Saturday 1 October 2016

The Queen of cosy: Wicklow designer Lucy Nagle

Looking stylish while feeling comfortable is not an impossibility this winter, as Wicklow designer and new mum Lucy Nagle tells our reporter. Photographs by Kip Carroll

Meadhbh McGrath

Published 22/11/2015 | 02:30

Stylish and comfortable: Wicklow designer Lucy Nagle. Photo: Kip Carroll
Stylish and comfortable: Wicklow designer Lucy Nagle. Photo: Kip Carroll
Wicklow designer Lucy Nagle models one of her creations. Photo: Kip Carroll.
At home with Lucy Nagle. Photo: Kip Carroll
Pippa O'Connor wearing a Lucy Nagle jumper
Amy Huberman wears a Lucy Nagle jumper

For any new mum, the question of what to wear can be a tricky one. Neither your pregnancy nor pre-pregnancy wardrobes fit, in many cases. And with an infant to look after, flexibility and comfort are as important as style. But what is the alternative to tracksuits and pyjamas? Enter Lucy Nagle - Ireland's loungewear supremo.

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For any new mum, the question of what to wear can be a tricky one. Neither your pregnancy nor pre-pregnancy wardrobes fit, in many cases. And with an infant to look after, flexibility and comfort are as important as style. But what is the alternative to tracksuits and pyjamas? Enter Lucy Nagle - Ireland's loungewear supremo.

"My day-to-day uniform would be skinny jeans, flat boots and always knits, usually my own knits," says the Wicklow-born designer, who six months ago welcomed her first child. "I quite like to layer, say with an oversized knit over a lovely long-sleeved cotton T-shirt. I dress up more if I'm going to an event, but I'm quite casual during the day."

For those who have dressier daytime apparel, loungewear offers a way to relax after a long day at the office without surrendering your sense of style, Lucy says.

"For me, loungewear is an elegantly casual style. Now that people are so busy, they want to have those luxurious items to relax in - it's not about putting on your old tracksuit pants, you want something you feel nice in. As well as that, people want something flattering, something they can leave the house in and still look good."

Lucy's range of cashmere jumpers, cardigans and bottoms are certainly perfect for everything from curling up in to binge on your favourite boxset, to popping out for a coffee with friends. Small wonder, then, that her distinctive designs are worn by the likes of Amy Huberman, Vogue Williams, Pippa O'Connor Ormond and Andrea Corr.

Hailing from Grangecon village, in Co Wicklow, Lucy (36) began her career as an interior designer. She completed a diploma from the KLC School of Design in London, and managed to nab a job as a design assistant in the city straight afterwards. After three years, she set up on her own.

"London was such an amazing place to do it because you're just spoilt for choice with all the interiors shops and fabrics. My favourite part was always the design aspect - putting the colours and fabrics together," she says with a smile.

Eight years later, she decided to move back to Ireland - "It was time," she says - and began exploring the prospect of designing her own clothing line. "I always loved fashion and always loved clothes, but that (move) was the catalyst to really do something. I didn't know if I would be as busy in Ireland as I was in London, I didn't know if there was going to be enough interiors work to keep me going, so that was when I started looking into doing a knitwear range, and I'm so glad I did!"

After an initial line of handbags in 2012, Lucy launched a collection of knitwear for women the following year. Her designs are made in Scotland with cashmere and merino wools from Inner Mongolia, and range in price from €95 to €310.

"I have quite a casual style, I'm not really high-fashion," she says of why she chose knitwear. "I really do like things that I want to wear, and I think knitwear is such an everyday wearable piece that you can still have a bit of fun with and make more interesting. I was just drawn to it naturally."

Alongside her signature star print, the tones in her designs vary from the soothing hues of dusty blue, grey marl and creamy vanilla to wardrobe staples black and navy. This winter, Lucy has added some pieces in a vibrant raspberry pink, which have proved especially popular with Irish customers. "I definitely notice that people are drawn to the brighter, stronger colours, and I actually think they suit a lot of Irish people - we all like a bit of colour!"

The key element of any Lucy Nagle piece, she says, is quality. "Quality is really important to me. Cashmere is a luxury product, and if you're going to invest in it, you want to have it for years. If you wash it how you're supposed to, look after it and don't let the moth balls at it, you should have it for a long time."

