Ireland is a terrible beauty – a lot of damage has been done to our country
Fashion designer Paul Costelloe tells Ronald Quinlan how we can get back on to the world stage
PAUL Costelloe has rowed in behind Gabriel Byrne in the row about the Gathering. Unlike Byrne, however, the well-known designer is determined to make the most of the Government's initiative, even though he thinks it has a touch of hypocrisy about it.
"I can understand where he's coming from. 'We love you now because we need you'. There is some hypocrisy there. At the same time though, we need to seize every opportunity. I wouldn't knock it in the way Gabriel has but I can understand his comments and I can accept the way he's coming at it.
"There is a hypocrisy but I need those Americans to come in and buy Paul Costelloe menswear, jewellery and ladies' wear, so I encourage it," he says of the Government's effort to lure our diaspora home in 2013.
Not that Mr Costelloe is looking to simply hawk his wares to our American cousins or anyone else for that matter. He's fully prepared to put his shoulder to the wheel to build relationships with his customers. Indeed, these days much of his time is spent shuttling back and forth between his studio in London's Gloucester Place and Ireland to meet face-to-face with the retailers who sell his designs.
Asked about his latest visit here last week in which he took in both Cork and Galway, Costelloe says: "It really is just talking about the product, getting people to know you and thinking of buying Paul Costelloe jewellery instead of, I don't know, a Rolex.
"Maybe that's a wrong example. To promote your own brand, you can't just wait for a customer to come to you. You have to be out there meeting the people and hoping they like you and the fact that you're Irish. That doesn't mean guaranteed Irish. It has to be done very discreetly."
Costelloe has been in the business a long time now, but his energy clearly hasn't diminished from his youth and the Saturdays when he turned out to play soccer in Dublin's Herbert Park on a team which counted a plethora of Ireland's then nascent movers and shakers – including developers Johnny Ronan and Paddy McKillen amongst its number.
Asked to recall those times, he says: "It was a nice buzz. We were of a generation that knew no bounds. We hadn't been sheltered by our parents. We weren't being collected from the local dancehall or Wesley. We had to find our own way home."
Speaking of the independence engendered in him by his parents from an early age, he adds: "We weren't mollycoddled. Once you reached 17 or 18, it was a case of goodbye and good luck. I was living on a pauper's income in Paris. I used to live on a can of beans on a camping stove in a room on the Left Bank in Paris.
"It prepares you for any ups and the downs. We weren't given pocket money; we had to make our own. Nothing was made easy for us. Our parents worked really hard and they expected us to manage. I think we've sheltered this generation to quite an extent."
Asked for his views on the direction Ireland needs to take now to be successful on the world stage again, Costelloe says: "Ireland is a terrible beauty. It's a beautiful country with beautiful people but quite a bit of damage has been done.
"We need to get back our respect within Europe and within the world. We need to be competitive. Being competitive isn't looking at your next-door neighbour, it's looking across Europe and to Asia. How are they doing? How many hours a week are they working? And if someone does a bad job, we need to be ruthless. I'm Irish, but I have to admire the English for the way they take on responsibility and the way the buck stops. It's to their credit."
Asked what differences he notices these days between London and Dublin, he says: "It's a very narrow bit of sea, but it's very wide at the moment in terms of the direction London is going. Compared to Dublin, it's just not comparable anymore. London is moving so fast, so quickly.
"I think we even have to review Dublin as a city. Who's running it? Do we need a mayor with more power like a Boris Johnson who's been really effective? People mightn't like him but he has that charismatic style that young people are really drawn to. He's disrespectful in a very smart way. He's effective and he gets out there. I see our leaders playing it safe and we're sheltered from reality sometimes."
Returning to his own specific area of expertise, he says we can learn a lot from London when it comes to selling our wares to customers both here and abroad.
On this, he says: "In London, everything's very professional, the experience of shopping and of buying a product. It's the presentation, the packaging and the aura when people walk into a store. That's where we can learn. We have to change the way we do our business. You go into a shop. How are you sold that product whether its €25 or €200? We really have to look at how we treat our customers."