The Irish woman who dresses Lady Gaga
Published 08/06/2011 | 05:00
For most aspiring designers, getting name-checked by a celebrity is not much more than a pipe dream. Yet when the celebrity in question is Lady Gaga -- a woman for whom every outfit is a water-cooler moment -- it's considered 'pinch me' time.
For Offaly native Sorcha O'Raghallaigh, the 26-year-old designer behind Lady Gaga's infamous wedding dress (as worn on The Graham Norton Show), the moment has been life-changing.
Message boards across the world are ablaze with her name, while the fashion industry is wondering just where the designer can go from such dizzying heights. Yet at the age of 26, O'Raghallaigh has plenty of petrol left in the tank.
The Graham Norton Show wasn't even Sorcha's first encounter with the first lady of pop fashion; she also designed a black PVC dress for Gaga that appeared in the opening sequence of the video for 'Born This Way'.
Gaga's team scouted the Irish designer at her graduate show in June 2010, when she was in her final year at Central Saint Martin's college in London.
Via his assistant Anna Trevelyan, Gaga's stylist Nicola Formichetti came to notice O'Raghallaigh's outlandish creations. Since then Trevelyan has become one of Sorcha's staunchest supporters.
"They requested that I send in sketches for potential outfits for her," says Sorcha. "You're given a mood, or a feeling as a brief. I never actually met Gaga; it all happened through the team. They have meetings about her outfits and she sees the sketches."
Regardless, Gaga clearly saw something in Sorcha's collection, which has already appeared in Italian Vogue and Dazed & Confused magazine.
On working with Gaga, whose sartorial standards are nothing short of exacting, Sorcha recalls: "My work is quite romantic and ethereal and religious, so there was that thing of having to combine with Lady Gaga and her own spirit. She's very into clothes that have a sexy feeling. She's also fairly eccentric, which is why we probably met in the middle.
"The best things in life are challenging and working to that brief was a great learning curve. You are still your own designer and she likes you for your own work. But ultimately, you do have to make the piece for the client. It was completely surreal seeing it on the TV though, and when she said my name it was crazy."
Referring to the religious aspects in her work, Sorcha adds: "I have this fascination with religious memorabilia; whether it's to do with growing up in small-town Ireland, I don't know. There's a beauty there, and a sense of ceremony. The Catholic Church has always gotten more negative attention than positive. There's more sorrow attached to it, and I find there's a bittersweet feeling there that goes into my work."
Naturally, Sorcha is learning to live with the dramatic upswing in her profile. It has created a demand for her collection, but she is considering a change in tack: "What I did for Gaga was so one-off, so I'd like to do more affordable and accessible stuff.
"Possibly through a jewellery line. It would still be couture, like brooches or headpieces, but something that's more available."
Perhaps, not surprisingly, she has drawn comparisons to the earlier works of the late Alexander McQueen -- a designer with a similarly audacious and ambitious outlook at the outset of his career.
"I love what Galliano did in his career," she enthuses. "Sure, he's been controversial recently but I interned with him when I was at Saint Martin's, and got to see how he works, which is amazing.
"I always admired (Christian) Lacroix's creativity, but it was sad how it all ended ( the company went into liquidation in 2009). And McQueen -- come to think of it, they all pretty much ended up in tragedy. I think my dream would be to do what I do, but more comfortably. I'd love to work my own label but perhaps be a creative consultant for someone else."
It's a remarkable career trajectory for a girl who was raised in the fashion outpost of Birr, where she whiled away the days wearing her mother's debs dresses around the house.
"My first passion was art and in school I was rubbish at everything else," she admits. "I was a write-off in all other subjects."
While a student at the Limerick School Of Art & Design, it was suggested that she move to London. "At that point I was getting kind of sick of fashion, and figured it might not be for me," reveals Sorcha. "But I didn't want to go to London just because someone else suggested it, so I went to work with (knitwear designer) Heather Finn for a while, and worked in the costume department of Opera Ireland and in Topshop."
In 2007, she arrived at Central Saint Martin's in London. The school's reputation for creating world-class designers is ironclad; among those who trained there were Bruce Oldfield, Zac Posen, Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney.
"You don't feel powerful, or like you're from 'the new generation' while you're in there," says Sorcha. "It doesn't feel magical . . . it's a nondescript building in the middle of central London, rundown, but charming. There are no boundaries there, so you aren't so much taught as encouraged to learn things yourself."
Now based in London, Sorcha has created a collection for Autumn-Winter 2011, and works part-time with jewellery designer Merle O'Grady. All the while, she is being kept up to date with her many achievements via her parents in Birr.
"Being in Vogue Italia is great, but it was lovely for my family to see something that was more in their realm (on The Graham Norton Show)," she says.
"You feel you're working so hard and sometimes there's no light at the end of the tunnel. Some days I think, 'am I crazy doing this?', but my family have made many sacrifices to put me where I am. So giving up is not an option. It'll be interesting to see what happens from here."