I'm a movie buff and wanted to be a costume designer. Of course as soon as I specialised in Fashion at LSAD (Limerick School of Art & Design), the tutor who was a costume designer left the course and I ended up going in the fashion direction. Once I realised that everything we wear every day is a costume - in the way that it communicates something to those around us, I was happy to work in fashion. I prefer menswear and that was my college speciality but it was difficult to set up business in that.
How long have you been in business and what have been the major milestones (both good and bad)? What are the ups and downs of working for yourself? Have you made any mistakes that were total disasters or had lucky breaks that really changed things for the better?
I started out in 2008 when I moved back to Ireland (from London) just as the recession hit so that was probably total disaster no. 1. At the same time had it been a year or two earlier who knows what sort of debt I could have got myself into starting up so it's not all that bad. Back then I had a lot of goals I wanted to reach within a year that seemed impossible such as having my collection selling in shops and getting coverage in magazines so when that all began to happen it felt like major milestones although now I realise that Ireland is so small, press coverage isn't too difficult and there's a difference between getting things into shops and getting paid for them!
I started manufacturing abroad this year which is a big thing for me so I suppose that's been a major milestone in the growth of the label. The production is now done in this little family run place near Milan and the quality is amazing which really makes me happy. I've been using expensive, high quality fabrics all along but the workmanship didn't always do them justice.
Working for yourself can be a great ego boost when you get press or good reviews or customers come back repeatedly looking for more and most importantly, you get to choose the radio station at work!
I've had a lot of disasters, mainly through being naive and trusting the wrong people but something good has come out of most of these things through other people I've met and I've learned lessons along the way.
I've had some good support from the Enterprise board this year and the advice and moral support in the Council of Irish Fashion designers is great but I'm still waiting for the 'lucky break.'
About your designs:
How would you describe your designs, what materials do you use, what kind of people wear your clothes?
My clothes are contemporary luxury and mostly daywear. I use wools, silks, leather and high quality cottons. Usually my customers are city based women 35+ who buy for themselves.
Tell me about your latest/upcoming range and where is it available?
The AW13 range is the first time I've manufactured abroad and the quality is amazing, I'm really happy with it. I have a stockist in London lined up and a great one in Dublin. I'm currently negotiating with a lot of other stores to take it on but they're mostly abroad. I'll have a full list up on the website near the end of March.
What technique do you use most/is your favourite/is your trademark?
I use a lot of panelling to create very fitted clothes in a womanly shape. It's all about the tailoring. I worked on a lot of bodices and corsetry in Italy so that's brought though along with my menswear background and I think it makes my work distinct in Ireland.
What is the one piece of advice you could you offer an up and coming designer? And offer someone who is looking for an outfit...?
I think for an upcoming designer the best advice I can give is find the people who can help you and take their advice. You can't do everything on your own. That said, don't trust people blindly either. It's a fine line.
If someone is looking for an outfit I always say they should never focus on looking for something trendy. Buy something that makes you feel good or get something made that's the right colour for you and suits your body and, while it may cost more now, you'll have it for years and know it's something you'll always feel great slipping into.
Now let's get personal!
Who are your favourite designers and artists? Who or what inspires you?
When it comes to art I'm always drawn to Russian artists like Kandinsky or Chagall. Actually my favourite composers and novels are Russian too so I was probably just born in the wrong country.
Since I've never had the chance to go to St. Petersburg or Moscow, London always inspires me too. I come back from my frequent trips there bursting with inspiration from exhibitions and events I've been to. The V&A museum could generate inspiration for a million collections alone.
I know you love animals and have a dog – tell me about him please!
Jack is my baby. He's a four year old King Charles Cavalier and since they were bred to be lapdogs all he wants are cuddles and rubs all day. He loves company and is happy to sit around my studio most of the day as long as I'm there too. And he adores toddlers which is handy as I've got four nieces under 6! It's overwhelming the amount of unconditional love he has and he's incredibly intelligent of course. Words like t-r-e-a-t or d-i-n-n-e-r and especially w-a-l-k-i-e-s have to be spelled out around him.
What makes your heart nearly to burst with joy?
Mostly my dog! Also my students. I taught an evening class in image and fashion styling for a few years and some of the students are working in the industry now and I see their tweets from London Fashion Week or their name on the byline of an editorial for styling and I'm so proud of them because I know how hard they worked. I'm going to be tutoring a fashion course again soon and I can't wait.
What irritates the heck out of you?
People being late. I'm a real stickler for time and, if I am running late I'll let people know and be profusely apologetic but other people seem to think that 15-30 minutes late for something is acceptable and it drives me nuts. I always have stylists, customers and buyers making appointments and not turning up and not bothering to get in touch which drives me crazy. It's just about respecting the other person's time. It definitely comes from my Dad, we were once six hours early for a ferry, just to miss the traffic you know...
What is your favourite:
For a sci-fi obsessive, I'm going to give the strange answer of Working Girl, the 1988 classic with Melanie Griffith, Sigourney Weaver and Harrison Ford. I suppose I'm a workaholic, my career is really important to me so I can connect to it a lot more than typical romantic comedies or 'girly' movies. It also has a great theme song, and is ridiculously quotable.
War and Peace. When I worked in Venice, getting hold of English language books was an expensive business so I would buy really thick ones to try and make them last and that's why I first approached it. (It's the closest story I've got to meeting the love of my life while in the world's most romantic place) I've re-read it so many times since discovering it and my copy automatically falls open on my favourite places that I go to when I need cheering up. The characters are incredibly well realised and they feel like old friends at this stage. I always wonder how Tolstoy could have so perfectly captured the emotions of a young girl at her first big dance in a way that modern chick lit authors could never hope to. The BBC are adapting it into a six part mini- series soon which I'm really excited about as they did a great adapted radio version. Also Audrey Hepburn in the 1956 movie has the most gorgeous costumes so anyone interested in fashion and costume needs to watch that.
It's a really intimidating book and I think people are put off by it's size but it's so rewarding it's worth it. If I've inspired anyone to try it, get the Penguin edition translated by Anthony Briggs, it makes all the difference! There's a free kindle edition floating about but it's been so literally translated word for word that all the emotion is removed...
Place in the world?
London. There's always something to do, somewhere to go and inspiration to be found. I lived there for years and always felt I fit in a lot better than anywhere in Ireland. And the public transport is fantastic.
Black. Can I count that as a colour? It's just easy.
Any interesting plans/goals for this year? Personal and/or professional.
I have plans in motion for a lot of things but I never know how things will pan out so it's best not to mention anything until it happens. I can't avoid turning 30 next month which is giving me a bit of a mid-life crisis but apart from that, nothing is certain!
Check out more about Sinead by following these links:
Thanks Sinead and stay tuned for the next designer interview!