Lainey Keogh

The “queen of cash­mere” on burn out, come­backs and spend­ing two years in bed

The Irish Times Magazine - - NEWS -

She’s the undis­puted queen of cash­mere, the de­signer whose flam­boy­ant coats, colour- l oaded sweaters and sexy cob­webby dresses changed for­ever the im­age of Ir­ish knitwear. This year marks Lainey Keogh’s 60th birth­day and her come­back in Ire­land with a col­lec­tion spear­headed by an in­vi­ta­tion from buy­ing di­rec­tor Shelly Cork­ery to be the cen­tre­piece of Cre­ate at Brown Thomas next week. For a Dubliner who be­gan her de­sign busi­ness as a home­spun knit­ter in a small room in South Anne Street in the late 1980s and grew to be­come an in­ter­na­tional star, it will be some­thing of an emo­tional home­com­ing.

Suc­cess has had its price, how­ever, as she faced her great­est chal­lenge in the 2000s with se­ri­ous health is­sues when her busi­ness al­most fell apart. It all started in New York in 2003, she ex­plains when we meet at her Wick­low home. “I was at­tend­ing a big pro­mo­tion in Bergdorf Good­man and I picked up a virus which com­pletely floored me. I couldn’t fly home and had to stay with friends to re­cover. Six months later back in Ire­land, the virus reap­peared and I col­lapsed in Fe­bru­ary the fol­low­ing year and the girls [ her team] took over. They were won­der­ful and kept the busi­ness go­ing. I had just bought this house, though all I had was a bed and a ket­tle. It was a to­tal wipe­out – a mix­ture of the virus and burnout. I couldn’t read or watch TV. I was in bed for two years,” she re­calls. Re­cov­ery, thanks to healer Vicky Davey who came to her ev­ery week, took nearly six years and was fur­ther helped by Keogh’s Bud­dhist be­liefs.

To­day, dressed in one of her cash­mere cardi­gans, track­suit bot­toms and run­ners, she is the pic­ture of ruddy health. Her house, whose restora­tion took 10 years, is mag­nif­i­cent. It’s an im­pos­ing late 19th- cen- tury build­ing partly wreathed in roses, hid­den away up a long av­enue and sur­rounded by huge ma­ture trees, with views of the Wick­low Moun­tains from its win­dows. It was built for Emily Synge, a cousin of the play­wright JM Synge, in 1886 and later be­longed to the writer, artist and gar­dener Ralph Cu­sack, then briefly Oon­agh Guin­ness of Lug­gala. “It was al­ways a hide­away place,” says Keogh. “And dif­fer­ent peo­ple had af­fairs here in­clud­ing, it is said, Bren­dan Be­han with Caro­line Black­wood”.

One of a fam­ily of 10 – eight girls and two boys – from a third- gen­er­a­tion farm in Old­town, north Dublin, Keogh is clos­est to her sis­ter Irene, the el­dest of the fam­ily who used to man­age Wind­mill Lane Record­ing Stu­dios and now spends much of the year abroad. Her two broth­ers are be­hind an­other suc­cess­ful fam­ily ven­ture, Keogh’s crisps, a brand that sells all over the world in­clud­ing China and Saudi Ara­bia. She is im­mensely proud of her nieces Shauna and Kate, one of whom works in Nasa, the other in neu­ro­science. From her mother, Pa­tri­cia, who re­cently cel­e­brated her 85th birth­day, Keogh in­her­ited gar­den­ing skills. “The gar­den is my in­spi­ra­tion,” she says ( she has 17 acres). “My mother is an amaz­ing gar­dener and she has made the gar­den with me. I have the courage and the green fin­gers, but she has the knowl­edge and artistry.”

Her big break came in 1989 when Chris­tian Lacroix awarded her the Prix de Coeur in Monte Carlo say­ing that her col­lec­tion was a coup de foudre – love at first sight. Within two years, she had got a num­ber of new clients, in­clud­ing Max­fields in LA and oth­ers. “Twenty- five years later, we are still work­ing with Max­fields,” she says. Hav­ing sup­port from de­sign­ers such as Donna Karan and Diane von Fursten­burg fur­thered her rep­u­ta­tion along with a long list of celebrity clients. Daphne Guin­ness, for in­stance, “feasted” on her knits, “wear­ing them for break­fast, din­ner and tea”.

