There really is nothing worse than going into an interview feeling underprepared, but when I sit down in Dunnes Stores HQ to chat to footballer-turned-fashion designer Paul Galvin, I’m forced to admit that my knowledge of him begins and ends with his eponymous line for Dunnes.
Not that that’s a problem, but in speaking to any creative person, it’s helpful if you can avoid viewing their work in a vacuum, and Galvin in particular — having grown up “in the middle of the bog”, embedded in the culture of the GAA — presents a fascinating case study when it comes to identifying the influences that have shaped his distinctively modern but traditionally rooted point of view.
But the more I probe the more it seems he came fully formed out of the bog, armed with that fierce sense of individuality that set him apart both on and off the pitch.
Indeed, for all my ignorance about the sport, had you pushed me a decade ago to name three GAA players off the top of my head, it’s likely I would have pulled the name Paul Galvin out of the ether.
In every sport there are figures who transcend the sports pages and enter the public consciousness, and when it comes to GAA, Galvin has undoubtedly been one of them, but I’m won’t wax lyrical about his GAA past; that would be — in his words — bluffing, and as it quickly becomes clear to me, if there’s one thing Paul Galvin doesn’t like it’s a bluffer.
In the circumstances, it’s fine. We’re here to talk about his about his latest Peaky Blinders-inspired collection for Dunnes, and a homecoming of sorts, as the two worlds of Paul Galvin are set to collide in Tralee this Friday at a fashion show to benefit his former local GAA clubs.
It would be convenient to demarcate these two worlds geographically; in Kerry, he was Paul Galvin, the All-Star county footballer and secondary school teacher, and now in Dublin he is Paul Galvin, the fashion designer and one half of a couple dubbed “Ireland’s Posh and Becks”.
When he tells me “the love of his life” brought him to Dublin, he’s clearly talking about Louise Duffy, the Today FM DJ he married on New Year’s Eve in 2015, but living in Dublin has allowed him to pursue his other great love, fashion, as a serious career.
Nonetheless, he continues to play club football, and his love for his home county brings him back to Kerry as often as work allows; and this week Paul Galvin the man takes Paul Galvin the label to Tralee for a fashion spectacular.
“The boys are in the final in hurling and they’ve no pitch,” he says, plainly, referring to his local Lixnaw Hurling Club.
“They train in Tralee because the local pitch doesn’t have flood lights, so I’m trying to raise some money for them with a fashion show. Every small rural club needs money.
Regardless of floodlights, they need money to run the clubs, so half the proceeds raised will go to Lixnaw and half will go to Finuge Football Club, which was my club. It’s a real community effort.
“We’ve some local designers showing; a special guest in Joe Canning, the Galway hurler; the Kerry footballers will be there; my family; lots of locals; musicians.
"It’s a full night’s entertainment, and every ticket holder will be in a draw to win a Peter O’Mahony Munster jersey, a Joe Canning Galway jersey, or a John Egan Brentford jersey. We’ve Dunnes vouchers to give away too — Dunnes have been really supportive.”
As we chat about his evolution from footballer to designer, he has nothing but praise for the high street behemoth that welcomed him into the fold in 2015.
In its expanding stable of Irish design, Galvin stands out as something of an anomaly in that he has no formal training in fashion.
Carolyn Donnelly, Paul Costello and Joanne Hynes were proven entities when the might of Dunnes machine was thrown behind them; why, I wonder, did they take a punt on a former footballer from Kerry?
“I don’t know,” he says with almost trademark bluntness. “I suppose they met me. They saw what I’d done, and they saw I had initiative.
“I’d spent time, money and energy creating a small sample collection; I was able to talk about it with authenticity, so I think they saw someone who had a work ethic, who had gone and done something with the interest I had, and who was serious about making a business of it.”
And serious he is. He’s been accused of being over-earnest, but from his first collection he’s been determined to prove that he is no flash in the fashion pan.
We talk at length about volumes and supply chains, fabrics and cuts, and it’s clear he knows his stuff, but the word that comes up over and over again is authenticity.
To strive to live an authentic life, be an authentic person and create authentically are noble goals, and beyond nurturing the growing success of his brand, they strike me as his key concerns.
“When I walked into Dunnes head office, I told them right from the beginning that I wanted to get in and learn,” he says.
True to his word, he’s used the used the experience of creating four collections for the store to build his skill set, taking classes in graphic design and digital marketing so he can involve himself in every aspect, not just of the technical elements of building a collection, but of the effort of building a strong brand.
“Fabric and construction, the technical side — that’s where I still have most to learn,” he admits. “But I’ve a great buying team that help me in all that regard.” And it’s an ongoing process. With his autumn winter collection, Shelby, now in stores, he’s gearing up for a move into sportswear for next season, which means he’s learning more about technical fabrics.
“I was always going to do a fitness range in January, then boxing became such a cultural conversation point with the McGregor fight this summer that I thought I’d make it a boxing collection. It’ll be interesting to see how that performs — both functionally and also commercially!”
It’s a homage of sorts to a man who, like Galvin himself, has done much to open the minds of Irish men when it comes to fashion and style.
“I think I did start a conversation around that, years back,” he acknowledges. “It helped break down that whole mental barrier that was there, where guys didn’t want to be seen wearing stuff that was out there. Irish guys want to dress in a certain way, where they don’t stand out and nobody’s looking at them or slagging them.
“That’s starting to change now, and McGreggor has been great in that regard, he’s taken it to another level.” Culturally, he says, men have never been more primed for such a shift, and his autumn winter inspiration, Peaky Blinders, has been pivotal to that.
“What I do, and the way I design, I call it ‘cultural storytelling’,” he says, “And shows like Peaky, like Mad Men, they’ve helped redress men by opening up the idea of style and making an old style of dressing more contemporary.
“By beginning to embrace this, men aren’t doing anything new; they’re doing something that was always done, by Irish men in particular.
"Irish men used to dress that way and we lost it, but through shows and characters like these we’re just reconnecting to our roots.”
The Story of Shelby takes place in the Brandon Hotel, Tralee, on October 20th. Tickets, €20, from iregister.ie.