Paul Costelloe the fashion designer who loves real women. Flamboyant, prone to tantrums, inclined to creative extravagances that grab headlines and enliven A list events. Stereotypical fashion designer? Definitely Paul Costelloe? Definitely not.
Married for twenty years and counting, and father of seven children, Paul Costelloe was a keen rugby player until his fifty five years nudged him reluctantly towards the touchline. And although he is an admirer of Armani, Paul usually wears jeans and a denim shirt albeit with a quiet tie and a well cut jacket. Occasionally seen at international events where his clothes are being shown, but rarely to be found at celebrity parties and premieres, Paul Costelloe would rather be at home in the evening: a few years ago he moved his family from Dublin to London so that he could be with them more often. With a cosy attitude like that, you begin to wonder how this man ever got involved with fashion.
When Paul was born in Dublin, the youngest of seven children himself (eerily his wife is also one of seven), his father owned a raincoat factory This may have alerted him to the possibilities of clothing manufacture, but it seemed to have little immediate influence when, aged 16, he left school and worked first in a pig factory the gory details of which are best left untold and then as a trainee book keeper. Reviewing his options for something better, he says that fashion design appeared at the top of his list by a process of elimination. Art had been the only school subject at which he had excelled but, having seen his elder brother struggle to make a living as a painter and sculptor, fashion seemed to be a more lucrative alternative.
So, in the late 1960s, Paul went to Paris and enrolled at the Chamber Syndicate, the French equivalent of the British Fashion Council. Typically dismissive of his formal training, Paul says he learnt most about fashion just by living in Paris in the era of Ungaro and Cardin. By 1969, still only 23 years old, he was design assistant at Jacques Esterel.
Moving from the sublime to the commercial two years later, Paul became a designer with Marks & Spencer and was sent to train in Milan. M&S soon abandoned their assault on the Italians but Paul stayed on with La Renescente, the department store whose previous designers had included Georgio Armani.
By the time he had added the USA to his CV, working first in New York and then in Philadelphia, Paul Costelloe had become an experienced designer. It was time to create his own label, which he did by moving back to Ireland in 1979. By 1994 the Paul Costelloe brand was established enough to have a flagship UK store in the heart of Knightsbridge, and has gone on to become equally desirable in Scandanavia and North America. Always practical and refreshingly free of pretension, Paul is also proud of having designed uniforms for Aer Lingus and British Airways.
Reading through Paul"s press cuttings there is, perhaps, a clue to the man in the most common adjective he attracts "charming". This applies especially with women, to the point of being a flirt in the old fashioned, hands off sense. He declares that, rather than starting out with a passion for clothes, he was in part attracted to fashion design by his appreciation of women, his desire to get close to women, and his preference for working with women.
And not just any women. Paul Costelloe is a champion of "real" women, for whom his clothes are designed. "There is a huge gap between what looks great on wafer thin models and what looks great on real women". So, while other designers are posing for the paparazzi, Paul is often to be found chatting with (and charming) real customers in places the paparazzi don"t go. He says that he gets more pleasure from seeing his clothes being worn on the street than being paraded on the catwalk.
Not that he hasn"t had his brushes with notoriety: he once described a certain type of woman as " ambitious mutton (who) wouldn"t know style if it tottered up to them on ten inch heels". He claims to have been quoted out of context, but goes on to explain his preference for style over fashion (a preference shared by Coco Chanel): "Some labels are high fashion, and there"s a security in that. But if it"s not worn by an 18 year old or a 28 year old, it can be risky. You can wear Armani or Costelloe till you"re 70."
The vindication of this philosophy, and his breakthrough outside Ireland, came when Princess Diana started wearing Paul Costelloe, followed by the Countess of Wessex in her Sophie Rhys Jones days. And Liza Minelli has been quoted as saying that: "Paul Costelloe"s down to earth clothes look magnificent".
They feel magnificent too, because Paul also shares Chanel"s passion for materials. "Fabrics are so important," he says. "They must feel good and be fluid". Traditional crisp linen and tweed have almost become Costelloe trademarks, but Paul is keen to use any natural fabric "softest leather, wool and cashmere, for instance" as long as the quality is high and the look and feel are right. There"s a price to pay for such quality, but Paul"s laid back attitude excludes extravagantly expensive publicity so it isn"t a silly price. And because his clothes are really wearable in the real world, designed with style instead of one season novelty, they"ll pay off again and again.
For Fall 2012 designers are inspired by a wide range of influences, from the elaborate details of brocade and metallic gold embellishments to the dynamic mix of military chic and power pantsuits. Colo