Keogh was once asked who she would most like to dress and replied El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor. It was through Max­fields, a so­phisti- cated des­ti­na­tion shop, that she fi­nally met the fa­mous star, who was to be­come a reg­u­lar client. “She was 70 when I met her for the first time, play­ful, gutsy and a pow­er­house of en­ergy. I couldn’t stop pinch­ing my­self and was told to bring ev­ery­thing I had to her house, so I ar­rived with all my suit­cases and left with noth­ing, not even the suit­cases. Later, I sent her a present and I got a phone call – I ac­tu­ally got a phone call from her,” Keogh says dra­mat­i­cally. She is a com­pelling sto­ry­teller.

She shows in Paris twice a year, but the US, par­tic­u­larly the west coast, is where her big ex­ports and pop­u­lar­ity lie. “It is re­ally im­por­tant to turn up to sup­port the peo­ple who sup­port us. Most US cus­tomers have no idea of the process – they just think we buy fab­ric so they are fas­ci­nated that we buy yarn and a cou­ple of weeks later, it is this thing. There are a mil­lion ways you can wrap a thread.”

As to her per­sonal life, she once said that she fell madly in love with Steve Lil­ly­white ( the English record pro­ducer who worked with U2) but she had a long af­fair with the ex­pres­sion­ist artist Michael Mulc­ahy. “If ever a man ran away with my heart, it was he. But it was not to be and I am glad I never mar­ried and blessed that I didn’t marry him,” she says. Her con­stant com­pan­ion now is a lively lit­tle pooch called Woof, half shih tzu, and half toy poo­dle. “I just want some happy times with my lit­tle dog­gie, go­ing for long walks as of­ten as I can. I am not big so­cial per­son – the ill­ness took that out of me and if I overdo things, it creeps up on me.”

Once known for a volcanic tem­per, she ad­mits: “I was a to­tal bitch in my hey­day be­cause I had such an enor­mous vi­sion and be­lieved in ev­ery­thing in a very short dead­line. The shows in Lon­don nearly killed me. My pace is dif­fer­ent now – I re­alised that you don’t need to work at that pace. It is not

El­iz­abe‘ th‘ Tay­lor was 70 when I met her for the first time, play­ful, gutsy and a pow­er­house of en­ergy

your life’s pur­pose. It is bet­ter for me to do things one at a time and care about the peo­ple who work for me.”

Stand­outs in her new col­lec­tion are the pon­cho she calls the Blond Blan­ket, and the Black Tiger and Black Orchid coats in che­nille, cash­mere and marabou feath­ers with em­broi­dery by Theresa McAu­ley. She is work­ing, for the first time, in a pale palette, with soft cherry blos­som pinks and blush tones, neu­tral shades ex­tend­ing to sweaters, socks, scarves and bean­ies.

“We have never been so lux­u­ri­ous and pale. I think of bright stuff as dif­fi­cult, but there is a glam­our in bright­ness. Older women glide grace­fully into the pale palette and it is great with our skins and in­cred­i­bly lux­u­ri­ous. And all made in Ire­land.” Cre­ate, cel­e­brat­ing the best of Ir­ish de­sign, runs in Brown Thomas, July 3rd- Au­gust 13th

Clock­wise from left: Lainey Keogh pon­cho; White, em­broi­dered co­coon coat, ¤ 4,250; Cherry blos­som, fringed coat ¤ 2,250; White, hooded and belted cardi­gan, ¤ 2,250. CRED­ITS Model: Thalia Hef­fer­nan Stylist: Dar­ren Feeney Pho­tog­ra­pher: Eil­ish McCormick Hair: David Cash­man Make up: Adri­anna Dryniewicz at Char­lotte Til­bury at Brown Thomas

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