Paul Costelloe - Fashion Designer Encyclopedia

Irish designer

Born: Dublin, Ireland, 27 June 1945. Education: Studied at the École d'Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, Paris, 1968-69. Family: Married Anne Cooper, December 1981; children: Justin, Paul-Emmet, Gavin, Jessica, Robert, William, Nicholas. Career: Worked with Jacques Esterel, Paris, circa 1967, and for the Rinascente Group in Italy, 1970-73; moved to New York, worked on Seventh Avenue and for Anne Fogarty; moved back to Ireland, 1978; showed first collection, 1979; showed first men's collection 1981; introduced diffusion line, Dressage, 1989; launched Studio Line 1992; opened shop in Knightsbridge section of London, 2000; created uniforms for Sainsbury's supermarkets, 2000. Exhibitions: Featured in Victoria and Albert Museum's "50 Years of British Fashion" exhibit, 1997. Address: Main Road Moygashel, Dungannon, County Tyrone, BT71 7QR, Ireland; 7 Tunsgate Square, Guildford, Surrey, GU13QZ England.

Paul Costelloe, spring/summer 2000 ready-to-wear collection. © AFP/CORBIS.
Paul Costelloe, spring/summer 2000 ready-to-wear collection.




"Paul Costelloe: Designer Profile," in Vogue (London), November 1981.

Buckley, Richard, "A Bit o'Costelloe," in DNR: The Magazine (NewYork), August 1984.

Eastoe, Jane, "The Tall Guy," in Fashion Weekly (London), 3 August 1989.

Jeal, Nicola, "A Profit in His Own Land," in The Observer Magazine (London), 17 September 1989.

Burgess, Robert, "Man of the Cloth," in Country Living (New York), May 1991.

McGowan, Cliodhna, "Oh Dear—Costelloe Gets Thumbs Down from Fashionable Galway Women," in the Galway Advertiser, 15 October 1997.

Brannigan, Tim, "Habit and Costelloe," in the Irish Times, 7 November 1998. Fearon, Francesca, "London Doffs Hat at Irish Milliner's Show," in the Irish Times, 25 September 2000.


In its time, the fashion industry has been accused of being many things: flippant, bitchy, overly theatrical, or suffering from short-lived trends too wacky to sustain economic gain. Amid such hysteria and uncertainty, it is perhaps reassuring to find a designer like Paul Costelloe. Unpretentious and realistic, the Irish-born Costelloe is known as an ordinary man, level-headed, and calm. Attributing his drive, ambition, and success to his wife and family in Dublin, he has remained a popular figure in London fashion circles and is held in great affection by his employees.

Renowned for his use of natural fibers and fabrics, the best-quality wools and silks, and a particular bias toward traditional Irish linen, Costelloe clothes are one of the most subtle, understated, yet beautifully designed and manufactured collections available today. Acknowledging his love of Giorgio Armani's tailoring and the influence of Italian taste and style on the cut and flair of his collections, Costelloe always manages to fit an inspirational visit to Italy into his schedule before commencing the design of a new collection.

In general, three collections are produced each season under the Costelloe label, including the main line range (elegant, formal, and quietly sexy), the diffusion range called Dressage (country casual, timeless, and more suited to weekend dressing), and a third collection, the Studio Line, which was launched in 1992 and features what has been decribed as "investment tailoring," in neoclassic colors. The clothes are aimed at today's modern career woman who has a distinctive, quiet taste and understated sophistication.

Costelloe's spring-summer 1992 collection was an example of the designer at his peak. A series of sharp, sugary suits in pink, yellow, and green wool opened the collection. Teamed with short, flirty, polka dot skirts or blouses and oversize double crown hats, they were perfect for summer events like Ascot or garden parties. Ladylike check-cotton suits followed. Teamed with straw boaters and decorated with Costelloe's distinctive brass buttons, the look was demure

Paul Costelloe, spring 2000 collection: wrap top with a denim skirt. © AP/Wide World Photos.
Paul Costelloe, spring 2000 collection: wrap top with a denim skirt.
© AP/Wide World Photos.
and pristine, offset by soft kid gloves and gold jewelry. Like Armani, Costelloe loves beige, and this color, in various hues, features strongly in nearly all of his collections. For the Dressage spring-summer 1992 collection, long slim-line linen separates were shown teamed with an overscaled beige and cream lily print. The look was very Greta Scaachi in the film White Mischief, accessorized with round dark glasses and panama hats.

