We need to pay more attention to our own fashion designers here in Ireland for the industry to prosper and below is an interview with a really talented designer Sarah O’ Neill of Harlow & Harvey.
I first came across the label Harlow & Harvey in a store called Zebra in Galway. This store (now closed) had amazing stock and I was really impressed by the Harlow & Harvey collection, amazing dresses and fringed blazers.
Recently I contacted Sarah for an interview about her work.
Can you tell me about yourself and how you became interested in fashion and design?
When I was a kid I wanted to be everything from a vet, to an architect, to a filmmaker. I sort of fell into studying Fashion Design, when my sister pointed out a fashion portfolio course in Galway Technical Institute, when I was at a proverbial crossroads after doing some travelling after school. I had always been making clothes and drawn towards the creative so I suppose it just felt like kismet, you know?
From there, I went on to do a degree in Limerick School of Art & Design (hardest four years of your life!) and then launched the label. But to this day, I still want to do everything! Alongside fashion – I DJ, I present a radio show, I do some presenting work and co-run a few other creative endeavours – but they all feed in and out of each other I suppose. Creative things are like that, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
How did you get started with your label Harlow & Harvey?
I started my label with my graduate collection, and was lucky enough that within the first year, I won a few awards (Bulmers Best Use of Fabric award at my graduate show and also ‘Design, Make, Create’ Fashion Entrepreneur of the Year’ shortly after) that both had small bursaries attached so that I could fund creating a diffusion collection and working on the label immediately out of college.
At the time, Olivia Breene was opening a new boutique in Galway (Zebra where I spotted the label first) and she was a great champion of the label from the off, so I stocked with her there initially, and then in London with Rag & Magpie, and now in Dublin with Frock&Fabulous and also via my website (www.harlowandharvey.com).
What’s your favourite part of conceptualizing a design?
The creative process that sees a collection of garments born out of an initial theme is a weird and beautiful thing. It is messy, strange, creative and like an exhalation of ideas which is somehow cathartic so I think that might be my favourite part, creating some sense and order out of the chaos of a theme.
Do you prefer making the clothes or sketching the design and what’s involved in creating a design from a sketch/idea to a finished wearable piece?
Harlow & Harvey is all about strong, identifiable silhouettes and mathematical detailing, in the form of my trademark fringing. I love the dichotomy that is created by the incredibly delicate wisps of hand laid fringe, and the architectural strength that they take on when laid within sexy cut-outs within the garments.
The label is definitely all about the subtle juxtapositions of strength and fragility, and balancing what is revealed and concealed – so I suppose that creating and finishing the actual pieces is my favourite bit of the process – seeing it through from a vague notion to a finished garment is extremely satisfying to my mathematical mind, but the creative outlet of then shooting press for the garments is amazing too!
What are your favourite prints/fabrics/colours to work with and why?
I absolutely love tactile fabrics – so much of the beauty of garments is about the feel and touch of the fabric – it is a multi sensory thing. I love bright colours – reds and purples and vivid blues as you can see in some of my collections – but also I love the simplicity of clean whites and taupes and clean, beautiful prints.
I’m often drawn to animal print for its natural reference, otherwise it tends towards geometrics. I’m not really too tied to any one palette – changing things up keeps things fresh.
Do you think there are many opportunities to work as a womenswear designer or any kind of fashion designer in Ireland?
Yes, of course. I think that now more than ever designers need to work smart though. Because I have always worked Harlow&Harvey as a bespoke label – as in each piece is made to order, giving the client the choice of design, adjustments, fabrication and detailing – I am in the situation where I am in complete control of the label.
Every piece is hand crafted here in Ireland by myself and so I work up garments to order. Things have definitely been affected by the recession but also new opportunities have arisen, for example, Harlow&Harvey now stocks with beautiful rentals boutiques as well – such as Frock & Fabulous in Dundrum, this business model didn’t really exist pre-recession, but now you can rent Harlow&Harvey for events as well as buy.
As well as this, I have created an exclusive Harlow&Harvey for Frock&Fabulous range, which is a series of long gowns with the trademark H&H fringing as detailing. They’re beautiful. You need to be a bit clever, but there is always the opportunity to make the situation work for you.
Do you have any advice for aspiring womenswear designers?
Be bolshy. Fashion is about the hustle, you really have to pursue what you want, and make it happen.
What is most rewarding and what is most challenging about working as a designer?
The multi faceted nature of Fashion is amazing and one of my favourite things about the industry. Fashion is all things. It is about beauty and creativity and whimsy – which appeals to my creative side, but also about mathematics and geometry and precision – which satisfies my nerdy side.
The fact that I get to make beautiful things for people who cherish them is pretty amazing. The most challenging thing for me is trying to find the time to manage all sides of the business – design, pattern drafting, making, marketing, meetings etc – the list is endless at all times so it takes stamina !
What are your aims for the future?
That’s a sort of two-fold answer – Harlow & Harvey is currently moving obliquely to concentrate on bespoke wedding & event commissions – some initial (wedding dress) designs are in the works as we speak which is super exciting, and I see Harlow&Harvey filling the void for modern brides that love the idea and romance of a traditional dress but are looking for a modern, strong, individualistic & beautiful silhouettes with intricate detailing – such as my trademark fringing. For more information people can contact me directly via my website, but I also hope to be collaborating with a select few boutiques to offer this bespoke design service.
In a complete contrast, in conjunction with another project that I am working on, the label will be doing a line of printed garments, which is still in the initial stages, but that we’re really excited about! It’s an inspiring time to be in fashion.