Monday 23 April 2018

When Mark had designs on Sarah

Dubliners Mark and Sarah Swan have launched design and tailoring businesses in recent times

Sarah and Mark Swan met in London in 1999. Photo: Mark Condren
Sarah and Mark Swan met in London in 1999. Photo: Mark Condren
Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

Mark Swan instantly fancied Sarah Murray when he met her in London in 1999, but alas it wasn't looking good for him initially. "Sarah had just broken up with a guy, and said she hated men," laughs Mark, then 25.

"She was really pretty and immaculately dressed, and I liked her a lot as she was a real lady. She was the kind of woman I would want to bring home to my parents. I was very unromantic and a typical lad, so I bought her a pint of Guinness even though she had never drunk out of a pint glass in her life."

Sarah, then 23, insists that she didn't hate men at all, but was just looking for a bit of space to find herself after coming out of a previous relationship. She was friends with Mark's flatmate Craig back in Dublin, and was meeting him for a drink so he could introduce her to London.

"Mark and I definitely had a connection and I kind of fought that initially," she says. "I just wanted to be friends because I wasn't in the frame of mind for romance. I felt I was in London for fun and to further my career, so I didn't have time for a relationship, but I trusted Mark and found him really grounded and down to earth."

Mark and Sarah were friends for six months, and over time, she realised that she was falling for him. She says he was a terrible messer who would to try to make her jealous by telling her he was going to the theatre with someone else since she insisted she just wanted to be friends. "He was persistent but it definitely worked," she says. "When we finally got together, I felt like we had been together forever. It was quite intense, so every now and again, we would get frightened and break up for a week."

Sarah and Mark got married in 2006 in a beautiful villa in Udine in Italy. Prior to that, they returned to Dublin and bought a house in Sandymount in 2003. Now 42, Mark is from Howth and is the eldest of Breda and Alan Swan's four children. His grandfather and father were tailors, and his dad created the Kartel brand of men's clothing in 1985. He also designed for Mark's brother Karl's business, G-MAC by Kartel, which is a golf brand in conjunction with Graeme McDowell.

Mark got a job in a golf company after school. Then he went to London to work with Callaway Golf Europe, ultimately becoming area sales manager for Ireland for ten years. He then started his own business, My Personal Tailor, in 2012, which provides top quality corporate and wedding wear to individuals and businesses, with made-to-measure and ready-made suits made from the finest Yorkshire and Italian wools, Irish linens and Donegal tweeds. For convenience, Mark can come to your business or home, or you can visit his city-centre office.

"The majority of men hate shopping, so I was always running in and out of my dad's business picking up suits for guys," he says. "That's when I came up with the idea for the business. Its super convenient, and I now have a database of about 1,500 clients. Sarah is a director of my business as she's great with the accountancy side and figures, whereas I just love getting out and selling."

Sarah, now 40, is from Killiney, and she has two younger sisters. Her parents are now divorced and both are well-known. Her mum, Judy Houston, was a model, and Sarah actually appeared with her on the cover of U magazine when she was six. Her dad is entrepreneur Louis Murray, who owned nightclubs and hotels like La Stampa and Barbarella's, and Sarah thinks she got her creativity from both of her parents.

"They were always ahead of their time," she says. "I studied interior design as I thought fashion was too tough to break into, and did Italian and history of art at UCD. I went to London and did internships with different people, including Joseph, Christophe Gollut and Mimmi O'Connell. I also worked for Louise Kennedy in Dublin. Dad was doing up Samsara bar in Dawson street and he asked me to design it. Then I designed and ran a unique Asian-inspired spa retreat called Mandala in La Stampa for eight years and I loved it. I also did some design work commissions in that time."

Sarah took a break when she and Mark became parents to Zach, 8, and Juliette, 6. She has now set up her own scarf company with Peter Homan, called Sarah Swan Dublin. She designed the digitally printed cashmere scarves and they retail in various stores, and the new collection incorporates Peter's art. "I will probably do a men's range next, maybe neck ties, pocket squares or ponchos," she says. "I have so many ideas so this is just the start. A few companies have approached me to do their branding and that is something I would really love to do."

With two relatively new businesses, Sarah and Mark say that mixing business and their personal life can be stressful. They believe keeping their date nights going is important and Mark will play golf and Sarah goes out with friends to unwind. Mark says that Sarah is very kind, considerate and caring, and whereas he is more chilled-out about things, she worries and is not great at switching off from work in the evening.

"That's our biggest challenge," agrees Sarah. "Mark is a brilliant father and he never holds a grudge and he still makes me laugh."

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