From rural town shy kid to London Fashion Week designer, Colin Horgan has strutted out of his shell and now finds his designs in the wardrobes of some of the biggest celebrities from Lady Gaga to Dua Lipa. After having moved to London to study at the Royal College of Art, the Irish creative has now moved back to his hometown in Kerry (Ireland), further projecting his cultural roots and uplifting his tight-knit community. Today we talk about his latest collection, the women that inspire his designs and what's next to come for his brand.
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Tell me about your upbringing. How did being born and raised in Ireland affect your design aesthetic?
Where I grew up is quite a removed area from say a big city like London. It is rural with a largely agricultural landscape at the forefront. Space isn’t an issue, and the community are very tight-knit. I checked what the actual population was back in 1991 (when I was born) and it came up to six hundred seventy-seven, which is like the size of an audience for a catwalk show. Growing up in Ardfert, which is an even smaller part of Kerry, was actually very safe. I have a big enough family, all boys and they are very involved in sports, which I suppose I felt was a bit uncomfortable or foreign to me. From what I remember, I was as a child probably in better company on my own. I wouldn’t say I was a loner, but more that I enjoyed my own space. My parents worked a lot so I lived in my own head, sketching illustrations of characters that came from video games like Tekken, Mortal Kombat or Streets of Rage.
I loved one character in particular from Tekken – Nina Williams. I actually became a little obsessed with her as a child, constantly sketching her and her wardrobe if she stepped outside the parameters of a Playstation. I know it sounds cliché, but I probably connected with her from her bio, which came from the inside book of contents. She was Irish, so probably the inner closeted child that I was lived a little through her.
I think growing up in Ireland had a uniformity to it. In school, if you wore the same jackets as say the ‘popular’ students you would be invisible – in a good way. That influenced me in my design work to deconstruct elements and rearrange them in my way. With my work, I wanted to take all of those experiences and create a world in my design aesthetic to live freely in. I would love to turn around and say now “Yes we are so progressive and accepting,” to be your authentic self as a teenager in school, but it still is a little slower, but it is getting better.
You have been showing at London Fashion week for your past five collections, typically through the more traditional runway approach. This season though, we saw your Spring/Summer 2023 collection showcased via video format. Why did you choose to create a video this time around?
I choose really to present this kind of way to try and use the resources and community that I have within Ireland. A lot of Irish creatives (as I was one of these people) jump ship from Ireland and move to a larger city such as London, New York City or Paris because our fashion industry is kind of complicated. There isn’t a Fashion Week or Weekend or Fashion Council like the British Fashion Council to help young designers, mentor efficiently or help with scaling unless you have a personal mentor. It is sad because we have such great designers, photographers, hair stylists, videographers and more that feel they can’t get creative work that would be exposed outside of Ireland unless there is a direct connection.
There is potential for it to thrive, but without important organisations helping you really are an independent designer living hand to mouth. That is not to diminish the opportunities within Ireland, it is such a diverse and incredible country, it’s just sometimes these opportunities are happening internally.
Your latest presentation saw the use of strobe and red-coloured lights as the models posed and walked through a desolate, neutral and almost unrecognisable location. What was the inspiration behind this video show?
I had been working with videographer Conor Diggin on this idea of disrupting the viewer and interrupting it with more of a sensory overload. It became quite organic this idea of focus, using a spotlight to effectively create a sense of adrenaline through sound too – hitting all senses. The space really was part of a local furniture store very close to my studio and we wanted it to feel industrial and honest. Again, a slight nod to the community around me.
Ray Stack, who is a lighting specialist was playing with the lights in between takes and there was an eye effect iris and I thought it looked very interesting and made sense for the story of the video. I felt like for the collection to be able to breathe we did need some kind of break. I had been watching some visual references and I came back across an old scene from Nicolas Winding-Refn’s The Neon Demon. In particular, it was a nightclub scene where a model is tied and hoisted off the ground. I felt like the scene, although symbolic, was kind of euphoric as a visual. So, when Ed Fay (editor) and DJ & producer Tommy Holohan and I met to discuss the edit, I knew the track needed to have that jolt. The red scene needed to be a bit invasive, like a personal encounter, with a euphoric outburst. Thanks to platforms like TikTok, people’s retention is now as little as one minute, we worked very hard to create a “can’t stop, won’t stop” moment to bring the viewer back into the second half. Tommy had been tirelessly creating samples and sounds with Ed re-editing, re-cutting and re-grading every two or three hours. It was very tight with time, but I suppose perhaps through the many edits and sounds created, the results were joyous and optimistic.
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Your first collection, titled Brisk, was created in 2017 as part of your Master of Arts Fashion Womenswear graduate collection from the Royal College of Art. How would you say your design aesthetic has changed, if at all, since then?