With a new baby boy, Scott, to look after, Lucy's days start early, usually at 6.30am. "Even before the baby, I was always an early riser," she says. "I love getting up early. During the week, I wake up, get the baby up, have a coffee and breakfast, then exercise first thing." She is a devoted Pilates lover, and also enjoys going for morning walks in the park near her home in Cabinteely, Co Dublin.

Lucy works alone most days, but has taken on an intern to help with admin. A typical work day involves going through emails and online orders, keeping up to date on her social media posts, and working on new designs. Stocked in all Brown Thomas stores across the country - as well as the likes of Emporium Kalu in Naas, Co Kildare, and Muse Boutique in Waterford - she visits each of her stockists in Dublin once a week, and in the rest of the country every six weeks or so.

Before Scott came along, some weeks took her further afield to Scotland, Germany and Inner Mongolia, to visit the factories where her clothes are made. "Inner Mongolia is a real culture shock," she says. "It's very different to here, but it's great to see. The tour of the factory was so interesting. It was amazing to see the whole process, and I have a newfound respect for the work they do."

While she has always had a passion for design, Lucy hasn't shied away from the business side of things. Her husband of two years, Jamie Rohan, is managing director of one of Ireland's largest commercial property firms, Rohan Holdings, and she says he was a great support when she was getting the business up and running.

"My husband has been really helpful. He got me to do spreadsheets and things before I started so I could lay it all out and figure out how to make it all work. That's where I learned the importance of keeping my overheads down and doing as much as possible myself. I find it fascinating, and I'm lucky I put the time in before I launched myself into it.

"Starting out was the toughest part, because it was my name above the door. I knew I had to make this work, because you're putting everything into it and you want it to succeed. That was the most stressful part, when I was totally unheard of and I didn't know how it was going to go, but you just have to take the leap, work really hard and hope it works out," she says.

The biggest lesson she's learned from running her own business is the importance of getting her brand out there and making an impression. One of the most useful tools she's found in building her brand is Instagram.

"I love Instagram!" she gushes. "I'll put a picture up, and I'll either get sales online as a direct result of it, or I'll get feedback from one of the girls in Brown Thomas that someone showed them a picture of a post and was looking for that piece. It really makes a big difference."

Lucy's success goes far beyond street-style snaps and Instagram likes. Her cashmere crewneck sweaters and hoodies are frequent best-sellers in Brown Thomas, and last month, she was nominated at the IMAGE Businesswoman of the Year awards. She's also been making waves abroad - in September, she was invited to New York Fashion Week for the inaugural Ireland Fashion Showcase, a government-funded initiative hosted at the Irish Consulate in Manhattan.

"It was an amazing experience, and it was so nice to be asked to go. Since I started this, I've felt nothing but good vibes. It's so encouraging because I find Irish people are such well-wishers and so supportive, and that then gives you the confidence to push your brand more and go for it more."

One of the most striking things about Lucy is her humble approach to what she has accomplished in just a couple of years, and how gracious she is about the support she has received. She admits the job isn't without its pressures, but she embraces the challenges. "There are definitely ups and downs, and times when it's stressful, but I think I'm so lucky. I absolutely love it, I get to work for myself and be my own boss. I get such enjoyment from it," she smiles.

While many people may find a new baby makes their job more stressful, Lucy says it's motivated her to be more productive. "You know what? It's probably been the best six months," she says. "It's been so busy, and it's so true what people say, when you have a baby you think, 'What did I do with my time before?' It's only me really in the business, but I'm so lucky that I'm able to work from home. My schedule has changed - I do a lot when he goes to sleep, I have to use my time more carefully and ask favours from parents a lot, but it's brilliant."

At the moment, Lucy is busy working on her autumn/winter 2016 womenswear collection and is planning to introduce a range of high quality cotton T-shirts that can be layered with her knits. After that, she is looking into the possibility of creating new lines of homewares, menswear and children's clothing.

She hasn't lost her flair for interior design, either, and plans to decorate her and Jamie's new home in Cabinteely - eventually. "We've only been in the house about six months, so I have a lot to do. It's way down on my to-do list right now," she says. "I still love interior design, but I prefer what I'm doing now. With interior design, someone else is always the client, but it's nice being your own client."

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