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Image / Style / Irish Design

Irish Design Spotlight: Colin Horgan


By Colin Horgan
09th Oct 2022
Irish Design Spotlight: Colin Horgan

Worn by everyone from Dua Lipa to Lady Gaga, Tolu Makay and Mabel, Colin Horgan has cemented his status as the Irish designer to watch. Blending his roots in music and subculture into a refined and masterful NEO-luxury collection, he’s fresh off the back of an extremely successful showing at LFW. Here he shares more about the inspiration behind his designs.

Tell us about you and your brand
I am a Kerry-based, Kerry-born, womenswear designer. I studied my BA in Fashion Design at the Limerick School of Art and Design in 2010, and then completed the MA Fashion Womenswear Programme at The Royal College of Art in 2015. I spent some time away in between working and living in Stockholm and Copenhagen before completing my Masters programme. After graduating I was scouted to start presenting my work at London Fashion Week, and the rest is history!

Initially, my brand was designed to showcase that same continued creativity that I would have explored in the RCA but in a way, my work had become so elaborate that the everyday consumer almost felt like it was too conceptual for them to wear day to day. Before returning to Ireland I would say 70% of my work was for celebrities, performers, and the artistic community, but I really always wanted anyone to be able to access my brand.

When Covid happened and the fashion industry came to halt, I did too. It was over that two-year period that I restructured my brand into being a more accessible product while still having those creative moments. At that stage, I had returned to Ireland without a creative space to work from. Fortunately, somewhere local became available in Ardfert and I started to mould the space into a place I would like to be in every day. It was a slow-growth project, but I really do think that the space is very reflective of me now. It used to be an old butcher’s – the frosted glass on the windows give the place a sense of mystery, you could be in any city in the world. 

What is your mission?
My mission as a designer and with my brand is to create clothing that takes the wearer away from their old self. I’ve always referenced motorcycle clothing, and car interiors, to convey that feeling of clothing being almost like a mode of transport. They should drive you forward, they should ultimately make you feel different, empowered, safe. Vehicles always have hard exteriors, but the interiors are always softer, more comfortable.

I think the vehicle references continue throughout my work, but also I am very lucky to be back to the original source of where everything first started; the women in my family. I am surrounded by very strong female-led families, that are all in business. They work hard and play harder. They all wear my clothes and try them on – and will let me know how they feel. Their honesty definitely helps me ensure I’m achieving my mission. 

Photos by Cillian Garvey

Did you always know you wanted to be a designer?
I actually didn’t! Originally the plan was to go to art college and do fine art. I had always been painting and drawing ever since I was a child, so, I thought stepping into art college to continue was the next natural step. I had been curious about the Fashion Design course, but at that time, it seemed a very mysterious programme – full of sketchbooks, frantic students carrying their work on mannequins and heels briskly clocking up and down the halls of the fashion studios. I kind of sidelined the idea of actually getting in because a few other students that knew they wanted to do it had already completed PLCs or some kind of introduction to what a fashion course requires. I thought I’d take a chance with no experience with sewing, cutting or pattern knowledge and see what would happen. Luckily, you do a trial before entering the course and it was drawing-based with introductions on how to set up sewing machines, pattern drafting and all the essentials. It took me a few goes to get the thread through the needle though!

What kind of items do you stock?
I specialise in statement coats. They really are my best sellers – the fit is very versatile and welcoming to all sizes and gives a tailored, sharp look. The strapping, stitching and belt loops do allow the wearer to indulge in personalising it too.  Other products are jackets, skirts, tops, dresses, bodices and trousers. I think a lot of the feedback I get is that the customers or readers know it is one of mine from the twin needle stitching in white on all my pieces. Without sounding cringy, I suppose you could say there is a running thread (haha!).

What new brands or items are on your radar?
It is not necessarily a new brand but Ottolinger – I think they have a great direction and point of view. I like how they approach their work too… their work-in-progress pieces are always exciting and I think it is in the perfect marriage of creativity and assembly.

Photo by Dylan Madden

Was money/funding a concern when starting out?
Absolutely. Unfortunately, in such a high-risk industry, the cash flow comes with ups and downs. It is a very hard industry to be in – you’re spending a lot of time on a product that you’re passionate about, putting it on a showcase, setting up a showroom, creating appointments for buyers to take time to come in, and all the while, you’re just hopeful that they will love it and invest. Sometimes, depending on the direction of the store that doesn’t always work out or it gets cancelled. The industry is unfortunately a fickle one, but when an opportunity comes you do have to strike while the iron is out. I think designers nowadays don’t sit and sketch all day, you have to be doing five different things at once. I rarely get time to actually sketch anything anymore. I might get 20 minutes of draping fabric or to jot down an idea but before I know it, I am on the laptop sending another email. 

Best business advice you’ve gotten
Be nice to the people on your way up, because you never know who you’ll meet on your way back down. 

Favourite fashion/design accounts you follow
Velvet Coke – they’re an interesting and witty archive of fashion moments that may have been forgotten about. 

Best fashion purchase
Buying myself one of my own coats from the Spring/Summer 2022 collection. That was probably one of the only times I actually paid myself (which was a quick transaction!). 

Other Irish brands you love
Coole Swan, a progressive fresh Irish drink that is a perfect balance of whiskey, chocolate and cream blended in Cavan. It goes down an absolute treat with ice. 

Most useful learning since setting up a business
Expect blips, and learn from them. I think listening to those you choose to surround yourself with and slightly adapting to the changes happening around you is also really important too. I’ve surrounded myself with family, friends, team and my partner – people who love me and who always have my back. I’ve also learnt that you can’t be 100% passionate about your work all the time. It’s impossible, and that’s ok. I’ve had to learn to not be so hard on myself. 

Photo by Dylan Madden

Proudest moment so far
Because it’s so fresh, definitely the most recent collection’s SS23 presentation. Initially, I thought that I had bitten off more than I could chew but I managed to pull an entirely Irish team from all parts of Ireland and recorded the show in a local furniture premises. When we took out all the furniture it was a perfect industrial setting – it gave the illusion of being anywhere, kind of like my workspace in Ardfert. It really was so special –getting the entire team behind the vision and then streaming onto London Fashion Week. That was just one element of the show, but then together with Aileen Carville of SKMMP we built a separate Metaverse Experience which was an extended version of the collection’s presentation. It is still accessible and allows you to dive deeper into the collection and what inspired it. 

I want my brand to be remembered for…
Its progression and ability to adapt. I know my product is niche, but it is progressive and the response from Irish retailers and customers has been extremely positive. 

Colin Horgan launched their Spring/Summer 2023 ‘Imposed Faction’ as part of DiscoveryLAB presents on the Official London Fashion Week Digital Schedule last month.