Irish glove maker Paula Rowan vividly remembers the day she launched her eponymous brand: 15 September 2008. “It was the day Lehman Brothers went out of business,” she tells British Vogue. Embarking on a new business venture in the midst of an economic crash might sound like a doomed prospect, but Paula maintains now that it was “good timing”. “There was time to put into design, to work with the marketing and to really focus on growing the business,” she says.
And grow it she did. In those early days, Paula’s first five designs – tweaked versions of which still feature in her collections to this day – sold out in just six weeks. Since then she’s created new gloves each season; becoming braver with her fabric choices and shapes. Her cuffs rose higher up the arm, and she now stocks lengths for every imaginable occasion and clientele.
Paula may specialise in small leather goods, but her process is painstaking. Each collection requires a year of preparation. Drafting designs and the back-and-forth of samples and alterations means that she’s constantly thinking ahead. “I’m already thinking about next Christmas,” she laughs. “It’s quite a bizarre way to live.” Every pair of gloves takes around three to four months to make, crafted by Neapolitan artisans using traditional techniques. Rowan describes the “magical” experience of visiting her manufacturers as being “like stepping back in time”. Each factory focuses its attention on one particular product. “The ordering of the leather, the cutting of the leather, the stretching of the leather, the stitching of the letter, everything is meticulously done by hand,” she says. “It’s absolutely fascinating.”
One recession and the onset of a pandemic later, Paula’s brand has not only survived, it is flourishing. Alongside her seasonal collections and bespoke orders, she was recently tapped for a top-secret project: designing the gloves for the film House of Gucci. “They were quite specific about what they wanted,” she reveals. Rowan duly created gloves of every kind especially for the Ridley Scott movie: short gloves, long gloves, “disco gloves”, styles spun from suede and varieties of napa leather, all made the cut. “It’s such a huge compliment for a small brand,” she says of being asked to come on board. Making custom gloves for Lady Gaga – who stars in the film as Patrizia Reggiani – is pretty major. “Gaga is such a style icon,” she agrees. “Really talented. I think she’s quite incredible,” says Rowan, who can recite the star’s exact hand measurements.
The film isn’t the first time her pieces have been seen on Gaga. The designer also supplied gloves for the singer’s British Vogue December 2021 cover shoot, lensed by Steven Meisel and styled by editor-in-chief and European editorial director Edward Enninful. Enninful has described cherry-picking “the season’s most heavenly couture” for Gaga to wear: he paired a Chanel dress with Paula’s Brigitte suede gloves, and sumptuous candy floss tulle separates by Tomo Koizumi with her Montserrat pink leather gloves.
It was far from Rowan’s only high-fashion gig. Her work frequently features in international publications, and she has collaborated with fellow designers on gloves to complement their collections, something she says she never expected when she first started out. Among the rising talents seeking out Rowan’s work? For spring/summer 2022, she worked with emerging Fashion East designer Maximilian Davis on a series of elbow-skimming leather gloves in bright red, black and powder blue. “I love his work, it’s fabulous,” Rowan says. “I think his career is going to be unreal. It’s exploding already, and deservedly so.”
Elise Taylor, Vogue UK