An infectiously festive lady with a penchant for tinsel threads, the aptly-named Jen Nollaig could charm even the staunchest of Scrooges.
“Why hang the decoration when you can be the decoration?”
This city may currently be engulfed by many-coloured lights, mulled wine and general merriment but, from a personal viewpoint, there are two Dubliners who possess more Christmas cheer in their pinky finger than the rest of us could ever hope to exude. The first figure to match this criterion is William Tilly, a real-life Santa Claus minus the red suit, who transforms his semi-detached, Sandymount home into a bona-fide Winter Wonderland each Christmas (incidentally, we featured him in his phantasmagorical garden last December). The second candidate for the title of Christmas Cheerleader is, without question, Jenny Wilson – one look at her sartorial stage name, Jen Nollaig, and that point is instantly proven.
Nollaig’s kaleidoscopic creations first shot onto our screens last year, lighting up social media feeds with their novel tagline of “Christmas Couture”. Having cut her teeth in LSAD’s Fashion and Design department, clothing customisation was the first port-of-call; her creative approach transforming charity-shop jackets and nightgowns into tinsel-tastic attire. To tie one look together, she decided to up-cycle a pair of shades – a simple action from which everything began to snowball. “Once I made the first pair,” Nollaig recalls, “I felt that every look from the collection should have eyewear to match. Now it’s my trademark accessory!” The result was 12 rounds of extravagant eyewear, each one more exuberant than the last; the kind of pieces you’d expect Iris Apfel (a doyenne of stylish spectacles) to casually sport on the 25th.
While Nollaig’s eyewear may not be an immediate match for shrinking violets, she still manages to make even the most maximalist of wares feel accessible. She surmounts the traditional traits of “novelty-wear”, primarily because her craftsmanship is so well-executed. Festive dressing is normally associated with showy ideas, rather than attention-to-detail or impeccable finishes. Nollaig manages to conquer all three, whilst never losing the sense of fun that first propelled her forward. This month, all these qualities will come to the fore in “The 25 Shades of Christmas”, her biggest and brightest undertaking yet. Modelled as “an advent calendar of wonder and delight”, Nollaig has teased some of her freshly-customised creations on these very pages. With a new pair of specs unveiled by the day, her eyewear will only get more excessive as Christmas draws closer – and her accompanying tagline, “Why hang the decoration when you can be the decoration”, all the more intelligible.
“I’ve tried to use as many different types of Christmas decorations as I can. I am an ‘80s kid, so I love the foil decorations that hang from the roof – the big stars that fan out were and still are stunning. I remember we had small foil ashtrays glued together, trimmed with tinsel, with pictures cut out from Christmas cards stuck on them. I am obsessed with all mid-century decorations, in particular those ‘sputnik’ spiky balls that were named after the first satellite launched into space in 1957. In general, the rule for me is the tackier the better! Decorations are like pieces of art: walking into a Christmas decoration shop is like walking into an art gallery for me.”
While Nollaig’s philosophy is pure nectar for style maximalists looking to push their boundaries further still, she also serves as a voice of encouragement for those less enamoured of Christmas (and the fanfare that goes with it) as they grow older. “As a kid, the wonder and excitement came from having something to look forward to, Santa bringing all the gifts… as adults, the focus can be on spending and not looking forward to your visa bill. However, I think it is about finding the wonder in the little things. It’s about who is around the tree and not what’s under it, so have fun with the people in your life – and take advantage of the fact it’s called the silly season!”
“The 25 Shades of Christmas” is currently unfolding on Instagram; see @jen_nollaig for full details
Words: Amelia O’Mahony-Brady