Vonnie Reynolds, one of Ireland’s great fashion designers, who hit the world stage, sadly died recently in Maryland US. In the 1970s and 1980s, Vonnie rose to prominence with her ‘once-off’ fashion clothing from her Bunratty Cottage design centre under the shadow of the famous castle. It was a romantic setting, which suited this famous Irish designer, who helped to put Bunratty Castle on the international stage.
Many people in Clare and surrounding regions will remember this warm, friendly and creative woman. Vonnie was unique, talented, unconventional and her designs attracted women such as Vanessa Redgrave, Katherine Hepburn, Diana Ross and many other famous women.
Two of her ball gowns were worn at President Regan’s inaugural ball. Her designs were purchased by the J Paul Getty family in San Francisco, and UN Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick. Her clothes have been considered collectors’ pieces and have always been valued for their timeless quality. Irish women, who wanted something special, something wearable and something durable, purchased one of her blouses, one of her ball gowns or one of her very unique tweed suits.
A highlight of her career was when she was chosen as one of the famous Irish designers for a Fashion Show Special on the Late Late Show. Her outfit of delicate pink chiffon three-quarter length full-flowing evening dress brought applause from the audience. This evening dress had a 360 degree swing skirt cut in panels with a narrow lace trimming. The bodice was fitted with a hint of lace, which carried long hand-made lace sleeves.
I remember this occasion extremely well because I was with her during preparation and felt privileged that she chose me to describe her favourite design. We had a wonderful time together on that night. This event set her already developing career on a higher plane.
Born and reared in Carlow, Vonnie was an artist before she began designing clothes. Always interested in shapes and sketches, she often found herself drawing clothes-shapes and perfecting them. This developed into designing clothes for herself, then making once-off hand-made dresses for friends and a small selection of customers. It was only a hobby to her but soon it became a sweeping success.
Her husband, Jim was planning a benefit event for the Limerick Lions Club and needed a hand with a good idea. Vonnie suggested she host a fashion show for the event. So she began to design and got local seamstresses together. With her team in place, within the six months available to her, she had a collection. That was the spark she needed. Her future career as a couture designer was launched. That night was known as ‘a roaring success’ when her one-of-a-kind collectors’ items were quickly bought up. This idea developed and became her hallmark.
A Sunday drive had Vonnie deciding to purchase a former Georgian post office cottage. Following restoration, Bunratty Cottage became the hub of her couture workshop.
Vonnie was a romantic and said her designs were romantic, soft and elegant. The feminine look became her ambition. A designer who revived Irish lace, her collections always found a place for the delicate intricacies of designs, which she supervised. She aimed and succeeded in reviving the famous Limerick Lace; so anybody who has one of these garments, has a treasure. “I want to bring to life what our ancestors created,” she said.
In the duty free in Shannon Airport, Vonnie Reynolds pioneered Ireland as a high priority fashion location. At Bunratty Cottage each original garment was constructed individually, with much hand-done finishing. She loved the feel of fabrics. I can recall Vonnie feeling reams of material and feeling each, then going to her desk to sketch. shortly she would have a design.
A unique creator, Vonnie was uninfluenced by trends. For her, the garment had to be wearable, not once but again and again. Though known initially for her gowns, she became equally famous for a range of fashions using Ireland’s traditional fabrics, such as tweeds and linens.
“I decided to bring out a ready-to-wear collection because I knew that many women could not afford a couture gown and yet would like an affordable, well designed outfit,” she once said.
Vonnie didn’t spare fabrics to achieve a feminine look. “I’m a great believer in practical clothes,” Vonnie said. “They must be effortless and comfortable. Women like to look feminine without being overdressed. Women like basic items in their wardrobe, which can be interchanged, perhaps by wearing a different blouse, cape, jacket or waist-coat, yet having a smoothness of coordination, which gives an overall feminine effect.”
The Bunratty Cottage Fashions with the Vonnie Reynolds was launched on the world stage in her ready-to-wear fashions. Experimenting with specially woven Donegal Tweed separates, it led to her hallmark of special tweed plaids.
The high-fashion house of Vonnie Reynolds Bunratty Cottage Ireland has a base on Riva Road in Annapolis, initially launched at the Irish Embassy in Washington at the Mayor’s office, Annapolis in January 1983. Her garments were sought after in fashion houses in New York, Washington, Massachusetts, Dallas, Florida and throughout the United States.
Vonnie commuted between Shannon, Ennis, Limerick and the US for a number of years and then remained semi-permanently in the US during her later years. A lover of life and fashion design, she will be sadly missed.
Vonnie Reynolds is survived by her three daughters: Marielouise is a couture designer, having studied fashion design in Paris and at the University of Montpelier; Alexandra has her own practice under the name of Alex O’Neill. solicitors, Limerick having studied at Smith College in the US and UCG; Veronica is currently the buyer and retail manager for Aillwee Caves having studied Interior and Fashion Design in New York’s Institute of Technology.
A memorial mass for Vonnie will be celebrated in St Joseph’s Church, O’Connell Street, Limerick, next Wednesday at 12 noon.