• Natasha Hall

Paul Costelloe and the Future of Fashion

Updated: Jul 29, 2019

Paul Costelloe and his family

The fashion show launching the Paul Costelloe Spring Summer 2018 collection was held at The Wardolf Hotel, bright and early on the morning of Monday 18th September. As one of London’s most iconic hotels, steeped in history and representing the ultimate in Britishness, it was the perfect location for such a timeless event. The visitors were treated like film stars, offered champagne on arrival, plus coffee and pastries from Paul, and given generous bags of diverse delights including a candle handmade in Ireland from the Paul Costelloe Living range of homeware, with a burn time of 65 hours.

During an exclusive interview for IRK Magazine, Paul Costelloe discussed his visions for the future of fashion, shared memories that explain the inspiration for his collections and offered wise words of advice to emerging designers.

IRK: You are described as one of the most established names in British fashion…

Paul Costelloe: ..and one of the oldest names, yeah!

IRK: … and you are celebrated for your hand-crafted, luxurious fabrics combined with cutting edge design, innovation and creativity. I was lucky enough to see first-hand your genuine enjoyment of the fashion show launching the Spring Summer 2018 collection, dancing with the models and genuinely engaging with the visitors. Could you please talk me though your creative process. How do you develop the inspiration for each collection.

Paul Costelloe: Funnily enough, that is one thing that I was literally coming in on. I was thinking what was I going to do for Autumn. I had the Hound of Baskerville on my mind for some reason. An old movie from 1959 with the old Sherlock Holmes, Peter Cushing, he was brilliant. Way before the version by Benedict Cumberbatch in Sherlock.

Its either a movie or something, for example, for spring I picked John F. Kennedy, Jackie Kennedy and that American period, which of course I could relate to because I lived in that time, I am no young person, so I can remember working in Paris in the late sixties and early seventies, so I was in my comfort zone somewhat, working on that period. Pierre Cardin was my neighbour work wise. Then I kind of, sort of drift into the fifties with that Dior look at the end of the collection, where everything was below the knee, mid calf length from which I have kind of jumped on somewhat. I am starting to see everything very long all of a sudden.

I suppose I work in fashion because I couldn’t do anything else. At school I was very unsuccessful. I was given a gift as a painter. Art is probably my natural gift. But I wasn’t committed on that either, and I am not probably that committed into fashion. Fashion is a way of making a living, a way of meeting attractive girls, a way of trying to understand women maybe and to some extent I enjoy that challenge. I enjoy the challenge of competing against much younger designers. I am a bit of an egotist with probably more talent in one way. I never went to Central Saint Martins. Never really went to college, I am a voyeur with my eyes, which is what guides me, and proportion, and I suppose a sense of subtlety.

Being brought up in kind of a middle class Irish background, somewhat, in a walled garden, croquet being played, tennis courts, fields and horses and that kind of background. Even though it was Dublin, we were somewhat sheltered to some extent. So when London had Carnaby Street I was doing Haute Couture, so I never went through that Mary Quant period. So that is why probably still, because I initiated working in quality and good fabrics, I have always tried to maintain that level, and you don’t get that through school or college, you get that from work experience and from the window you look out of. That remains with you for life, which is good and bad.

IRK: Has your creative process evolved since you launched at London Fashion Week in 1985?

Paul Costelloe: That was when London Fashion Week became significant in the 90’s but before then, I can remember so well, a man called Percy Savage was the one who pretty much set people up, like John Rocha and myself. It was a pretty historical period. Who was the girl who walked up to Margaret Thatcher with Ban the Bomb on her t-shirt? Katharine Hamnett. It was a very extreme part of the industry. There were a lot of interesting people. Not very commercial, but it was fun, it was interesting.

IRK: Does your creative process change when you have a private client as opposed to when you are working on your collection?

Paul Costelloe: With a private client, you have to please the client number one, and that can be very difficult, or it can be a pleasure, depending on who the client is. I don’t have many private clients. It is not part of the business. I am really a ready to wear designer.

IRK: I read that unfortunately you broke your collarbone just weeks before London Fashion Week. Were you able to rely on your family and team to take over from you when you were recovering?

Paul Costelloe: I am left handed and it was my right shoulder. Its still pretty bad! I have just started physiotherapy but its a sore one.