Before starting his own label, Costelloe had a varied and well-traveled fashion career. Born in Dublin, he was from an early age fascinated by women: the way they dressed, talked, and acted. This inspired him to pursue a career in fashion, and he enrolled at a local design college. He graduated in the early 1960s, and his sense of adventure directed him to Paris.

Armed with only a portfolio of design ideas, he followed the familiar route of knocking on fashion company doors, asking for work. The house of Jacques Esterel took him on, followed by work for an Italian manufacturer, then several positions in fashion houses on Seventh Avenue in New York. By this time, Costelloe had become experienced in fashion design, import, and export. Ever the opportunist entrepreneur, he realized he should use his talent and knowledge for his own benefit rather than someone else's, so he returned to Ireland to set up his own business.

He teamed up with Robert Eitel, a successful Irish businessman, to form the company Paul Costelloe and launched the first collection in 1979. The small fashion company has since grown into a multimillion-pound concern. Until recently, the collections were shown seasonally at the British Designer Show at Olympia in London, where Costelloe was always a popular figure. Yet following a trend established by several other London designers, he began showing at smaller, more distinctive venues.

Costelloe envisages the company expanding into other product areas and has ambitions to extend his love of cloth and color into the creation of a Paul Costelloe lifestyle. He wants to surround his customer with the subtle Costelloe touch, incorporating accessories and an interior collection for the home as well as a line of clothes for men and women. A keen member of the Chelsea Arts Club, where he stays in London, Costelloe retains his down-to-earth Irish charm and wit, as exemplified when he met Bruce Oldfield in Paris. Forgetting his name he quipped, good naturedly, "Ah, the King of Fashion."

Ireland's leading fashion designer, however, got himself into hot water in October 1997 for some comments in a British magazine suggesting Irish women were not fashion-forward. The comments were not taken lightly by female couture purchasers in Ireland, who were offended and said so in numerous follow-up articles in the Irish press. They went so far as to accuse his clothing of being well-tailored but uninspirational; to note that his apparel, made of natural fabrics such as linen, gets rumpled in the rainy Irish weather; and to call his women's suits drab and dowdy. Through it all, Costelloe maintained that his comments were misinterpreted.

The controversy did not impede Costelloe's success as a designer. He continued to find acclaim using natural materials such as lambswool, tweeds, and linens, and featuring low-key styling which melded both with his personality and with Irish tradition, as noted by Tim Brannigan in the Irish News. Brannigan explained that Costelloe considered clothing a frame and woman the picture within it; the frame should never take away from the picture. Although Costelloe sometimes introduces surprises into his collections, such as combining checks with floral prints in 1997, his designs remain elegant and unaffected by short-lived trends.

Costelloe was honored as one of the designers featured in the Victoria and Albert Museum's "50 Years of British Fashion" exhibit in 1997. In the mid-and late 1990s, he expanded outside of men's and women's apparel, designing cutlery for Newbridge, crystal for Cavan, earthenware for Wedgwood, and eyewear sold through the retailer Boots, all incorporating his well-known "fox" logo.

Costelloe's spring 2001 women's collection further solidified his long-established reputation for high-quality tailoring and classic designs. Following the theme of "A Parisian Afternoon," Costelloe drew on his experiences as a young designer in Paris to create a collection of European-styled, structured clothing featuring subdued colors and fur highlights, accessorized with scarves and hats.

Costelloe has long supported Irish charities, such as hosting an annual fashion show to support Northern Ireland Mother and Baby Appeal (NIMBA) in the late 1990s. He has heightened his profile within Europe by becoming a sponsor of a Formula One auto racing team. In addition, he designed 30 suites in the Star Court Hotel, the largest hotel convention center in Limerick, Ireland, and created uniforms of orange fleece, with baseball caps, for the floor staff of Sainsbury's supermarkets in Britain. In 2000, he opened a shop in the Knightsbridge section of London and hoped to break into the U.S. market in the near future.

Costelloe's London show in September 2000 expanded upon the designer's interest in cultures around the world. It featured white and navy dresses and peasant blouses, accessorized with white socks, brown brogues, and scarves, all in an homage to the film Pleasantville, set in the middle America of the 1950s. Francesca Fearon of the Irish Times, in a review, termed the collection "optimistic." Costelloe's collection the following season, typically, was very tailored, emulating the style of the Parisian house of Chanel.


updated by KarenRaugust

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