a long tradition in Ireland, from Magee throws to Waterford crystal,” she points out. “All are made using the best of local materials and craftspeople. With increasing affluence here, there are now more luxury brands in the marketplace — all underlying the same ethos — quality and beauty.” Irish luxury brands, she says, are perhaps “a bit more down to earth and practical” than those of France and Italy. “We don’t have such a history of generational wealth to support luxury in past times. However, since we joined the EU and more markets have opened to us, Irish design and quality is now made for the home market and the export market.” 

A room at Cashel Palace

Cashel Palace, Tipperary

Couturier Sorcha O’Raghallaigh who counts Lady Gaga, Beyoncé and Florence Welch among her fans, embraces the craft detail that is typical of many of the new generation of Irish designers. She describes her work as imbued with the “quality, history and passing on of a handmade skill from one person to another.”  O’Raghallaigh interned at both John Galliano in Paris and Diane von Furstenberg in New York. Her designs have been featured in British Vogue and Vogue Italia, among others, and are sold around the world.  

Designer and artist Caroline Duffy, who is based on the east coast of Ireland, launched her own label in 2021 and takes inspiration from the sea and the mountains around her. Well-heeled fans of her luxury silk scarves can be found across Europe. 

Couture by Sorcha O'Raghallaigh

Couture by Irish designer Sorcha O'Raghallaigh

Sorcha O'Raghallaigh's modern couture has been worn by Florence Welsh and Lady Gaga

There are several reasons Irish designers are coming to the fore now, according to Eddie Shanahan, chair of the Council of Irish Fashion Designers. “They offer a point of difference from the homogenous offer that has colonised the fashion capitals of Europe and beyond,” he says. “This offer is grounded in Ireland’s inherent creativity across many fields — art, literature, music, fashion. It is stimulated by a cohort of excellent design colleges.” 

A slew of high-end new hotels and spas are also opening up in Ireland. The Samuel in Dublin has a sleek, mid-century vibe, while the Cashel Palace in County Tipperary, which has hosted Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Ronald Reagan and Jacqueline Kennedy, among other celebrities, has just been lavishly refurbished. 

Voya, a family-owned brand based in Strandhill, County Sligo, offers a range of seaweed-based facial, body and lifestyle products. Voya treatments are available in luxurious spas worldwide. The company helps to protect the biodiversity of the  west coast of Ireland through sustainable and traditional harvesting practices of its core ingredient, and its products are packaged using recycled, recyclable or biodegradable materials. 

Caroline Duffy Scarf

Caroline Duffy Designs

Caroline Duffy's I Am Courageous Scarf

“We’re seeing increased demand for our treatments both domestically and internationally,” says co-founder Mark Walton. “We believe this is because the discerning customer is looking for luxury, performance products and spa treatments that are also sustainably sourced.”

The Irish aesthetic of simplicity, elegance and sustainability, and its knowing nod towards the country’s ancient traditions of decorative arts and crafts, so in tune with the current mood in the world of luxury, SPHERE predicts this is only the beginning of the Irish Renaissance. 

This is an edited version of a longer article by Simon Brooke in the SPHERE print edition