In conversation with Colin Horgan

The fashion designer talks Pamela Anderson, symmetry and nightlife.

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London–based designer Colin Horgan took his first steps into fashion surprisingly recently, at art college in his home country Ireland. Fast forward a collection or two, and Horgan’s effortless mesh of harmony and disarray, nostalgia and futurity, has taken the fashion world on a wild motor ride back into a future where the ’80s dancefloor never emptied out. Mesmerized by the tension between fabrics and textures, luxury and affordability, he layers PVC with performance heat foil to challenge associations with practices around materials considered abnormal or taboo. The magic that ensues is dramatic—resembling an ’80s catwalk blend of fashion and theatre. But underneath the excess, firm balance subsists. The head-to-toe Colin Horgan woman is assured in her spontaneity: “That girl that’s been out until morning, returning home in the same top that disappeared earlier in the night…” And if, clubbing gods forbid, you’ve never been that girl, be certain that Colin will serve you the fantasy on the runway. 

Colin, how did you first know that fashion could be your form of expression?

I’ve always had a strong interest in drawing and, when I was younger, I was obsessed with drawing women with crazy, exaggerated features; these girls with big breasts and high hipbone ensembles. I remember seeing Pamela Anderson in Baywatch and I still haven’t worked out why I loved her so much. I guess it was because she looked like a creature from another planet.

Later, before leaving school to go to college, there was a bit of desire in me to do fashion, still I was very intimidated by how little I knew about it. So, I thought my best option was fine art. Once I was introduced to fashion however, I realised that I had a long way to go. Nevertheless, the plus was that I had a lot to learn; and I did want to learn. I loved fashion’s fast paced rhythm and how the search for the new was high in demand. I knew that I wanted to do this, with challenges from all angles presenting themselves to me.

Does the fashion education you received back home in Ireland inform your work?

I went to school in a city called Limerick, which, to a degree, is very far removed in comparison to London’s overloaded fashion scene. The school’s course was very intense, the experience was probably more extreme than doing my MA or my first collection. And I guess this was because I was starting from basics. I was completely overloaded and bombarded with a million things and pieces of machinery. I remember not knowing anything about sewing, seam allowances, pressing or patterns even. Just imagine, I didn’t even know how fronts and backs were supposed to be joint; like, I was really terrible at the start. The great thing about my work ethic, however, was that I was always eager to learn and I wasn’t afraid to just throw myself in. My family also played a huge role in my work, and they continue to do so. My parents work together, and to see them in both a professional and personal setting is extremely inspiring. They spend every minute together and are very in sync, which pushes me to reach that level of excellence.

What fascinates me about your work is the use you make of textures and fabrics. Everything is so bold and playful, yet elevated.

To be honest, I’ve always had some restrictions or boundaries when it came to fabrics. I was never in a position where I could afford the most exquisite fabrics that cost 100 pounds a metre, so I’ve had to make do with what I can afford and try to elevate it.With fabrics, there’s a lot of manual labour to bring it to an expensive level. I’ve become a little nerd experimenting with different types of temperatures and fusing to give a sense of quality.

For my MA collection, which I presented in June 2018, I primarily used PVC and performance heat foil to challenge associations of synthetic material with taboos and practices considered ‘abnormal’. After countless hours of heat testing I realised that when you heat PVC and bond it to another fabrication, the material is literally transformed into an almost leather-like fabric. While creating the showpieces, I had a very strong, photogenic visual in mind; something that people could indulge in or escape through for a moment. I wanted it to be aspirational and inclusive. With the new season, SS19, I still wanted to carry on the same feeling but bring it into a wearable realm while formulating that momentum. The materials I decided to use are, once again, not expensive, but I was very consistent with altering them to bring everything to a certain level of lust. Ultimately, what I love about the relationship between fabric and textures is the tension of push and pull. I guess it becomes almost like a real life relationship that brings both joy and disappointment. It’s a two way street where both sides make sacrifices to work together in their aim for success.

There’s also a push and pull of conceptual opposites that permeates your designs: the future and the past, masculinity and femininity. Am I right to think these opposing forces drive your creative process as well?

