Take a bow

It’s hard to be­lieve it’s 10 years since Sonya Len­non and Bren­dan Court­ney joined forces in fash­ion. As they launch their lat­est col­lec­tion An­n­marie O’Con­nor meets the de­sign duo

Irish Examiner - Weekend - - Inside -

Sonya and Bren­dan mark 10 years in fash­ion

It’s party time for Sonya Len­non and Bren­dan Court­ney. 2018 marks their tenyear 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 24hour 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 Bren- dan, “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 Vneck 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

“We’re con­nected with the cus­tomer and I think that’s a huge part of our suc­cess

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. J Cue: ex­plo­sion of laugh­ter. ok­ing 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 at- tire – 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

Stripe lurex cardi­gan, €59; metal­lic skirt, €69.

Pis­ta­chio camisole, €29; pis­ta­chio flare trousers, €69.

Bren­dan Court­ney and Sonya Len­non be­gan their fash­ion part­ner­ship on Off The Rails.

Above: White one shoul­der top, €69; black high waist trousers, €69. Below: Gold draped dress, €99.

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