Kimberly Reyes tries on Renata Lima’s short film on Ireland’s forgotten fashion icon Vonnie Reynolds.
Vonnie — Ireland’s Forgotten Fashion Icon is a project that comes ten years after the death of Vonnie Reynolds, the County Clare-based designer who dressed women like Vanessa Redgrave, Katherine Hepburn, Diana Ross, and many others in the 1970s and 1980s. Vonnie put Irish fabric on the map while commuting between Shannon, Ennis, Limerick and the US-where she remained semi-permanently after a tragic 1990s accident changed her life and forced her into early retirement. This 18-minute-long documentary looks to revive the somewhat forgotten designer’s legacy.
The short, female-led film, directed by Renata Lima and produced by Melissa Collins, won Special Jury Mention at Docs Ireland in Belfast, and screened at the IFI Documentary Festival after premiering at the Galway Film Festival. Buoyed by home videos and photos of Vonnie and her three daughters Marielouise, Alexandra, and Veronica Reynolds, as well as testimony from public fashion figures, the film offers insight into how this stay-at-home mom went from featuring her clothing at local Irish fashion shows and Irish tourist shops to Saks.
Born in Carlow, Vonnie was always interested in shapes and sketches and her art hobby turned into a business after her husband was planning a benefit event for the Limerick Lions Club and needed a little help. Vonnie offered to host a fashion show for the event and within a year she had a thriving couture fashion line.
“Nature and music, they’re the only two things that she really loved, like she loved classical music,” Veronica recalls, setting the scene for Vonnie’s trademark romantic design inspiration. Based in one of the most beautiful parts of Ireland, if not the world, Vonnie’s used the epic Bunratty Cottage as her design center.
Irish designers almost have a creative advantage as the Irish weather necessitates all range of functional jackets and layering techniques and Vonnie’s inspiration was the beauty of Ireland, tradition, art, and Irish fabric itself. During her career Vonnie reinvented the basic tweed suit and revived the famous Limerick Lace as she felt called to honor her ancestors’ creations.
“I’m a great believer in practical clothes,” Vonnie was once quoted as saying in The Clare Champion. “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 waistcoat, yet having a smoothness of coordination, which gives an overall feminine effect.”
“She took the tweed suits to a whole new level,” fashion designer Michelina Stacpoole notes in the film. “She wasn’t driven by having to sell, she was driven by that’s what she liked to do,” Lady Dunraven of Adare adds.
Despite all her influence and acclaim, Vonnie Reynolds is not a household name for many modern-day fashionistas. “It’s out of sight out of mind and that just goes for everything in this world,” Vonnie’s daughter Veronica reasons. But this short film could be the spark needed to restore the legacy of one of Ireland’s great designers.