FRIDAY evening in a room full of coiffured, elegant women, looking for a night of glamour and excitement. Free cocktails are passed around the Gaslight Brasserie on shiny trays – mojitos, cosmopolitans and prosecco setting the tone of a sophisticated evening. Excited screams fill the room as Sonya Lennon and Brendan Courtney – the talent behind brand Lennon Courtney – enter the Galway bar, ready to talk us through their latest collection – their first designer showcase in the West of Ireland.
The collection, full of delicate cashmere, American ELLE-recommended culottes and strong lines, was a dream as expected and show the transition the pair have made from their time on Irish fashion programme Off the Rails to now. A few cocktails, a lot of outfits and a mingle later, I caught up with Brendan to chat about his start in fashion, the ideal Lennon Courtney woman and the new era of Irish design. Our short but fun interview was filled with laughs, alcohol and gasps of delights as Courtney sees women beside us trying on the latest Lennon Courtney designs. It’s clear from the way he talks that he adores his work and the women who wear his clothes – a great ambassador for Irish fashion.
He began his love affair with fashion from a young age in a family of creative ideas.“I designed my first dress when I was about 7 or 8 and then I started sketching and doing girly stuff…it’s always been in me: my mother is a dressmaker and a hairdresser, my dad was an artist, my brother is an animator…My sister is a brilliant dressmaker as well.”
It was in his 30s when Brendan attended London’s Central St Martins and began to learn how to sketch. What began as a side-line to his television career soon became a lot more than that and he started the Lennon Courtney brand with Sonya Lennon soon after.
“I didn’t learn to sketch until I got to Central St Martins in my 30s. I wanted to do something extra-curricular to TV, I was writing formats and styling and I wanted to learn how something goes from inception to creation to sales. I wanted to learn the whole process then the opportunity arose where we discovered that a manufacturer who liked us, liked what we did and agreed to help us out so it came about as a vision combined with an opportunity that began about 2 years ago.”
Although he cites Yves Saint Laurent among his influences, Brendan believes that fashion is all about personal preference and opinions. “All the ideas are in there and my taste is very well formed…I change and evolve and what I’m wearing today probably isn’t representative of what I like anymore. Designing women’s wear was actually in me so I have my own tastes and I’m confident. I suppose when you’re designing, its the courage of your own conviction, styling is the same. It’s literally just opinion and conjecture. There is no right or wrong.”
On the rise of Irish fashion, Brendan is very excited about the future for Ireland. He thinks that Irish designers have a much better standing in the fashion industry than they did a few years ago and there are so many Irish design success stories. “Next year the Crafts Council will change their name to the Designer Crafts Council of Ireland. This is the admission of the rise of Irish design and it’s a very exciting time.
It’s almost been incorporated successfully in a contemporary way into our heritage so we’re proud of being Irish. It’s new and exciting. The Irish network has becomevery important again because of our economy so it’s cool to want to tap into the Irish network.
“I suppose passion is at the forefront of that in fashion, music, art, culture and craft. Next year is the year of Irish design and that’s amazing so we will be galloping around the world showcasing. JW, Simone, they’re just the success stories, there are so many under the radar here who are brilliant as well.”
Brendan would love to see their designs on celebrities like Tilda Swinton, Jennifer Aniston, Amy Huberman, Kate Middleton and Kate Moss, “Kate Moss, of course. She is a goddess of the catwalk. I don’t really like her boho rock chic thing but I do respect her influence and I respect her longevity. I’d be happy for her to wear my clothes.” However the Lennon Courtney woman is a little closer to home – Sonya.
“In a word: Sonya. The Lennon Courtney woman is busy, excitable, likes a drink, loves clothes, saves up for a good handbag but wants value, wants quality and knows what she is doing.”
He had a few words of advice for up-and-coming designers, “Do one thing and do it really well…focus on one thing. Úna Bourke does leather – perfect. Focus on the craft, something you do really well. We’re really focusing on knitwear for the next few seasons because we do that really well and we do basic solids. So we have a very minimal traditional palette and we’re trying to keep it to that. It’s a tough game, work hard, play less and enjoy it.”
Lennon Courtney have really grown and with their Off the Rails experience behind them, they have turned a love of fashion into a legitimate business. They sell on their site, Harvey Nichols and Wolf & Badger in Mayfair, London among other stores. Irish designers Sonya Lennon and Brendan Courtney seem to be on the way to global fashion domination and in my opinion; there is no one better for the job.
Words : Emily Maree.
Editor and Co-Founder – intrigue.ie
Photos via lennoncourtney.com