If you have read the small printed credits on any top end magazine fashion shoots in recent years, chances are you are in on the secret: Paula Rowan makes the gloves.
The Dublin born and based glove designer, 50, has quietly (but fiercely) acquired a nearly total monopoly on A-lister’s hands, gloving the likes of Madonna, Cher, Blake Lively, Anne Hathaway and Ariana Grande. Naomi Campbell wore a black pair on the supermodel-strewn joint September issue of British, Italian and US Vogue this year; Anok Yai has worn them to the Met Gala and Lady Gaga wore them in the House of Gucci film (before commissioning Rowan to make more for her world Chromatica Ball Tour).
In November, Rowan climbed another rank when Catherine, Princess of Wales wore a pair of her elbow-length, stark-white Ethiopian leather opera gloves with a Jenny Packham gown to the state banquet thrown for the South Korean president. “Of any of the royals, Catherine is who you want to wear your gloves,” Rowan says. “When I think of Kate Middleton I think of her huge sense of style, who is so discerning in the way she dresses and is the epitome of femininity. It was a huge honour.”
While the ‘Kate effect’ has yet to blow up sales on her website, “the SEO on your brand goes through the roof.” It will only compound the firm base she has built with stylists and photographers over nearly two decades, over which time her output has grown from five classic styles to over 200, in 50 colourways, for men and women.
Rowan started the brand when she bought her brother’s leather handbag company in 2006. When she sensed the market was favouring designer tags “which I wasn’t selling,” she sought to diversify her offering. She began sourcing pre-made gloves but grew angry at the fluctuation in quality, so “out of frustration, I looked into designing gloves and discovered there are only about 12 gloves designers globally and mostly in Italy” she says.
She travelled to Naples, and left bewildered by the craftsmanship concentrated into each pair. “Inside the factories was like stepping back in time 80 years; rows of Singer sewing machines, people stretching and cutting the leather by hand, the scent of the leather in the room,” she says. She designed small runs of classic styles. Now choices span from shoulder length to micro fingerless gloves, and count spruces of floppy leather bows and tulle campery. Any pair takes three months to produce, and prices start at £85 for basic, unlined pairs.
Madonna wears Paula Rowan gloves as Madame X (@Madonna)
After years building steady business, 2018 saw her rocket into the glossies. Katy England, the stylist famed for her years of collaboration with the late Alexander McQueen, called in gloves for an Italian Vogue shoot photographed by Tim Walker. “After that issue landed on the shelves, suddenly photographers and stylists all over the word were contacting me to use the gloves,” she says. Next, they became the under-the-radar weapon of top industry stylists including Edward Enninful, Ibrahim Kamara, Robbie Spencer and Venetia Scott.
With outposts now open at Selfridges, in London, and Bergdorf Goodman, in New York, expansion is on Rowan’s mind for 2024. That, and the hope the Princess of Wales will wear more of the “variety of over the elbow gloves” she has already made her. She knows they are sitting patiently for an outing beyond the royal closet.