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There is an Irish design uprising happening at present which has cast a watchful eye upon modern talent and creativity. Yet, being so spoilt for choice has not always been as accessible. Against competitive odds, acclaimed womenswear designer and Kerry native, Colin Horgan has broken the glass ceiling of fashion design.
Innovation, diversity and inclusivity at the core of newly established brands are proving quite the match for traditional fashion houses whose legacies need to be constantly reshaped in order to succeed within everchanging cultures and societal norms. Such delicate adjusting doesn’t worry Colin Horgan with his designs representing the fashion-focused, powerful and daring women of today.
Colin is completely unique and challenges his customer’s style choices - Dua Lipa and Lady Gaga are among his clientele but praise for this would require a whole other article.
Colin’s undeniable, gift of design, his resilience and drive are hugely responsible for his incredible success, but perhaps his advantage lies in his interesting distance from the world of fashion growing up. Not being immersed in fashion opportunity provided Colin with an outsider-looking-in perspective, a broader vision and inspiration to create a brand that would showcase at London Fashion Week and solidify Ireland’s place in the fashion industry.
Given Colin’s extraordinary success in a world with a developing competitive edge, 5 minutes with this game-changer was a must.
Coming from a small town, what made you decide to pursue a career as different and rare as fashion design?
Originally, the plan was to be a fine artist, but when I learned how demanding fashion was it made me fall more in love with it. I always love being challenged, so fashion design offered that momentum for learning more. Of course, I never realized that taking on your own brand opens ten new doors that didn’t exist before but I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. I definitely was clear on my vision after studying at the Royal College Of Art and felt like I couldn’t offer it in a fashion house.
Can you describe your brand aesthetic in three words?
Elevated, dangerous, considered.
What is your personal manifesto?
Trust your gut. If it sounds too good to be true its because it probably is. I know that is straight to the point but in an industry full of smoke and clouds I need to trust my gut. I also think to surround yourself with people you love and love you for you, it's all about having a small community that you trust and can be yourself with.
How would you describe your London Fashion Week experience?
I loved everything about it. It's like the ultimate woman I’ve been inspired by for months gets to come alive on the catwalk. My clothes don’t really make sense unless my muse is in motion, so although many think catwalks are dated, I totally disagree. I loved working with the whole team, from the hairstylists to the makeup, to the nails and even down to selecting the girls. For me, it's so important to be so involved. I love how the models get to come with me on the journey. I have worked with a couple of them since my first show. It's a really special moment for me. Oh, and definitely the music plays a huge part in the overall feeling of my show. The music is really the decider of how the girls get into the mood of the collection. They LIVE!
Do you have a specific source of inspiration you always pull from?
I am completely obsessed with the idea of a ‘fearless woman’. In my research, I have a small selection of women who still inspire me from childhood e.g. my own mom, artist Hajime Sorayama and Tahnee Seagrave. My work is really about elevating the body upward and transporting the wearer forward. I really love taking elements of hard and soft and moulding it around the body. My work isn’t about loud or big shapes but more considered lean silhouettes that embrace the women wearing it.
If you were hosting a fancy dress party, what would the theme be?
I probably would flip a coin between Original Club Kids of NYC or a McQueen Archive Party. They could kind of feed into each other actually.
What do you feel is the most integral part of achieving success as a modern designer?
Trust your gut. I think marching to the beat of your own drum isn’t always a bad thing. As great as the London fashion scene is, I personally had experiences where I adjusted my work based on advice I’ve been told. Advice that didn’t really sit well with me. The advice I thought I should listen to because someone with ‘X’ amount of years of experience is advising me. Even though I think it's good to listen to elements of advice the only person that is going to have more passion and care about your work is you. I’ve been approached to take on projects that could have massively grown Instagram following, but at the end of the day, they are not actually liking the work. In fact, they aren’t even seeing the work, they are seeing the celebrity behind it. The point is to definitely trust your gut and know that it's ok to say no sometimes.
What made you specialise in womenswear? Can you see yourself designing menswear in the future?
It really felt natural to do womenswear. I love the female form and proportionally it felt right. I think while my womenswear is constantly juxtaposing against itself I do think that there is a masculine edge to it. I am really obsessive about surface treatment, hardware and fabric manipulation that doesn’t fly too far away from the bodice. I have done a few menswear based projects but the problem that I have is that I just design around what I’d wear, less about the concept or idea. Perhaps it's because I haven’t dedicated so much time to it, or if I was more committed it could be a cohesive idea. For now, I think I have something special in womenswear and there is a lot of work and demands involved. Maybe in the future - what a cliche!
What business goals are you hoping to accomplish in 2020?
To have all my future collections manufactured in Ireland. So I haven’t really announced it because it is a risk but I’ve decided to move my business back to my hometown in Kerry, Ireland. The beauty of today is that you can be anywhere in the world but as long as there is a presence online you can be successful. I work very closely with my PR team, Katy and Raye from Public Ambition who are incredibly supportive and actually are the backbone to my celebrity clients and press success. So being represented in London literally means I don’t have really have to be living there. I may go back but right now my priorities are shifting. I actually did a ‘Made in Ireland’ test run to see if it would work last season and to my surprise it did. I was working with local seamstresses, tailors and jewellers to exhibit highly skilled work that is at a luxury level. Of course, it's scary because I didn’t know if it was the right decision and to many, London is where it's at. For me though, having a production and a small run factory in Ireland that I can oversee everything on is much more sustainable and I have more of a drive for it. My other business goal is to spend more time in product development resolving problems that were faced during the manufacturing process.
Do you have any design studio rituals when creating a collection?
Absolutely. When starting off a collection I usually gather all the imagery that inspired me from the previous season but also introduce one or two new material images that I feel are new and fresh. I then spend hours on Soundcloud trying to find a new sound to work towards that could represent the feeling of what a collection could be. I know Soundcloud to others might seem a bit old-fashioned but the one thing all major platforms are lacking is less commercialized, money making music. I think Soundcloud is extremely fundamental to my world and feeding it into my clothing makes it much more hearty and special.
What has been the greatest challenge of your career so far?
I think the shows are great because I really love what I do and present the whole package, but definitely the greatest challenge so far has been commercializing the collections. It's a huge challenge because I’ve had the most exclusive concept stores wanting to buy the collections but for half the price. I used to get so stressed about putting in the best lining, the best bias binding and the best fusing, but what I’ve noticed is that the buyers really aren’t interested in that. As long as the outside looks good, the price is right and there is hype then they will buy. I think for me I really don’t want to be a ‘flash-on-a-pan’ designer - which is a thing today - and if that means that I have to be a little stubborn about not changing these details I would stress about, then at least there is longevity in the brand. As long as you can stand by your work and know it has integrity- I think that is extremely powerful.
Thoughts on mulled wine?
I’ve made it a lot from scratch. The scent I adore, the cleaning up I loath.
Main image @colinhorgan