The handbag designer Pauric Sweeney talks about his life in fashion. I grew up in a remote part of north-western Ireland, Donegal, between a mountainous landscape and the Atlantic Ocean. I travelled internationally as a child so I was exposed to influences beyond the shores of Donegal. I think all surroundings foster some sort of creativity, but perhaps the fortunate opportunity to travel allowed me to identify more clearly the creative natural energies that surrounded me as a child. I was all of three years old.
Fashion in any industrial or vocational sense never really occurred to me at a young age. My parents owned a prominent general drapery store in the centre of Falcarragh, the main town in Donegal. So I was surrounded by garments and classic country tailoring. I was and am very much influenced by music. I recall sewing music patches on to a Wrangler jacket that I altered. I was 11, incidentally. The eureka moment came a little later while I was in Donegal. I created an entire dress out of bamboo that I chopped up into thousands of pieces and threaded together over a period of weeks. I still have it somewhere.
I became a boarder at a school in Dublin, Blackrock, in my early teens. I was always interested in art and creativity. I went on to read architecture in Philadelphia, which was really the beginning of my career. I came back to Dublin and began working on furniture design, lights and jewellery design, soon after moving to London in the late Nineties, which is where it was all happening. I started a concept store/gallery in the then-rundown neighbourhood of Brick Lane, opening in the Truman Brewery, which became a hot bed for creative people from around the world. It was a very exciting period in British contemporary art, publishing and fashion design; there was a hive of activity. Out of that period, I emerged as a fashion designer. I was awarded the fledgling New Gen prize for two seasons running and began presenting catwalk shows during London Fashion Week.
I moved to London as a young creative and artist. I experimented with different mediums and put a lot of energy into my collections and output. I was surrounded by what has become the cream of British creativity - artists, designers and musicians who were all at similar stages in their career. It has been very interesting to see how everyone's careers have developed. When I left the area in 2006 to move to Florence, a new energy and creative community was emerging in London's East End and beyond. Florence was the natural step for my business; I could work closely with master craftspeople and tanneries, something that is impossible for emerging designers in London. As a result of being in Florence, my brand took on a whole new dimension. We could produce bags of such a high quality that we were able to sell to stores such as Bergdorf Goodman, Browns and Isetan while competing with the likes of Balenciaga and Chanel.
I don't really connect to the big themes in my collection - I am much more interested in the details and eccentricity of life and culture. For instance, I have been working with the ideas that John Cage put forward in his music and applied them to my process. This wasn't done out of a fleetingly inspirational moment, but rather something I have been thinking about for a while. For spring/summer 2008, I created a small collection that launched at Dover Street in London, based on the furniture designer and architect Ettore Sottsass. I used his ideas on composition, colour and notions of taste and applied them to my world. I collect furniture and art and later bought one of his first-edition mobiles.
I start from things I see and remember things that affect me, like a piece of music or an artist, writer or architect I'm into. I tend to always have a sketch book with me and still travel quite widely. I am aware of the industry and always balance that with what women want and need. I work a lot with my hands, and develop particular details, such as the handles, in my studio. Once ideas begin to distil, we then work with expert model makers and artisans to realise the ideas into pieces. It's very process-driven and I'm lucky as I don't have to follow any particular rules or corporate fashion formulas.