I don't regret what I said about Irish women's fashion – it made me a celeb!
Published 20/01/2013 | 06:00
Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn!" proclaims Paul Costelloe about midway through our lunch date. It's exactly the type of outburst you might expect from the enfant terrible of Irish fashion.
After all, this is the man who once infamously said that Irish women "only a couple of generations out of the bog. . . wouldn't know style if it tottered up to them in 10-inch heels".
Twelve years on, though, as he does his best Clark Gable impression, it's clear that the designer has his characteristically acid tongue in his cheek – and probably always has.
Anyway, if female readers are expecting some kind of apology, they can just keep tottering.
"It made me from being a designer into being (a) sort of celebrity – so it was worth the pain. Afterwards, I remember being verbally attacked by some dashing blonde in Bewley's in her black suit, black tights and black high heels. I think they've developed a better sense of humour since then."
As we meet at San Lorenzo's Italian restaurant on South Great Georges Street to discuss his life, loves and most loose-lipped moments, it's just an example of how the London-based designer is getting older, but not necessarily any wiser.
"I suppose I'm still an angry young man at heart," says Paul, now in his 60s, "or maybe just a grumpy old man.
"I hate rules and regulations. Sometimes, when I'm cycling, I go up on the footpath or go against the traffic just to make people mad. I like doing that.
"When I come home, I love to sit on the grass at Trinity and read a book until I'm chucked off by some caretaker."
When it comes to lunch, at least, the former pig factory worker is very agreeable. Like so many ex-pats, Paul reveals that the thing he misses most about home is proper heart-attack-on-a-plate sausages – then orders the same meat-free pasta dish I do.
"We left Dublin 14 years ago," recalls the father of seven of relocating to the English capital. "Two cars, two cats and nine of us. We took the boat from Dun Laoghaire to Holyhead, drove down to London and made a spot."
He adds: "It's quite an international city. To stay on the catwalk, you have to make your mark. Initially, I was probably too conservative. Over the past couple of seasons, I went back on the catwalk in a more aggressive way.
"Nowadays, you're sort of a small fish in a big pond. By European standards, I am a very small fish."
Here at home, where he still has a base, Costelloe is more of a big fish in a small pond.
When I ask him what he thinks of Irish men's style, for a change, the ever-quotable designer obligingly takes the bait.
"Irish men are great as long as they can hold their stomachs in for a little bit," jokes Paul, who's looking dapper in his own designs and with no gut of his own thanks to all that cycling – 14 miles a day, to be precise.
" Michael Fassbender is very well dressed. With men, it's always going to be tougher. But I think they're becoming much more fashion-conscious.
"Irish men are definitely charismatic compared with the English. And that can be very attractive to a woman without (their) looks being anything special."
With an American mother and Irish father, growing up in Dublin, Costelloe admits he's always felt more "mid-Atlantic" than anything.
But the towering couturier isn't short on Irish charm himself. Somewhere between the main course and coffee, the new grandfather manages to pull the old switcheroo – probing me on everything from my career to my love life, rather than the other way around.
"It's the opposite," insists Paul, when I suggest that some people might think that he doesn't like women very much given some of his past views. "Sometimes it's just my sense of humour.
"I'd actually like to interview women – I quite like going into other people's lives rather than my own."
Contrary to his knuckle-dragging image, it doesn't take long to realise that the designer loves women. One above all: his wife of 30 years, Anne. Incidentally, also the one woman he wouldn't dare give style tips to.
"She would tell me where to go," he laughs.
"My wife is one of these amazing women that can get dressed in 10 minutes and always look great.
"I'm not really into Valentine's Day – just because it's February 14 doesn't mean you have to buy a bunch of red roses. But I do buy her shoes, and 95pc of the time I get it right."
Now with a new granddaughter, the "grumpy old man" is finally getting even more in touch with his feminine side.
"We have six sons and one daughter, so it's lovely having another girl in the family," he says. "I'm really enjoying it.
"I love children. I love their honesty. I can't wait to do more childrenswear."
Mother-to-be Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, could be the first in line when he does. Almost three decades after he shot to fame dressing Princess Diana, the new people's princess has already snapped up some of Costelloe's designs.
" Kate Middleton has bought some of my clothes through John Lewis," he says. "She hasn't come to me directly and I haven't seen her wearing any of them yet. But I'd be delighted if she wore one of my designs."
Certainly the 'Kate bounce' could go a long way towards reviving the fortunes of his ladieswear line, which almost went off the rails when the company that makes it went into administration last year.
"It's a tough shagging business," admits Paul. "It doesn't mean that 'Paul Costelloe Design' went into receivership, but because I licensed my name, it just means that a specific line suffered.
"Now I'm relaunching the ladieswear on my own without any major backing – so we'll see what happens.
"It does give you an opportunity to reinvent yourself," adds the designer of everything from spoons to specs.
"When your name is on something, you do feel a certain responsibility, especially when it's a family name. I'm not like Ralph Lauren – I wasn't Ralph Lipschitz. I'm lucky to have a name like Costelloe – it's a good name."
Giving out is one thing, but giving up isn't his style, says Paul. The king of understated chic has also just launched his fourth jewellery collection, the Eaton Collection featuring K-Middy-style sapphires, pearls and bows.
"I'm sort of the Clint Eastwood of fashion," he jokes. "I just keep going. I just bullshit my way through life and somehow manage to function.
"Anyway, why should I retire – sitting here talking to you?"
As we finish up with coffee and petits fours, compliments of the chef, I too compliment the designer's colourful scarf.
Just like that, he unravels it from around his neck and hands it to me.
It's not 'a Paul Costelloe', but it's Paul Costelloe's, and that's a start for this 10-inch-heel-wearing bogger – the charming old sod.