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  1. Luxury
March 10, 2024

Arm candy: gloves go couture

Paula Rowan is elevating the humble glove into a luxury statement piece for HNWs to covet

By Stephanie Bridger-Linning

‘Couture for the hands’ is the tagline of Paula Rowan, the Irish designer whose eponymous brand is on a mission to transform the way the world views the humble glove. 

‘When you think of shoes, you think Jimmy Choo or Christian Louboutin; when you think of hats, you think of Philip Treacy or Stephen Jones, but there was nobody fitting into that sphere in the glove world,’ explains Rowan, whose designs have graced the hands of Dame Helen Mirren, Lady Gaga and Cher.

A quick flick through the label’s collection and it is difficult to recognise the winter accessory that is often shoved, unloved, in a forgotten drawer. Classic leather and robust deerskin styles are elevated by intricate detailing and craftsmanship, but there are also romantic wisps of tulle, oversized scarlet bows and elbow-length satin opera gloves in shades of mustard, fuchsia and lime. 

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[See also: Price of fame: more HNW investors are buying into pop culture collectibles]

‘I offer 50 colours and 220 designs,’ says Rowan, as she obligingly showcases a carousel of pieces during the Teams interview. ‘There is something for everyone within the collection’.

One of her favourites is the ‘Peony Rose’, a £586 style which boasts a statement flower hand-shaped and stitched using Nappa leather that, when the hand is tucked into the pocket, appears as though it is ‘blooming’ from the wearer’s coat. Among the most expensive is the £3,669 Lola Layered, a structural marvel with more than 40 folds of hand-sewn leather. The most basic unlined style starts at £83.

An inauspicious start

A model showcasing a pair of leather sleeves by Paula Rowan / Image: Paula Rowan
A model showcasing a pair of leather sleeves by Paula Rowan / Image: Paula Rowan

Paula Rowan was founded in 2008, two years after the designer took over her brother’s franchised luxury leather handbag store in Dublin. Eager to diversify ahead of the anticipated economic recession, Rowan branched out into gloves. The line was a sell-out success. After struggling to find a supplier that could produce designs of the desired consistency and quality, Rowan took the plunge and designed five styles of her own. 

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‘I launched my brand on the day the Lehmen Brothers collapsed,’ she says ruefully. ‘You couldn’t make it up’. Fortunately the inauspicious start was not indicative of the brand’s performance. 

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The hard-to-please fashion set embraced Rowan (Emilia Wickstead’s S/S ‘24 LFW show is just one recent example) as have A-Listers. Lady Gaga, Naomi Campbell and Blake Lively have all worn her designs. The Princess of Wales wore a bespoke pair for the South Korean state banquet.

Winning the hearts of high-profile fans helps, but Rowan believes the secret to her success is in her commitment to craftsmanship. 

‘The average person who comes in here is not just saying “I want a pair of black gloves”. They want to know the who, the what, the why.’

Protecting heritage

Each pair is hand-stitched at an Italian factory and takes three months to produce; only ethically-sourced leather and natural colours are used.

‘I have six factories that are producing for me. In general the owners are all people who have grown up around gloves, grown up around leather,’ she continues. ‘That for me is really, really important. I could take my brand to China and that would be much cheaper but then I would suddenly destroy my brand. To be part of this story, and this heritage, which is being maintained, is very important for me too.’

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Paula Rowan is stocked by Selfridges in London and Bergdorf Goodman in New York, as well as online. There are plans to expand – Rowan has just returned from Paris, where she met with a chain of department stores – and a handbag range is in the offing.

In the meantime, the mission to restore the glove to its former glory. ‘Traditionally, they would have been seen as a status symbol, they would have been seen as a piece of armour,’ explains Rowan, who studied history and classics at university. ‘But that died out some time ago.

‘Now the challenge is to make people believe that a glove isn’t just something to keep you warm.’

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