When Audrey Hamilton’s dream of being an actor in LA was snatched away, she took refuge in painting. Today, her art has a huge following and she’s launched a clothing line
If life had gone to plan for Audrey Hamilton, I’d be chatting to her this afternoon about her latest TV show rather than her fashion pop-up in the Powerscourt Townhouse Centre. For 12 years, “acting was everything”. In 2014, she relocated to LA with her then boyfriend Jack Lowe — he’s now her husband — and spent three years on the gruelling audition circuit before securing her big break: the leading role in a series for a streaming giant. On the first day of filming, she sat in her trailer (it even had her name on it) on the Warner Bros lot, texting family and friends in euphoric disbelief. But then the assistant director knocked on the door and politely said: “Sorry, but we have to release you from set” — a Hollywood euphemism for “You’re fired”.
Casting had made a mistake hiring a visa holder rather than a US citizen, and Hamilton’s immigrant status involved more paperwork than the production company was able to undertake. So that was it and within minutes, she had packed her bag and left. The part was recast and Hamilton’s dream was dead.
Five years later and the 35-year-old betrays no wistfulness for what might have been. Now, four months pregnant with her first child, an established pop artist with a 55,000-strong following on Instagram and a new clothing label that sold out on its soft launch last year, Hamilton has a whole new set of dreams that are fast becoming a reality. She credits her husband, a creative producer, for inspiring her career pivot. In a slump after losing the series she believed would change her life, Hamilton felt lost and displaced. This was made even more difficult in a city where the hustle is real. “Everybody in LA knows exactly where they want to get to and that’s their full focus all of the time,” she explains.
She and Lowe decided they would return to Dublin, but in the meantime, he wanted to lift her spirits. “He arrived home one evening with paints and canvases and told me to just have some fun doing what I’ve always enjoyed since I was a child — painting.” Intended as respite, it instead triggered a renewed passion for art. Within weeks, “out popped” the whimsical and multi-coloured His Giraffe, Her Giraffe and Posh Pig, three prints from what would become Hamilton’s Animals collection. She posted the images on Instagram shortly after; her followers spiked and she was inundated with requests for her work. Within a year, the Audrey Hamilton brand was born.
She credits her followers with having built her art business and says it’s only because of them that she’s been able to expand into apparel. The transition from art to clothing was an obvious next step for the self-taught painter, who loves clothes as much as she does colour. Dressed in tailored neutrals when we meet, she giggles as she points to the pair of neon pink heels on her feet. Like her energetic prints, she bubbles over with positivity. The abstract prints she creates using acrylic paint lend themselves beautifully to the colourful sweatshirts that comprise most of Hamilton’s modest clothing offering.
Posh Pig, Snow Leopard and Hot Mess (from her Faces collection) appear on pink, turquoise, purple, charcoal and off-white sweatshirts, and there are matching joggers available in each shade. Her latest collection sees T-shirts, featuring more of her prints, join the range.
Hamilton wanted the quality of her apparel to mirror that of her art — which is created using archival pigment printing on German cotton rag paper and presented in woodgrain frames — so she chose a luxury organic cotton. Her sweatshirts and joggers are manufactured in the same Portuguese factory that counts elite brands such as Moncler, Gucci and Dior among its clientele. Hamilton wanted the quality to be as much of a selling point as the art that adorns them, but this comes at a cost.
Each sweatshirt is priced at €180, though Hamilton is quick to point out that this is a slow-fashion brand, offering quality, longevity and sustainability. “Everything is produced in very small batches. I want to take this slowly — one idea at a time — and while I want to sell my clothes, of course, I don’t want to push people to buy, buy, buy. Owning one sweater is enough.”
She specifically chose athleisure for the launch because she wanted, quite literally, her art to be worn — not simply printed onto clothes too precious to be enjoyed. Finding a printer who could fulfill the quality of reproduction she demanded was the most challenging part of the process. “The printers had never worked with an artist before, so it was a new experience for both of us.”
Given that these are the same printers who have worked with megabrands, it demonstrates a self-belief and a respect for the work she creates that’s admirable in a young woman who has no formal training in either art or fashion; Hamilton is a journalism and media graduate.
She has learned everything by adopting a ‘head high, shoulders back’ attitude and by knocking on doors and asking questions during that first year living back in Dublin. Some of those doors, such as The Copper House Gallery on Synge Street in Dublin, welcomed her curiosity about everything from paper quality to print editions with interest and kindness. Mark Paisley, head of fine art printing and publishing there, has become a good friend of Hamilton’s.
Others, she explains “turned their noses up at me when I arrived, rucksack on my back, very green and full of queries about how to get my art out into the world”. A couple of those galleries have since approached Hamilton about representation, but she says she has politely declined.
Despite the bubblegum colours that characterise the Audrey Hamilton brand, there’s nothing disposable about it; it’s rooted in community, sustainability and philanthropy. Hamilton is hugely engaged with her customers, followers and with those craftspeople who meticulously make each sweater in Portugal (she has met and thanked each one of them). As someone who creates with her hands, she understands and appreciates the skill level of each member of the manufacturing team. She believes in producing a sustainable, environmentally friendly product, but also in treasuring and caring for that item so it can be enjoyed and reworn season after season.
Each sweatshirt comes with a complimentary white wooden and gold hanger — it’s her way of “framing” the pieces, and also a reminder to treat our clothes well. Giving back is something Hamilton hopes will be inherent to her brand. She’s already created three prints for breast cancer and wildlife charities, donating 50pc of the proceeds from each artwork.
The pop-up shop, which is running at the Powerscourt Town Centre until June 30, showcases both Hamilton’s art and clothing. Besides the aesthetics, Hamilton is very proud of the fit and cut of the sweatshirts, saying they cover and expose in all the right places. “The sweatshirts are a great length, providing coverage around the bum, but I’ve been very specific about the fit of the cuffs and length of sleeves, because I think a woman’s wrist is one of the sexiest parts of her body.”
Hamilton may credit her followers with building the Audrey Hamilton brand, but it’s her family who she says laid the foundations. Her lighting engineer father; advertising PR mother, herself a talented oil painter and creative writer; and creative sister and brother, set the tone for an upbringing of making and doing. “We were always encouraged to draw and paint, to go to art classes and to just enjoy being creative.” Her husband too, who now works full-time on the brand, is her greatest supporter. “I couldn’t have done any of this without him.”
Hamilton is a poster woman for self-belief; for picking yourself up, dusting yourself off and making things happen.