About Kevin & Howlin
In 1936 Jim Kevin along with his partner Michael Howlin founded the Tailors and Outfitters known as, Kevin & Howlin Ltd, at 39 Nassau Street in Dublin, providing top quality clothing and tailoring while specializing in handwoven tweeds. The tweeds are Handwoven in Donegal especially for Kevin & Howlin
In 1973 due to the redevelopment of the premises – Jim’s son, Noel, who had taken over the family firm, o. 31 Nassau Street and decided to concentrate exclusively on Tweed becoming one of the premier purveyors of tweeds in Ireland.
Tweed dynasty whose timeless caps, coats and jackets are tailor made for tourists
Wed, Oct 31, 2001, 00:00
A brochure for Kevin & Howlin's, one of Nassau Street's oldest tenants, claims "show me a visitor who has not returned from Ireland with a tweed cap or jacket and I'll show you someone who has never set foot in Kevin & Howlin's". And it's a claim borne out by a regular stream of tourists tempted inside by window displays draped with the best of hand-woven Irish tweed.
The Kevin family has traded on Nassau Street since the 1930s, when James Kevin went into partnership with Michael Howlin at number 39, a few doors further up from the present premises. Next door was Johnston's umbrella shop. Jammets restaurant and Browne & Nolan were close neighbours.
The shop moved to its current address when number 39, along with its neighbours, was compulsarily purchased in the 1970s for redevelopment.
How Kevin & Howlin survived when those other legendary emporiums have long since gone has much to do with the fact that the business has become a family dynasty.
James Kevin became sole owner when his partner Michael Howlin died. James's son, Noel, took over the running of the shop when his father died in 1974, helped by his sisters Viva Freyne and Joan Anderson. Their mother, Sara, is still involved in the business. A bevy of nieces and nephews come in to help on Saturdays.
The smart matt black frontage and panelled windows have an up-to-the-minute look and Joan's displays are contemporary chic.
Once inside, the shop has all the appeal of a traditional Irish drapery store, with bales of tweed leaning against the counter and racks laden with Donegal's finest. There are rich-hued tweed jackets, overcoats, three-piece suits and every style of hat for the country and city gent. Glimpses of patchwork, crimson and canary yellow in the midst of a row of sombre-coloured waistcoats suggests the occasional extrovert customer.
The hats are top sellers, says Viva. Young women and men go for the Gatsbys, while flat caps and trilbys with feathers are popular with older customers. Crushable tweed hats that can be rolled up into a pocket are useful buys for any age group at £36.50 (€46.35).
Trading within a stone's throw of such formidable opposition as Kilkenny Design, Blarney Woollen Mills and Avoca Handweavers doesn't faze Noel Kevin, who insists that shops in the Nassau Street area complement each other.
"Kilkenny sends people down to us and we pass customers over to Kennedy & McSharry for shirts and ties. It's a very personal service and all part of selling Ireland. We're in the front line here."
While regular Irish customers are the backbone of sales at Kevin & Howlin, Europeans have overtaken Americans as the highest spending tourists, says Viva Freyne.
"The Italians are very big buyers of tweed by the metre. They have great women tailors in Italy and they love the subtle colours in our Donegal tweed. Ladies jackets are big too. We have a lot of English coming in because, with the value of sterling, prices are very cheap."
Like Noel, Viva has worked in the shop since her student days, apart from a break to rear her family. Their sister Joan dresses the windows and they have a regular assistant, David Hanly, who knows the business inside out.
Viva looks back with nostalgia to the time when the shop employed a tailor and seamstresses.
"Paddy Foley worked for us for almost 60 years and Miss Doyle did alterations downstairs. Cruise liners were a big part of the business in past times and we still have a big export trade. Nowadays, there's very little tailoring - all items are ready-mades, because people want things quickly."
Noel, who was always addressed as "Mister Noel" in the old days, attends to the more conservative male customers, who prefer their business to be conducted "man to man". With a core Irish customer base, regular export orders to the US and Europeans investing in hand-woven Irish tweeds, business at Kevin & Howlin is steady.
The only hope is to specialise, explains Noel. "We're not competing with the big department stores. We're catering for people who want good quality Irish goods.
"We get a lot of young Scandinavian and German customers into the shop because everything Irish is good now - the pubs and the craic and the clothes."
The only threat to Kevin & Howlin comes from a different source - rising rents and its increasing vulnerability to the financial muscle of the big UK-based multiples looking for a prime pitch in the city centre.
"Rents are getting higher all the time," says Noel. "There'll always be someone wanting this little spot because we're on the tourist street. My rent has gone up hugely in recent years.
"It was revised upwards in 2000, before the big bust. They seem to pull an amount out of thin air. The next increase is in 2005 and I might just go with it."
Donegal Tweed is a woven tweed manufactured in County Donegal, Ireland. Originally all handwoven, it is now mostly machine woven and has been since the introduction of mechanised looms in the 1950s/1960s. Donegal has for centuries been producing tweed from local materials in the making of caps, suits and vests. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, The Royal Linen Manufacturers of Ulster distributed approximately six thousand flax spinning wheels and sixty looms for weaving to various Donegal homesteads. These machines helped establish the homespun tweed industry in nineteenth-century Donegal.Although Donegal tweed has been manufactured for centuries it took on its modern form in the 1880s, largely due to the pioneering work of English philanthropist Alice Rowland Hart.
While the weavers in County Donegal produce a number of different tweed fabrics, including herringbone and check patterns, the area is best known for a plain-weave cloth of differently-coloured warp and weft, with small pieces of yarn in various colours woven in at irregular intervals to produce a heathered effect. Such fabric is often labelled as "donegal" (with a lowercase "d") regardless of its provenance.
Along with Harris Tweed manufactured in the Scottish Highlands, Donegal is the most famous tweed in the world. While tweed in Ireland is by no means exclusive to Donegal, Vawn Corrigan confirms Donegal as the heartland of Irish Tweed . It was used in several of the fashion designer Sybil Connolly's pieces.