Paul Galvin is back with his tenth collection for Dunnes Stores. He talks grand designs with Paul McLauchlan
Paul Galvin is unapologetic about who he is and what he stands for. Maybe we could learn something from that in a time when we are offered endless opportunities to self-reflect
Discussing his latest collection for Dunnes Stores, Galvin is unwavering in his vision and wholly consumed by executing it perfectly.
His inspirations are innately personal. His beliefs about Ireland are deep-set. His convention of masculinity isn’t going to change. He bases his collections on the people surrounding him.
This is no different to Paul Galvin, the sportsman. Galvin, 40, is a former Kerry footballer and current Wexford Senior football manager. He stirred controversy in late 2019, a few months into his managerial position, when his selection decisions were considered too tough.
He means business. Throughout his own career on the field, he exerted a self-confident physical prowess.
When asked if he thinks there are comparisons between fashion and GAA, perhaps the feverishly followed seasons, cult of personality, and devotional fans, Galvin offers, without elaborating, a resounding ‘no.’
But it was sport that led Galvin to fashion. From footballers’ kits to managers’ suits and the architecture of stadiums, Galvin’s latest collection for Dunnes Stores, his tenth, is entitled ‘Scaffolder’.
The story is based on Mohed Altrad, a French-Syrian self-made billionaire scaffolding entrepreneur, a best selling author, a rugby club owner, and a philanthropist.
Galvin was inspired by Altrad, who was born in the Syrian desert to Bedouin nomad parents, was orphaned at four, and moved to France in his teens where he studied and worked in the construction industry before buying a small scaffolding company which blossomed into a global business.
According to a press release, the collection is for "self-confident men who work hard, dress well and build their own futures on the great outdoor gym that is the building site."
Galvin, not only inspired by Altrad, made this for the friends who he worked with on building sites during summers growing up, from the ages of 15 to 20, and, in general, for anyone who might find themselves attached to construction work.
Galvin, recognised by his woolly beard and heavily tattooed sleeve, grew up in Lixnaw, Co Kerry, scaling the ranks of GAA before becoming a secondary school teacher.
He ascended the ranks of inter-county hurling and football with aplomb, courting controversy and bowing out of competition multiple times.
In 2015, he announced a pivot to fashion, in collaboration with Dunnes Stores, alongside his sporting endeavours.
His turn as a fashion designer is not unlike that of other Irish sports stars such as Padraig Harrington, and beyond that personalities like Brendan Courtney and Sonya Lennon, and designers like Paul Costelloe and Carolyn Donnelly, who partnered with the retailer.
Galvin’s personal style is often mislabelled by commentators as ‘hipster’ which is not true.
Unconventional styling in men’s fashion is often branded thus. Galvin agrees, he doesn’t like words like "hipster", adding “I don’t know how to define my style. It changes a lot.”
To capture it in its most recent iteration: Galvin is the kind of man who can pull off a black tuxedo, sans bow tie, with argyle socks and chunky brogues (as seen at his sister’s wedding), a navy suit with a sporty zip-up instead of a shirt.
He can inject bold colours and prints into his wardrobe fearlessly.
Does he have any style advice for Irish men? “I don’t give anyone style advice, that’s the best style advice,” he said.
Galvin was propelled by the realisation that the high street “never said or meant anything” to him. In light of this, with Dunnes Stores, he provides an alternative for men who might echo his thoughts and feelings.
His inspirations are varied, an agglomeration of disparate worlds: Art, fashion, business, music, and culture.
He lists brands like Carharrt and Levi’s, men like businessman Gianni Agnelli, designer Fred Perry, musician Pharrell Williams, fashion designers Jonny Johannson and Yohji Yamamoto, politician Harry Boland, artist Jack B Yeats, music labels like Kitsuné, magazines.
While one won’t find the lurid, figurative oil paintings of Jack B Yeats, the technical wizardry of master tailor Yohji Yamamoto, and the feminine-leaning streetwear of Pharrell Williams, in these collections, one can expect to see the tailoring favoured by Fiat owner Gianni Agnelli and Harry Boland, who were more visible in previous collections, and the sportswear of Fred Perry.
When asked to pick a favourite, Galvin’s determination falters. He can’t pick just one. He likes what he calls the “print storytelling pieces”: The scaffold print, bollard print shirting, and Bedouin print shirting.
With an indubitable air of unfussy cool, the clothes are rooted in a palette of khaki greens on pavement greys, neon orange on navy and luminous yellow on black, while cargo pants, sleeveless padded jackets and shell track tops are the dominant features throughout, bridging workwear and sportswear.
Elsewhere in the collection, there is a colour story that plays on high-visibility neons paying homage to Ireland’s urban industrial sector, while bollards and abstract scaffolds reveal themselves as prints.
“I see my brand as being like a curriculum with three core subjects; culture, masculinity, and meaning,” said Galvin. “These subjects can only be taught or communicated through a certain language. The masculinity part is innate and has only become apparent to me in recent seasons,” said Galvin.
On the subject of masculinity, when asked what it means to him and if he thinks we’ll see a shift in that aesthetic, in light of the tidal wave of alternatives from Gucci to Harry Styles, in years to come, Galvin said, “it’s not something I think about very much. It means just being myself and I don’t see that changing.
Galvin is prescriptive about the developing process from conceiving and naming the seasonal inspiration to the print storytelling, print scale, proportions and colour stories, to the more mundane details such as copywriting and content creation.
“I ensure there is clarity and consistency in the communication of the brand,’ said Galvin, adding, “there are words, phrases, colours, and fabrics we don’t use as the subjects [the brand] will be misunderstood by the man we are speaking to.”
The real beauty of this collection is the way it treats its inspiration. Workwear is often drawn upon by high fashion designers with everyone from Raf Simons to Off-White and Heron Preston elevating the language of utility and durability at a considerably higher price to the likes of Dickie’s and Carhartt, making it unattainable for most.
Galvin’s primary function for using workwear isn’t to sell them for hundreds or thousands of euro but to faithfully represent a group that is so often fetishised by high fashion brands.
“The idea or story is always rooted in culture and must have a greater meaning than just consumption or commerce,” said Galvin.
To this end, the clothes, produced in limited quantities for select Dunnes Stores boutiques and online, honour an industry that is so frequently exploited by fashion designers.
Here, the design team dilutes the inspiration, making it digestible for the everyman at a price that doesn’t laugh at their savings account. In fact, they’re very much the definition of affordable.
More so, despite the inspiration, there’s a certain timelessness to them.
“You can’t ignore or escape trends,’ said Galvin, “but I consider my work with Dunnes as cultural storytelling and everything from the design point of view stems from this regardless of trends.”
This sort of fashion defines a legacy. It captures an audience. Undoubtedly, this project comes from the heart.
As with any Dunnes Stores collaboration, a cohort of individualised special projects, this offshoot caters for the everyman who wants practical style solutions from a trustworthy source.
Paul Galvin likes it, he believes you will too. One could say, he knows you will.