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Relationships: Grand designs... on each other

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Natalie Coleman and her husband Paul Dowling

Natalie Coleman and her husband Paul Dowling

Natalie Coleman and her husband Paul Dowling

The first time design lecturer Paul Dowling saw his wife, fashion designer Natalie B Coleman, he nudged his friend and said, "Now that is a girl I could marry!" That was ten years ago, and both were students at Limerick School of Art and Design.

"I had eyes for Natalie for quite some time," he says, "but she never really noticed me until I lunged at her on the dancefloor of Costello's, a local club populated by art school students. She later admitted to me that she kissed me back only after seeing one of her ex-boyfriends walk by!"

Natalie says she thought that Paul was sweet and had a gentle smile. They started dating, and Paul recalls how Natalie brought him on some great dates. "She took me on a helicopter ride over New York City, to the World Cup final in Berlin, and to an all-night casino in Montreal for one of my birthdays," he says.

Natalie and Paul were married in Monaghan in July 2012, with Natalie wearing two dresses that she made herself. The first had a bodice and back made of especially designed Carrickmacross lace (made by Martha Hughes), with little 3D lace butterflies on the sleeves, a high collar, and a skirt of short bonded silk satin and tulle. The second was a long, silk/satin dress with her signature draping at the back, paired with a beautiful leather-studded headpiece made by Una Burke.

Natalie, who says she was always obsessed with clothes, was born in London, but grew up in Monaghan. She is the second-eldest of Francis and the late Bridget's four children. Her dad was a carpenter while her mum was a former model. "I was a bit of a late developer, but made up for lost time and had my moments," she says. "I had a very religious upbringing so was always in some kind of conflict over what I had been getting up to! Life was pretty dramatic for me as a teenager, I was always mad for a party, and had no qualms about hitching around the country on my own. I even hitched a lift by lorry to Germany to make it to a concert by myself! I was quite fearless at that stage."

After a spell spent travelling and working, Natalie went to study fashion design at LSAD, and then completed a master's at Central St Martin's in London. She worked for fashion design house, ThreeAsFour, in New York and textile designer Ragna Frodadottir in Iceland, and then set up her own fashion label in 2010. She has since shown at Paris and Berlin, and will show in New York next year during fashion week.

Her designs are quickly becoming celebrity favourites, with singer Mary J Blige, actress Charlene McKenna, Marina Diamandis of Marina and the Diamonds, and Mutya Buena from The Sugababes wearing her creations.

Natalie and a host of other high-profile Irish designers recently participated in all four events in the Arthur Cox Irish Fashion Showcase 2013. The annual event, sponsored by law firm Arthur Cox, is produced and hosted by stylist Cathy O'Connor, and is designed to connect both upcoming and well-known Irish fashion designers with the business communities in Dublin, Belfast, London and New York. All four events were a great success, and featured designers Niamh O'Neill, Joanne Hynes, Jen Kelly, Roisin Linnane, Umit Kutluk, Polly McGettigan, Jennifer Rothwell and Melissa Curry.

Paul, who was christened John Paul, is also the second eldest of four, and he grew up in Limerick City, where his dad Ray was a garda and hurley-maker, and mum Kathleen was a housewife. "As a child, I was always crying," he laughs "I don't really know what was wrong with me, but I was very soft and you only had to look at me crooked and I'd bawl. As a teenager, I went through a series of the world's worst haircuts, and art was always an area in which I excelled. I remember copying the lettering from Beano comics, so looking back I was always fascinated with the design and use of letterforms."

It was no surprise then that Paul did a degree in graphic design at LSAD, followed by an MA in Interactive Media at the University of Limerick. He got a job as a book designer with Limerick Civic Trust, mentored by the late Denis Leonard, and is currently a senior lecturer in graphic design at the University of the West of England in Bristol. He is also education director of the International Society of Typographic Designers. (www.istd.org.uk)

Natalie and Paul both live in Bristol, and she commutes all over the world for work. She will be moving back to Dublin next January to teach a new one-year fashion design course at LA College of Creative Arts off Grafton Street. Paul's new role for ISTD means that he will be a visiting speaker at other design courses, and will be going to Beirut, Budapest, Dundee, Johannesburg and Melbourne this coming year.

"I will have to be a weekend wife," says Natalie. "Paul is easy-going, kind-hearted and principled, and he throws a few shapes on the dance floor. We are both obsessed with food, and he's a great cook. What drives me mad is that he is very curious – I call him the Garda with No Badge!"

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Paul says that Natalie is a woman of extremes, is the hardest-working person he knows, always has time for others and loves to laugh. Usually at him! "She's thoughtful, kind, non-judgmental, caring, funny, smart and I never know what she will do next," he says. "However, she never has a key and she makes very impetuous decisions, which can make me a bit nervous."

With such a busy schedule, Natalie and Paul love taking time for themselves. They enjoy going away for weekends, and have rented a gorgeous cottage in Wales on the beach for Christmas – the same one in which Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton filmed Under Milk Wood.

"So I will be channeling Elizabeth over Christmas," says Natalie.

www.nataliebcoleman.com www.johnpauldowling.com


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