When you do a fashion show it is total self indulgence. Completely creating what you like, for beautiful girls who are all size 8 or 10, they are all 5ft 10”. Its just like doing a painting, but unfortunately it has to be destroyed and its over now and I am starting on Winter. We have just come back from Paris, myself and William, and all of a sudden we go ‘Oh great!’. We have found one company that was the starting off ground for Winter 2018, a menswear tailoring fabric supplier, and that is all you need, one or two pieces of fabric to initiate, and then you start thinking about where will I go from there. Will it be like Sherlock Holmes, with men in very tailored coats and ladies in very deep cut evening gowns. So you start playing on that for a little bit, and because I am a prolific sketcher, for each collection I draw about a hundred or more drawings, and then we edit it down to what we think as a team, Christina, Jordi, William and Robert, and we all add a little input in the final decision. Drawing is a big way of getting ideas out, and being able to edit. Its a cheap way of producing a sample range.

IRK: And do you draw on paper? Or on an iPad?

Paul Costelloe: No, everything looks like this (demonstrates drawing), and these are notes on the side, describing how the drawing will be.

IRK: IRK is an International magazine whose current issue concerns #FUTURISM. The juxtaposition of the use of fabrics on the edge of technological developments such as latex with natural fabrics, complimented by the architectural jewellery of Sarah Angold, has resulted in your recent collection being described as a vision for the future. What are your thoughts on this interpretation, and do you have a vision for the future of fashion?

Paul Costelloe: Getting very deep, yet I am the last person you should be talking about this. I do think it is quite fun working with very high, modern, technical materials such as Latex, which is quite modern and quite futuristic, and then blending it with the traditional, and that adds a real moment of excitement, because you are playing on the two sides of two very different cultures. Where you have your modern thinking and your traditional thinking.

The conservative people don’t particularly like that I blend latex with more traditional materials, they take is as lowering the tone, but its not, its giving it modernisation, maintaining the Paul Costelloe brand as being aware and moving on, but not doing it in an ugly way. There are a lot of ugly clothes out there, which really, the most beautiful girl will still look interesting in but not attractive. Maybe because I am straight, I play on the attractiveness as number one. Femininity rather than shock as number one. I don’t shock. I don’t think I can shock. My background doesn’t allow me. Coming from a middle class Irish Catholic background, brought up in the late fifties and early sixties in Ireland, you are born with a crucifix in your head, in your mind and in your body, and that remains. So, this is for me being risky, but adventurous, bringing in Latex and more modern materials, and we are going to be moving forward on this line because we feel that its keeping with the brand. I don’t want to be boring but yet I don’t want to be ugly, and thats the road. You have to be quite careful, it's like walking on a trapeze, if you go and lean too far one way then you are going to fall off, and I need to keep a brand that I can sell. That people when they are online and view the different collections that I am doing, homewares, whatever I am doing to keep the brand alive, that's important.

IRK: So, keeping the balance between the old and the new clients, so in a way you are trying to step between both, right?

Paul Costelloe: Yes, I probably had the mother as a client thirty years ago and now I want to get her daughter.

IRK: So, spanning the generations?

Paul Costelloe: Yes, now spanning the generations, thats always a challenge.

IRK: Within the Spring/Summer 2018 collection there are numerous references to sources of fabrics from family run firms. To me a family business evokes ideas of responsibility, environmentalism and heritage. With the Paul Costelloe business being family run, is this by chance or design, and to what extent does it reflect your values?

Paul Costelloe: I think its by chance because nobody has been asked to work for me. It has been their choice to enter in a small way, in a big way, part-time, whatever. Its like a pond that is there and you can put your foot in, you can put your whole body in and thats up to you. The only person who has put her whole body in is my poor wife, but for everybody else, if say William says in the morning he wants to go back to Fine Art, he will get my blessing. If Robert, as he is, he is going off to New York tomorrow on an adventure, a working adventure. Jessica is an opera singer but she works in my social media. No man is an island, but I suppose I am a bit of an island.

IRK: And the choice to work with other family firms?

Paul Costelloe: I enjoy it. I like smallish companies. I was trained in Italy as well as Paris, and Italy is all based on family and all of the successful companies are family run. I am quite instinctive with Italians and I work well with them and I understand them. I can tolerate their passion, their devotion and their temperament. Its all very, very special and they are the most gifted people and most of the fabrics are Italian. And then Irish too! And England, its interesting. Its a very fascinating business and people underrate it terribly.

IRK: As Oscar Wilde, you describe yourself as having the simplest of tastes yet always satisfied with the best. Can you elaborate on how you determine quality?

Paul Costelloe: I love that quote, I am glad you noticed that. I think it all depends, it can be good service, that can be quality. Its just something thats beautiful doesn't have to be expensive. People are still thinking that because such-and-such a handbag costs this muc