Brendan Courtney welcomes Paul McLauchlan into his new home as he and Sonya Lennon shoot their latest 70s-inspired show-stopping collection.
It’s a couple days after the Irish general election in Dublin. The weather, like the country, is unsure of itself. One minute there’s a flurry of sleet, the white light of a spring day veiled by grey clouds, the next it’s dry with bright blue skies. A chill air persists.
Inside Brendan Courtney’s city centre apartment, the photo shoot for the latest Lennon Courtney campaign is underway, with co-creative directors Courtney and Sonya Lennon calling the shots. Compared to outside, this is a much more serene environment.
In fact, the mood is quite optimistic. The model, Lauren Visser, exudes confidence in a palette of bold hues and directional shapes evoking the thrill of the 1970s.
- said Courtney.
Politicians are fans of Lennon Courtney. (“We’re not a party political fashion brand,” chimes Lennon, with Courtney laughing, “we’re not that stupid.”) Diplomats, celebrities, and public figures too.
The latest collection, available from March 5 at Dunnes Stores, in store and online, is a continuation from previous collections, from a fuchsia off-the-shoulder dress, nipped at the waist, to a similar style in lime, and a bronze satin dress belted at the waist, while a cobalt blue floaty frock is dappled with pops of colour. The clothes come at modest length with a respectable (in office speak) amount of skin on show, they are not without their fun.
Between takes, Lennon and Courtney tell tales of Dublin — sentiments as simple as the club nights to restaurants that used to be but are no longer. Gentrification has caught up with the capital, now one of the most expensive cities in the world, and discussion is tinged with nostalgia.
In effect, it explains much of the brand’s design handwriting. Lennon cites the fabulosity of 70s fashion, particularly Halston and the exuberant joy of the era, as key features on their moodboard. “There’s always a thread of the 1970s in what we do,” she said.
Why not have fun as hotels and apartment blocks emerge like glass towers around you, and rent prices climb ever so higher. Sometimes, the thrill of dressing, in our professional and private lives is enough to soothe one in times of change. There’s no greater escape than fashion be it for the boardroom or a dinner party. Or both. This is the philosophy at Lennon Courtney’s core.
“We began Lennon Courtney as a dress brand. This was based around consolidating what we’re good at and a return to where the label began, understanding where we needed to go for our customer,” said Lennon.
Coming in at €79 to €119, the Lennon Courtney woman could be anywhere. Accessible, attainable, she could be on her way to work, as Lennon often is, with her tousled bob, bold lip, and eccentric glasses. She said, “If I leave the house in the morning and I’m not wearing a piece of Lennon Courtney, I have to think: if I’m not providing clothes that I want to wear on a daily basis then we’re not doing our job.”
“We want to be able to provide that solution in clothing that can be styled in your own way,” said Courtney., who has his own ‘uniform.’ Today it consists of a black jumper and turned up white chinos.
The word ‘solution’ comes up a lot in our conversation. Each permutation of the Lennon Courtney formula, they say, is designed to make getting dressed in the morning an almost thoughtless process. (Courtney lists Roland Mouret’s ‘Galaxy’ dress as the basis, a form-fitting frock with structured sleeves, as an inspiration.) ‘The clothing becomes a physical and emotional support — a philosophy we’ve adopted is ‘the armour and the attitude’. It gives you power over how you look and how you present yourself,” said Lennon.
They design for a busy working woman who loves fashion but isn’t a slave to its whims and flights of fancy. “It’s about working with the woman, not making her something she’s not,” said Lennon, “but giving her an extra bit of rocket fuel to give her the tools to be who she wants to be.” As if telepathically communication, Courtney jumps in, saying, “What’s evolved is that everything has to include our three pillars”. He identifies equality, empowerment and confidence as principal attributes for a Lennon Courtney dress.
“We don’t use those words lightly,” said Lennon, “from equality to empowerment and confidence, we live that ethos in everything that we do. We’re reconnecting with the things we do outside of Lennon Courtney and realising that’s why the brand existed in the first place.” Both Lennon and Courtney have ventures on the side. Lennon is a television presenter and stylist. Courtney works as a presenter and broadcaster, covering fashion and social issues. They joined forces for RTÉ’s Off the Rails in 2008 before launching Lennon Courtney in 2012, first as an independent venture before collaborating with Dunnes Stores in recent years.
Their working relationship is symbiotic with Lennon undertaking the styling and Courtney working on marketing. “We work much better when we’re together,” said Lennon.
Together, in a fashion true to the stereotype, they can finish each other’s sentences. They know exactly where to defer to the more learned on a given topic, though the conversation is never rehearsed. One gathers their mutual respect guides them in business, as much as it does in the design process.
“When it comes to design, we’re quite connected,” said Courtney, who attributes a level of creative ‘madness’ to Lennon and the more commercial mindset to himself, with the majority of the collaboration being an “understanding of what we want to achieve”. The growth of Lennon Courtney hasn’t been without its hurdles. Last summer, they strategically redesigned the design process as the business outgrew the model then in place. Now, Lennon notes a “fundamental change” in how the two communicate with the team when preparing the collections. Moreover, the brand grew from two to eight collections annually, with nine or 10 photo shoots taking place to supplement each launch.
At today’s photo shoot, a team of 12 has assembled to ensure the perfect shot is captured. The model arrived from Amsterdam amidst Storm Ciara. Lennon and Courtney are hands on, rearranging furniture and closely watching the stream of photos on a laptop scouting the final image. After some deliberation, they emphatically rejoice with each success. “That’s it,” they say.
The shoot takes place in Courtney’s recently renovated city centre apartment, against the backdrop of grey stone floors, glass double doors. The interior design is a smorgasbord of design aesthetics, replete with mementos, trinkets, a mix of modern art and photography, and foliage, while the shoot reflects an urban simplicity, “to allow the colours and shapes to speak for themselves”. The objective of the campaign is to evoke the confidence the label associates itself with and to capture a wardrobe that can take you from meeting to bar to dinner to party. Moreover, it’s for professional women of all ages.
“I’m very opposed to ageism, against women being made to feel bad about getting older,” said Courtney, “I want the clothes to appeal to anyone who sees them and likes them.”
- said Lennon.
Interestingly, the clothing is ultrafeminine, at a time when the dominant theme amongst many fashion designers is a departure from that style., in favour of structured tailoring and pared-down silhouettes.
The focal point of this collection is the dress, though there are separates available in the wider offering.
Courtney defends the stylistic direction. “It’s important for us to feel like her silhouette is celebrated. I love the androgyny of fashion,” said Courtney, “as a gay man who designs clothes with my best friend, a woman, for women. The movement between genders is really interesting for me but I also stand up and support women like Beyoncé and Rihanna who celebrate women for being women and the individuality of their body shapes.”
“It’s not an apology for sexuality, sensuality, or femininity — that’s not our job,” said Lennon, adding, “we want to celebrate who we are, our women, and say ‘we love it’.”
“It’s an interesting time for gender equality and how you represent that in fashion, such as empowering women and also making them feel beautiful,” said Courtney.
Towards the end of our conversation, Courtney makes a proclamation, with honesty and generosity, “we make beautiful clothes for smart women.”