Absolutely! There’s always that thing about a man designing for a woman too. I’m really not super “fashion aware”, but I do have a good sense of balance and proportion. I’m aware of certain design heroes that I definitely retreat to for inspiration, and I’ve never hid that from anyone. I love the magic and excess of what ‘80s catwalk shows were. They went on for hours and were a combination of fashion and theatre. It was very cinematic and had the drama that I also want to convey with my garments. Also, when I’m uncertain about what I want from my work, I go to my wall of inspiration with disconnected images that vary from old fashion book excerpts to images of spaces that I think would work for the concept of the woman I envision when I design.

Who is that woman?

I know her inside out. I could never picture her in pyjamas, or in shorts even. I imagine she would sleep naked to purify herself, and then she’d wake up and dress up in something of mine just to go to the local store for milk!

She sounds confident yet vulnerable; perhaps a result from the unstructured symmetry of the looks? Is that the character you have in mind when designing a piece? And how did this vision develop?

I’m really fixated on things and have an addictive personality, and I think I try to disturb that with an awkward symmetry. I love symmetry, but I’ve always had the problem of working from left to right and changing my mind halfway. For a while, it was frustrating that I couldn’t just commit. But then I started to use it to my advantage for an effective look. I also think that when I visualise something, I often see it as one thing in my head but the result is something different when translated onto the stand. I’m often surprised with the outcome but I’ve allowed myself to just run with unexpected situations that result in this awkward symmetry.

As for the character in my mind, I do think my woman is assertive while remaining spontaneous and in the moment. Things come and go, commitments change, but confidence remains. She enjoys the present and whoever surrounds her in that moment in time. I think life is never going to go to plan; it’s the journey that makes it exciting.

I also want to know more about the story behind your garments’ names: Nightwalker trousers, Morning After dress. Have nightlife and clubbing been a large part of your life that has inspired you to create?

Guilty! I spent—and I still do—a lot of time in the clubbing scene. Similarly to my work environment and designs, where I go to dance is a communal, tribe-like space in which no one feels the need to say anything to each other. What’s special is that we’re all in rhythmic sync, embracing that thumping noise closely together; it’s really inspiring. I think that when I’m in that kind of setting and when I release all tension, I see people’s outfits and styles and I certainly do get the craziest ideas. I know it’s stereotypical, but all the colours, smells and noises in that environment really have a sense of balance. I feel like this balance of letting go whilst accepting an underlying uncertainty is a really strong experience.

When I create names for my garments, I retreat to these real life situations. I think I can confidently say that a lot of us have been the boy or girl that’s been out until morning, returning home in the same top that disappeared earlier in the night. It’s really important to me to create something that feels approachable to the viewer and wearer. I’m not just making stuff for singers, but for real people too.

Are there any other cultural and socio-political messages you wish your work could send to the viewer, and wearer, as well?

I definitely use my work as a vessel for escapism. I think that clothing can act as a catapult for someone to step away from real life situations that are happening around them. There are a lot of things going on in this strange world, and I know it’s important to be aware of them, to take a step back and engage. But I also believe there are so many problems already that this is my small something to put out there for people to choose whether to socially engage with or to ignore. My work is a safe, inclusive zone, regardless whether you’re male or female, but I’m not forcing anyone to swallow my message.

You’re steadily on your way of building an established label. You’ve dressed Gaga, Miss Fame, Arca, and the list goes on. Has this been a clear path in your mind, or has your intuition always guided you?

I’ve been very lucky to have a small but extremely unbreakable support system. There’s definitely forward-thinking in terms of what I want to get out of Colin Horgan, but while I’m being mentored and guided, I’m also always an opportunist with my intuition. I guess it’s like my women—assertive yet spontaneous. You can ride the wave for only so long until you hit the shore, but it’s about figuring out if you want go back into the sea or step onto the sand. I think for now I’m really going focus on product development while continuing to create excitement and buzz around my brand. My work gets me excited, so isn’t it only fair I share it with everyone else?

What’s the next thing you’re dreaming of?

I’d love to host a huge party where everyone’s wearing my clothes and I DJ until dawn. I don’t think I’m asking for much to be honest.

Words by Valkan Dechev

Photography by Jim Tobias and Peter E. Reiche

 

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