I wasn’t really thinking about its wearability of it. It was just pure showmanship. In the RCA, I was just encouraged to push everything to the limit – fabrication-wise and materiality. At that time, I was bonding a lot of unconventional materials together with all the stitching elements in iridescent and abstract shapes. Looking back, as a visual, it’s still cool, but really and truly no woman could actually sit down comfortably. The fabrics that were all bonded didn’t really travel easily and often had to be remoulded and re-formed for a press shoot or a celebrity appearance. However, the one thing I will say from exhausting all these explorations was that I could learn the importance of fabric and fabrications for consumers.
Over the seasons and more recently, I’ve invested more time into sourcing and still having those creative moments throughout the collections. I do love creating sculptural elements that are very organic to work with and after a bit of refinement are surprisingly easy to put on and wear. The top stitching that was in my graduate collection still remains today. It became a bit of a signature and if you dissect each collection now there is a clear progression with that stitching in white continuing on. I think design aesthetic-wise, I probably have changed the length of skirts, getting a little bit longer and slightly a little bit more mature.
Over the course of your collections, we’ve seen you play with hanging harness straps and overlapping panels. Where did this idea come from?
I really think all these elements came from organic stand work on the body. How I work usually is by taking a shell or element in outerwear and deconstructing it and rearranging it in a more off-centred way. How this happened was a total accident that I would usually have my head turned slightly slanted, which I liked the aesthetic, but when my head was turned upright the proportion wasn’t right. If you actually look now at all the collections you will see an off-centred, slightly slanted visual. Maybe, because I work from left to right on the body, it seems natural - it is only slight but I know I like it. The harnesses came from my graduate collection - the models were kind of being poked but the edges so slowly I’ve started making more padded softer surfaces that are “wearer friendly.”
Your designs have been seen in the likes of Lady Gaga, Dua Lipa, Ashnikko, Kehlani and more. Who would you love to see wearing your creations?
Rosalía or Rihanna would definitely be a goal of mine. I would happily get on a plane, train, car or boat. Any place, any time. Not only are they independent but they are fearless.
For many queer creatives alike, the dream has always been to leave their rural origins to move to the big city. Yet, after having moved to London, you recently decided to relocate to your home county of Kerry. What prompted this decision?
(Laughs). I suppose when you say it like it that I am beginning to ask the same question to myself! No, I am joking… There were many reasons for this. Don’t get me wrong, when I lived in London, I loved it. I think it really defined me as a gay man, I suppose I was shy and reserved – a typical Jimmy Somerville/Small Town Boy track… But I made incredible friends and lots of great memories. I think there were a few determining factors for me to move back. I started trying to get pieces made back home so I was over and back a lot. In Kerry, there is an airport which was 20 minutes from my home so it was very convenient. I found myself starting to dread having to go back over when I was home at my family's place. I was working two other jobs while doing my own brand so it was becoming a little too much for me to manage all three and as the workload increased I felt a little suffocated. I came back to Ireland for space, and there was lots of it.
Fast forward, lockdown happened and I completely stopped all fashion-based work. But it was perfect because it gave me time to restructure and adapt to the changing market and the way the industry was going. Strangely, a space became available locally and I took the unit and started to slowly build a studio space. I wasn’t sure if it was permanent and I was a bit reluctant whether to change careers altogether or to lean into it. I am very thankful for that time because I really have a new outlook on what I want to say.
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What difficulties have you faced, if any, since moving your business to Ireland? How does having your business based in Ireland differ from it being in London?
There are definitely pros and cons to being in both. I think financial support, which is very important, is near to non-existent in Ireland. I haven’t come across organisations in Ireland like UK Fashion and Textile Association, which supports showing collections in Paris, support and trading. I think when you do base yourself outside of London, a big problem is that your resources do decrease. However, sometimes you can actually come out with an equally strong outcome when you have the right resource. I wouldn’t say it's a catch twenty-two, but maybe it's about being smart with my spending. From a press point of view, I don’t think I am the only designer to return to where they grew up and continue to work from there. Actually, if anything, being home in Ireland, I feel way more focused, and less distracted – it is good for me. If I feel stressed, I live 5 minutes from a beach, I go for a run.
You say you are inspired by and design for the strong women in your life. Who are the strong women in your life and what is so striking about them for you to devote your design approach to them?
Yes, I really am surrounded by a large collective of women. From my own mum to my aunts, they really are the beating heart of collections. They are all strong women, some business owners, and some only work with men. I do feel like they do give me the necessary feedback to help evolve the collections. Funnily enough, they all wear my work, and they all promote it (naturally). I am extremely lucky to have that kind of access constantly – it's like an ongoing updated comments section and they comment honestly.
What are some of your future goals? What can we expect from Colin Horgan?
There are a few collaborative projects underway which will be released early next year, along with some market breaks. I think accessories are going to be explored more as throughout the presentations they have been really for styling, but I am hopeful that they could be a product. I think a future goal of mine is to definitely work on my sense-based projects like perfume. I do know at that stage investment and trials take time so I think that is a long way, working more in the Metaverse and exploring further post-Fashion Week Metaverse Space. I do want to touch back on the performance aspect as well as I am missing it slightly.
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