Wednesday 24 October 2018

Insider Life...with the fashion designer Sean Byrne

Sean Byrne. Photo: El Keegan.
Sean Byrne. Photo: El Keegan.

Sean Byrne is a womenswear designer who has dressed several celebrities for red carpet events.

"I'm definitely more of a morning person; I'm usually out of bed by 6.30am. I'm a creature of habit so I cycle straight to the studio on Drury Street. I find that if I get in that early, I can get a day's work done by 11am. Some designers work better late; the milliner Aisling Ahern, who I share the studio with, comes in later and stays until 10pm. I could never share the space with another designer as it would feel way too close to home. But with Aisling, there's a great energy in there and we can throw ideas off each other.

Most of what you will see in my studio is made by me, but at this point in time, the (A/W '14) collection is coming so I have two people helping me out. I do all the made-to-order stuff myself. I try to have 10 dresses, two suits and two long gowns in stock at any given time in case a client comes in. September is always a very busy month, but I could be dealing with 20 clients in a regular month. I get a mix of clients; a lot of young girls and very strong professional women, like lawyers and TDs. They're at the pinnacle of their career and they want to look sharp. They want a dress that will let them do five different things in one day.

I'm known for tailoring with a feminine edge. The Hollywood system from the 30s and 40s is a big influence. There were no gossip sites back then, so the Hollywood studios were able to create an illusion for the world, and that extended to the way actresses dressed. I've always been influenced by Italian fashion; I think Italian and Irish women are very similar in the way they think of clothes. Irish women are so underrated in terms of style. When I hear some designers say that Irish women aren't fashionable, it's laughable. My modus operandi has changed a lot simply by talking to clients. If you're not influenced by what they want, that's a problem.

When I was at Grafton Academy, I worked in Brown Thomas. I worked in the designer hall with labels like Gucci and Prada, and then went into personal shopping. It was an invaluable experience. In college, you are taught how to make clothes, but not what women really want. Any designer should be made to stand on the shop floor and talk to the shoppers. They're the ones with the knowledge about what's really going on.

I'd been in my studio a month when I got a call from Sonya Lennon. She told me that (make-up artist) Lynn Johnson was a friend of hers, and wanted a gown for the 2012 Oscars as she'd just been nominated. She was so nice and easy to work with, and she bought something beautiful in the end. I know (actress) Aoibhinn Garrihy from around town; I met her and said, 'If you never need anything to wear…', and she asked me if I would dress her for the IFTAs. She's the easiest client in the world. She's quite elegant: she has that 1950s quality, even just in the way she holds herself. I'd love to dress Queen Letizia of Spain, Daphne Guinness and Victoria Smurfit.

As for future plans, I'm a big fan of the 'slowly, slowly, catch the monkey' approach. If I can grow my business by 5pc every year I'd be delighted. The dream is to have my own shop in town within a couple of years; a ready-to-wear collection on one floor and an atelier on the first floor.

I hate going to fashion functions; I'd rather be at home doing something else. I try to be quite disciplined in the week; in addition to cycling into work from Stillorgan I train three times a week with Eamonn from Metabolic Fitness on Drury Street. That keeps me quite focused. It's all about finding balance though. If I meet a friend for a drink after work and I have no appointments in the morning, I might just make a night out of it.

I'm slightly nerdy and I'm mad about historical novels and royal history. My guilty pleasures are soaps, I love a bit of Corrie and Emmerdale. I normally sleep well, but there are a few times a year I go to bed and don't get to sleep until 2am. Fortunately, that doesn't happen too often: I can't function on less than eight hours of sleep a night. I don't know how people do it."

For more information, see Sean's designs are on view and for sale in Brown Thomas this September as part of CREATE

First published in INSIDER Magazine, exclusive to Thursday's Irish Independent

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