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Not many people can claim to have designed clothes worn by Lily Allen. And even fewer people display this information on their website next to a framed image of severed plait of hair. That first introduction on Natalie B Coleman’s website serves as a statement of intent; the designer creates pieces out of the ordinary, meticulously crafted and made with off-beat humour.
Having studied at Limerick School of Art and Design, she progressed to Central Saint Martins and later sojourns working in New York and Iceland, and with Joanne Hynes in Dublin. Coleman’s most recent collection, entitled ‘All the Jewellery I never Got’, pits new romance against old, playing on the idea of the It Girl lavished with jewels by her suitors. Here she explains the story of her work, and the business know-how necessary to back up her artistic side.
So All the Jewellery I never Got is your first seasonal ‘collection’ as such..
Yes, it leads on from the last one. I kind of felt the story was incomplete, and now I’m getting to develop it, doing scarves, making things up in a wider range of sizes. Like, previously, I never kept pieces that I had made. With the first collection (called Damaged Goods) I just wanted to sell as much of it as I could. But each line is like a story, and it’s nice to see it get to the end and wind up, seeing the pieces being sold. And I’m getting things made up all over the place. This year so far I’ve been taking around two flights every week, before going back home to Monaghan… It sounds a lot more exciting than it is.
What’s the story behind the collection?
‘All the Jewelry I never Got’ came from me inheriting all my mothers jewelry, a while back. It’s all the jewelry I’ve ever owned, except for maybe one or two pieces I’d bought myself, and I started thinking about how you grow up thinking you’ll be bought jewelry by men when you’re older, this glamorous romantic idea. I’d been in a relationship with someone at the time for seven years, and received nothing! It just struck me as really funny, that it was all I’d ever got.
And then how did Lily Allen end up buying your stuff?
I met her at a festival through some of my flatmates in Monaghan, and she bought a few pieces. I’d love to get some photos of her wearing them, though!
Since you’re handling all of the business, do you get to meet the people who are buying your work? Do they realize the amount of time that goes into every item?
I’m kind of the higher end of the middle market, so I sell to people looking for something a little bit different, who are aware of what goes into each piece. I’m starting to sell all over the world, in Germany, Denmark, in HongKong, and now I’ll be in Bow Boutique in Dublin. I go over fairly frequently to Denmark- all the European fashion buyers are at Copenhagan fashion week. This will be my first year doing a show there- it’s a good place to find one’s feet. And I’m selling in Japan, now, though I can’t afford the flight over to see where I’m being sold!
So much talent has come out of Saint Martins- what was it like to go there from Limerick?
St Martins was mad. But I loved Limerick; there wasn’t much else to do in the city, so everyone was really focused. It was great environment. Saint Martins was crazy; people crying all the time, all the cliches are true. But when you’re in the middle of that college bubble.. it’s not like you’re doing heart surgery, but it can get very emotional. Or at least, it did for me.
What was it like going from New York to Iceland, after college?
In New York I was in the East Village, in this big silver-painted loft full of designers, really funny people from around the world. We’d be in there at midnight, working away, but there were also loads of parties.. And then in Iceland it was so different, working only on textiles. But I liked getting a bit of both sides of fashion, the creativity and as a business. And I already had a background in traditional textiles, I’d worked previously at Inis Meain Knitwear in the Arann Islands.
Textiles seem to play a big part in your work.
Yes so much history and ethnic identity gets carried around in fabric. Ireland has a great tradition of it- I mean, the company I was with produced tweed for Chanel and Dior! The different knots in Arran sweaters for each family really interests me. It’s a part of Irelands identity. And I think irish people have a good eye for colour. Even years ago I used to do markets, and I’d notice how peopler went for the colours. They didn’t even seem to care about the cut or the shape of the clothes, just the colour. But then, Irish people can be very strange dressers. The pajama thing is really funny, girls who have their sleeping pajamas and their going-out pajamas! I saw a girl out at night wearing them, and was just like, ‘why don’t you put a nice dress on instead?’. I felt like her mother.
For more information, lookbooks and a list of stockiest visit www.nataliebcoleman.com/
Originally published in Totally Dublin