Meet the glovemaker to the stars

Paula Rowan’s flamboyant handmade gloves are designed to bring drama to catwalks and red carpets

At her home in Dublin, Paula Rowan plucks gloves from trunks like a magician producing rabbits. I still dont think people really understand gloves and what you can do with them, says the Irish glove designer, pulling a flamboyantly ruched leather sleeve up over her right arm. Generally, theyre viewed as something to keep you warm, whereas I see a glove as a piece of hand armour. I always say theyre the last thing you put on, but the first thing people notice.

Certainly this is true on our Zoom call as Rowan, who’s wearing a short-sleeved blouse, models her various styles of hand armour, made predominantly in leather, often lined in silk, sometimes with tulle detailing. “My collections are subtle variations on classic forms, looking at the old in a new way,” she says.

But many of Rowan’s gloves are far from subtle and all the more fun for it. The Lola Layered, currently one of her most expensive styles, retailing at £3,669, is a full-length silk-lined glove with more than 40 folds of hand-sewn leather, inspired by a stairway on the beach at Glenbay in County Donegal; the Peony Rose (£590) is a short glove with an oversized leather flower designed to bloom out from the sleeve of a winter coat.

It’s this sense of drama that has transformed Rowan from Dublin shop owner to international glove maker. After designing her own range of gloves in 2008, she began attracting the attention of top editorial stylists such as Katy England and Ibrahim Kamara and had her work featured on a cover shoot for Vogue Italia. “When you think of shoes, you think Jimmy Choo. When you think of hats, it’s Stephen Jones or Philip Treacy,” says Rowan. “There was nobody doing anything really interesting in gloves, which is where I like to think I slotted in.”

Lady Gaga wears Paula Rowan gloves during her Chromatica Ball tour in 2022 in Los Angeles © Getty Images for Live Nation

Then came the celebrities. Madonna, Dame Helen Mirren, Cher, Blake Lively, Sabrina Elba, Sonam Kapoor and Lady Gaga have all worn Paula Rowan gloves. Last year, Catherine, Princess of Wales, wore a pair of specially commissioned long white gloves to a state banquet for the South Korean president. When we speak, Rowan is working on a hush-hush commission for a VIP who will be attending the Oscars. Two of her glove styles (the Nina and the Rebecca) appeared on the catwalk during the Emilia Wickstead autumn/winter 2024 show at London Fashion Week in February. “The short black leather gloves were the perfect addition to our runway styling,” Wickstead tells me over email. “We used them to enhance the rebellious, Teddy-girl attitude in the collection.” Rowan also previously collaborated with the designer Maximilian Davis, now creative director of Ferragamo, on his autumn/winter 2021 show.

Rowan designs in Dublin, sources her hides from Ethiopia and works closely with a handful of leather artisan houses in Italy, which she travels to see in person twice a month. The leather is hand-dyed, hand-stretched and hand-stitched. Even a modest-seeming pair of gloves — the most basic unlined style starts at £83 — will take three months to make.

“We’re working with master craftspeople, fourth- and fifth-generation families,” Rowan says. “In one of our factories we work with an incredible gentleman called Salvatore. He is 81 and he’s been making gloves since he was 15. I wanted the best leather, I wanted the ‘Made in Italy’ mark and I wanted to be fully in control of the design. It would be so much easier to not have to worry about the back-story, but for me that became a really important part of the brand.”

Emma D’Arcy poses for the camera in oversized black tuxedo, white shirt and purple leather gloves

Emma D’Arcy wears a pair of violet Paula Rowan gloves at the Golden Globes in 2023 . . .  © Getty Images

Cher, smiling, sits on a sofa. She wears a black outfit and black fingerless gloves

. . . and Cher with a fingerless pair by Rowan on ‘The Tonight Show’ in 2023 © Todd Owyoung/NBC via Getty Images

Rowan now makes 220 different designs in up to 50 colours, but she didn’t start out making gloves. In 2006, after working as an interior designer and a caterer, she bought out her brother’s leather goods store in central Dublin, a Dutch-owned franchise that had until then sold mostly bags. The store is in the same location today, beneath the five-star Westbury hotel.

Soon after taking over, Rowan decided to introduce gloves from an outside supplier as a supplement to the bag offering. Today, the ratio has switched; 80 per cent of stock in store is her own-brand gloves. She still sells bags by other producers but has design and production in place for her own range to launch in the near future.

The gloves sold out in the first season, but when Rowan went back to reorder from the supplier, she found the quality inconsistent. “I wasn’t happy with the designs or the finishes,” she says. “But the more research I did, the more I realised that there was only a very small market for luxury gloves.” She estimates “about 10, maybe 12, sole glove designers” globally.

Business was ticking along nicely when, during the pandemic, an email arrived titled “Lady Gaga X House of Gucci X Ridley Scott”. Rowan initially thought it was a joke, but the wardrobe department for the 2021 film requested multiple pairs of custom-made gloves for Lady Gaga’s character, Patrizia Reggiani, with seven ending up on screen (Rowan now knows Gaga’s hand measurements by heart).

Blake Lively stands smiling, one hand on her hip. She wears a short black shirt, black jacket with silver patter and gauzy see-through gloves

Blake Lively in see-through gloves by Rowan at the premiere of ‘Renaissance: A film by Beyoncé’ in 2023 © WireImage for Parkwood

It was a turning point for the business. “After that I saw an immediate increase in the traffic to the website,” she says. Gaga then asked Rowan to provide the gloves for her 2022 Chromatica Ball world tour. “It brought worldwide attention,” she says. “That type of exposure doesn’t just become evident through a sales spike. The Google searches associated with the product and the brand increase exponentially and that’s hugely beneficial for the long-term SEO of a brand.”

In the past couple of years, long opera gloves have re-emerged in the fashion spotlight as a playful accessory, returning with a less ladylike feel than they have previously been associated with. The Row has given them a minimalist twist in the form of its Simon long leather gloves.

On the red carpet they can take a subversive tone. When Rosamund Pike wore a black leather pair (not made by Rowan) with a pastel Erdem dress to the Bafta nominees party in February, it was to bring Saltburn-ish edge to the prettiness. “The red carpet and the runway plant the seed,” Rowan says. “Then that’s taken up by consumers, then retailers respond to that consumer demand.” Last year, Bergdorf Goodman in New York and Selfridges in the UK became Rowan’s first stockists.

“The gloves appeal to those with an eye for detail and a desire for special, handmade pieces that last,” says Sarah Cartwright, accessories and fine jewellery buying manager at Selfridges. “There are both decorative and practical options, all luxurious in fit and fabrication.”

There is also much potential for expansion in bespoke, which currently accounts for only five per cent of Rowan’s business. Event dressing can be an adrenaline-fuelled ride. “You can’t rely on it. You can’t be sure it’s going to happen until you see the photos,” she says. Still, she’s currently looking for someone with, let’s call it arm-bition, to pair up with for this year’s Met Gala in May — knowing that the right gloves on the right person can give a small business a big hand.