Tuesday 22 October 2019

Happy in your home

Fashion designer to the rich and famous in her early career, Clodagh Phipps turned her creative talents to interiors after a move to New York. The Mayo-born woman was named one of the top 100 interior designers in the world and counts Robert Redford among her clients. Her ethos? To make people happy, she tells our fashion editor

Designer Clodagh Phibbs. Photo: Eric Laignel
Designer Clodagh Phibbs. Photo: Eric Laignel
Picture: Restoration Hardware
West Village Townhouse. Photo: Daniel Aubry
She's in fashion: Clodagh, pictured centre, with models wearing her collection in 1965
Clodagh completed the interior design for the Miraval Resort in Arizona, and for Six Senses Hotel and Spa in Portugal, named one of the world's top hotels in 2017. Picture: Ken Hayden
Bairbre Power

Bairbre Power

Clodagh Phipps speaks in the most perfect sound bites which, perhaps, is not surprising given that she grew up in Oscar Wilde's summer home in Cong, Co Mayo.

We know her best for the clothes she created, the pieces she designed for Marianne Faithful (when she was dating Mick Jagger) to the wardrobe she did for the then taoiseach's wife, Maureen Lynch. There is a poetic quality to her work.

In the mid-1950s Clodagh Phipps emerged as a 17-year-old design talent - known solely by her Christian name - and with £400 from her mother, built a fashion brand with a base on Dublin's South Anne Street. Her Irish fans may not be aware of the success and style impact Clodagh has had since she moved to New York in 1985 to pursue interiors.

Devotees of Architectural Digest will be familiar with her work, including the stunning Manhattan penthouse she did for Robert Redford. The prestigious publication also voted her one of the top 100 designers in the world.

Picture: Restoration Hardware
Picture: Restoration Hardware

Sitting in New York's Bowery district, Clodagh's Manhattan pied-à-terre is soulful in terms of space and colour, but then you would expect that from the green-eyed Irish woman who holds a strong belief in the tenets of integrative medicine and addressing the body and psyche as a whole.

She was one of the earliest adopters of feng shui in her design practice, and ahead of the curve incorporating modalities such as chromotherapy and biophilia which focuses on humans' innate attraction to nature and natural processes.

"I design for the human condition, I design to make people happy," Clodagh explains, whose philosophy is centred on comfort not only for the body but for the mind.

"When I was designing fashion in Ireland, I wanted to make things that were simple and easy to wear, that gave a feeling of 'ease of self' is the only way I can describe it, that the clothes were not wearing you, that the clothes were simply an adjunct to your wellness and your happiness.

"You know when you are wearing something and you are not quite comfortable and your whole day changes. I design for comfort."

When it comes to dressing herself, Clodagh confesses, with a laugh, "I need a miner's lamp to look into my closet. I nicknamed my closet '50 shades of black'. My clothes are mainly black because black does not interfere with colour choices, it is a natural. I heard a lovely quote the other day: 'I wear black because then I can think in outrageous colours,' and it's true," she says.

She's in fashion: Clodagh, pictured centre, with models wearing her collection in 1965
She's in fashion: Clodagh, pictured centre, with models wearing her collection in 1965

"When I was in fashion, I liked asymmetry because the human body is not symmetrical or perfect by all means, so I usually have something asymmetrical that breaks the line up a bit. My closet is two metres wide and it's got my life in it. I was counting the other day and I've got eight pairs of shoes in all."

Clodagh's go-to look are funky wedge shoes and boots, plus closed-toe footwear for all the building sites she finds herself on. Her work portfolio stretches around the world and her wardrobe reflects that.

"I wear very simple clothes because I have to travel all the time. I've got projects now in Turkey, Portugal, San Francisco and Armenia, so I travel light and I only wear what I can roll up, shake out and hang in the shower, and that are elegant. I don't think I've touched an iron since I came to the States," she laughs.

Noted in the interiors world for her 'life-enhancing minimalism,' Clodagh believes passionately in the concept that good design supports wellbeing and can transform people's lives. Her personal philosophy grew after she spent months laid up after breaking her back in a fall from a horse as a teenager.

In her work, Clodagh "uses every modality that I can bring to make the body feel better, and with it, the mind". In addition to her interior and architectural design studio, which is responsible for international commercial, residential, retail, healthcare and hospitality projects, she has a licensing and product design division with eco-conscious products - including rugs, lighting, tiles, bathroom accessories and fixtures, bedding, textiles, tabletop, carpets, cosmetic packaging and garden furniture such as her woven bronze seat (pictured below left) - for Restoration Hardware. In short, the stretch of Clodagh Design is immense and a long way from its roots in Cong.

"I've been to over 100 countries now because my husband (Daniel Aubry) was a travel photographer. He is now in real estate and I carry around an inner video of colour with me, whether it is an ochre from Tibet or a flash of orange from Marrakesh.

"I think it is probably good to have every colour represented in a house because each one of your seven chakras is addressed."

Speaking of colour, running parallel to her black wardrobe are lots colourful bracelets, a signature Clodagh look which the designer wears with pride and passion. The 'Thorn Tree Breakfast Bracelets' are made by nomadic tribes in Kenya and are one of a number philanthropic projects Clodagh is involved with.

"More than anything, even if you don't meditate, a home should provide a place where you can go and sit in your body and know that you want to be quiet for a few minutes. A home is not for show, it is for yourself."

The book, 'Clodagh: Life- Enhancing Design', will be published next month by GArts. You can see her fashion work at the Fashion Radicals exhibition at the Little Museum of Dublin

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