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My Fashion Life: Paul Costelloe and his secret life as a painter

Veteran designer and artist Paul Costelloe reveals his latest venture: a coat collection for the Jacques Vert Group

Paul Costelloe

Irish designer Paul Costelloe’s long fashion career has taken him to Paris, Milan, New York and London, where he is now based. Alongside his own label and collections for Dunnes Stores in Ireland, he is always looking for new opportunities, as his new collaboration proves.

How did the collaboration with Jacques Vert come about?

It was through mutual contacts. I answered a call, which is unusual for me, and came to the Jacques Vert Group head office in Islington, north London. We decided to do a little capsule collection for autumn 15 of 13 coats under the Windsmoor name – just to see if the old Costelloe magic is still there.

Why did you want to work with Jacques Vert?

There was no reason not to; it’s a traditional company and I’m a classic designer. It’s nearly three years since Paul Costelloe was available in John Lewis and House of Fraser, and this was an opportunity to step back in, in a small way [as Jacques Vert is available in both stores].

How would you describe the collection?

I thought the original Windsmoor label was great, but I asked myself how I could make it appeal to a younger woman than it has in the past. So I added softer colours and shapes. I know it sounds weird, but I think coats can have real mystique and sex appeal. My coat fit is between a coat and a jacket, so it has a slimness that is more flattering.

Do you have a favourite piece in the collection?

I think it’s all in the wearer. Each one covers a certain moment in a woman’s life. If she’s a mother on the school run, then the little plaid coat is perfect. If she’s going to her office in the City, then she might go for the longer black funnel coat. [Retail prices for the collection range from £249 to £349.]

Can you tell me a bit about your background?

My career has been a fabulous whirlwind of peaks and valleys. I think anyone would have loved to experience what I have. In the 1960s, I lived and worked in Paris on Rue de Faubourg Saint-Honoré with Yves Saint Laurent next door. Then, in 1971, Marks & Spencer sent me to Milan to set up their design team. It didn’t really work out, but I stayed in Milan as in-house designer for [Italian department store] La Rinascente. Three years later, I got a job on Seventh Avenue in New York, before returning to Northern Ireland in the early 1980s to launch my own label, Paul Costelloe. I’ve been based in London for the last 15 years.

You have a rather large family. How have you balanced your home life with your career?

I have seven children: six boys and one girl. If you want to stay grounded that’s the way to do it. We’re very family orientated and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my wife. She’s a gifted woman but was happy not to go to work. I know it’s not the norm today, but the kids were lucky to have their mother there when they got home from school.

What kind of woman do you design for?

I cater to the woman who wants good value and nice materials, and has a bit of nous about her. She’s confident, she keeps herself fit, she’s opinionated and she has a good sense of humour. She doesn’t take herself too seriously.

Is there anyone in particular you’d like to see wearing your designs?

Well, Princess Diana wore my designs, so that was probably the pinnacle of my career. Well, maybe not quite. I don’t go out looking to dress celebrities. I like dressing the girl on the street - I like seeing someone wearing something I’ve designed in an interesting way.

What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received?

I don’t think I got much. In those days we didn’t really have mentors or anything like that. You made your own path. If I were to give advice, I’d say you’re better off being poorly paid but working for a relevant brand. Then, when you move on, you have it on your CV.

If you didn’t work in fashion what would you do?

I would be an alcoholic painter. When I’m on business trips I try to make excuses not to join my colleagues for dinner, and I’ll go and draw. That’s my passion. I’ve even had a few exhibitions.

What’s next for you?

I’m showing my spring 16 menswear collections [in London in June]. I’m working on Paul Costelloe Windsmoor spring 16 as well as my womenswear catwalk show. Then I’ve got homeware and men’s casualwear collections to work on for Dunnes Stores in Ireland.


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