It’s hard to believe it’s 10 years since Sonya Lennon and Brendan Courtney joined forces in fashion. As they launch their latest collectionmeets the design duo.
It’s party time for Sonya Lennon and Brendan Courtney. 2018 marks their ten-year anniversary as Ireland’s most respected sartorial double act. Having evolved as fashion TV presenters on RTÉ’s Off the Rails to co-authoring two bestselling style tomes; launching eponymous womenswear label, Lennon Courtney, to partnering with retail giant Dunnes Stores; their’s is a veritable career bucket list. It’s no wonder they’re in the mood to celebrate.
So, when they invite me to have a sneak peek of their winter 2018 collection, I’m quick to RSVP. Armed with a reputation of knowing what women want, the design duo has fostered an ardent fanbase not least due to their proven cuts and hardworking wardrobe staples. As I rifle through the rails, I’m struck by the unabashed glamour quotient: an asymmetric puff sleeve top here, a glitter bomb dress there. It is fittingly ebullient, albeit a new direction; one that will undoubtedly have similar sell-out success to that of their previous collections.
“When something hits the ground, it hits the ground,” Brendan tells me as we chat about a swing coat from the autumn collection – a 24-hour sellout success. Not one for taking chances, I’m putting a bronze skirt and a pair of pistachio wide-legged trousers on my mental Pinterest board should they suffer a similar fate.
Trust me; I should know. I witnessed ladies who flew in from the UK to attend the launch of their autumn 2016 collection for Dunnes Stores, customers who Sonya informs me went for brunch after the event and have since become friends. It’s this intimacy and genuine connection which stems from the brand’s inherent nous for real needs: an awareness which has led them to increase their size range (now up to a size 18) and introduce shorter lengths.
“I look back on 10 years of us together,” reflects Brendan, “and we have the biggest body of research that two people can have standing shoulder-to-shoulder with real women on Off the Rails for all those years. With that, at the backdrop of what we do, there is an understanding of women and their insecurities and, also, what they want clothes to do to make them feel good.” The Lennon Courtney label is a bit like having a designer and a best friend rolled into one; they want what’s best for you. And it wasn’t off the wind they caught it. It’s obvious from chatting with them that reciprocity is part of their DNA. You only have to check the comment threads on their personal and business social media accounts to see how plugged in they really are.
“People converse on Lennon Courtney and on our own platforms about the collections, about what they want and we’ve listened to them,” Sonya explains. “We’ve named items after customers because they’ve said, ‘Will you ever do a V-neck cornflower blue dress?’ and we’ve named it after her. We’ve always said we are responsive designers, so we don’t sit in a vacuum and design something from the deepest recesses of our brain. We’re connected with the customer and I think that’s a huge part of our success.” It’s obvious they’re also incredibly connected to each other. Familiarity, according to the adage, may breed contempt but, not in this case. I’m curious to discover their secret sauce – the ingredients that has made them such a formidable crack team.
“So, we do this great game,” says Brendan, “where we describe each other in three words. Can I do mine?” he asks referring to my secret sauce, “trust, fun, creativity.” “I’m going to add respect in there. If it’s all wrapped up in respect then you’ve got a good foundation,” Sonya claims.
“Fun is very important to us as well though,” insists Brendan “the cake would bake without that ingredient but it wouldn’t keep my attention.” “Wouldn’t taste as good!” Sonya banters. Cue: explosion of laughter.
Joking aside, the Lennon Courtney brand is more than just a fashion label and business partnership; it’s a statement of intent. “At the core of what we do is equality and empowerment,” maintains Brendan. “We want to make sure that the clothes we design always deliver that.” From ‘the perfect solution dress’ to emboldened prints and confident colours that have become part of their signature, each collection (they create five drops per season with Dunnes) is adaptive to the busy modern lifestyle and does more than the sum of its parts. For the time- or cash-strapped, having a solutions-based wardrobe takes the stress out of getting dressed. When it comes to the workplace, in particular, this asset cannot be undersold.
Having founded the global not for profit initiative Dress for Success in Ireland seven years ago - an organisation which promotes the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire – Sonya has an appointment at Leinster House later that afternoon where she’ll be joining a cross-party parliamentary group on equality in the workplace. I’m unsurprised yet somewhat in awe. My own plans, admittedly, involved changing into sweatpants and making a cup of tea.
“I’m passionate about that because starting with the work that I did in Dress for Success and seeing the impact of giving women the confidence to succeed at interview, the impact on families, when women have the chance to shine, is enormous. For me, it’s kind of a natural extension of what we do with the clothes. Women who can afford to buy our clothes feel better in them; women who can’t, go to Dress for Success and get kitted out to allow them to be economically independent.”
For the pair, that’s what joining forces with Dunnes Stores helped them achieve – inclusivity – reaching a wider audience of women with more democratic prices. I’m secretly wishing they’d run as a double-bill for the upcoming Irish presidential election. Is it too late? A flash of glitter catches my eye again. It’s that delightful rose gold dress – Brendan’s favourite from the winter 2018 collection. “It’s genius on! It’s got two pockets and it also comes with a belt, so it’s sort of tulip-shaped but the shoulder extends over the shoulder and has four pleats here,” he shows me excitedly, “so it’s really clever. I think it would look particularly good on a size 16. It’s fun. For me, it expresses where we’re at right now - bit of sparkle; very happy.” So are we.
- The Lennon Courtney at Dunnes Stores winter 2018 collection is available to buy now from selected stores nationwide and online at www.dunnesstores.com.
- Photography Des Moriarty; All clothes and styling by Lennon Courtney; Hair & Make Up Jen Quinn