It’s a sunny Friday morning in Dublin when I go to meet designer extraordinaire, Laura-Jayne Halton. Not that she would describe herself as that, but it is a label that’s well deserved; fashion designer, creative illustrator, artist, furniture designer – Ms Halton does it all, and she does it beautifully.
Rarely, as it turns out for both us, we’re early. So I rendezvous with her at Kylemore Café in Stephen’s Green, where she’s tucking in to a full breakfast. This is honestly the first-time I’ve ever seen a designer eat. But nothing about Halton is conventional, which makes her so refreshing.
“I loved art from a young age, I was always drawing and painting. I loved woodwork in school”, she reveals. When I say to her that she must have been one of only a few girls in the class, she replies, “I was the only girl – and I was better than the boys!” Her love of woodwork stayed with her. “I went straight from school to studying Furniture Design and Manufacturing”, at Letterfrack IT, one of the only places in Ireland to offer specialist training in refined furniture. After graduation, Halton headed to Australia, as so many post-graduate Irish students do; but she did it her way. “Instead of the bar/waitressing work, I worked as an artist over there” she explains. Her flight to Oz had been funded by the money she made from selling her final project from college and her travels around Oz were funded by her art commissions.
It was over in Australia that Halton got the opportunity to put her college education to the test; refurbishing a golf course. She returned to Ireland where she continued to work in furniture and kitchen design, while working as an artist on the side. Then she was offered a life-changing experience. “I was on a surf trip in Lahinch and I missed a phone call… I checked my voicemail and it was a message from NY Custom Woodworks.” Responsible for the design of furnishings for a variety of businesses, they wanted Halton to work for them. “The main pull was to design a 7th Avenue bar, opposite Madison Avenue, from scratch.” While most twenty-somethings would’ve balked at such an uprooting, Halton grabbed it with both hands.
“Two months later, it was Tuesday, 1am, after a thunderstorm at JFK, I arrived in New York… and I started at 6am the next morning!” she exclaims. Thankfully, the weather didn’t turn out to be prophetic and neither did Halton’s decision. “It was a huge leap of faith and I was nervous” she admits. “But for some reason, when I saw the skyline, I felt at home. It almost still feels like a dream”, she adds.
She dived right into the job at hand, working with “three, hilarious guys – one of them looked like an extra from The Sopranos!” on the refurbishment of the bar. Halton was responsible for the architecture and millwork along with the furnishings. While she was there, through her networking around the West Village and making contacts in NY, she was presented with an incredible opportunity; to be one of eight artists to compete for the job of designing Sarah-Jessica Parker’s perfume line.
“Sarah-Jessica wanted an artist to work with… So I submitted fashion-inspired mood boards. I’d always been sketching fashion designs, so for the mood boards, I worked in colour, incorporated trends and the notes in the fragrances [into the design].” Her bid yielded success; SJP “absolutely loved the drawings” Halton says, with a smile. “There were 18 watercolours in total for different fragrances; it opened the door for me” she explains; Halton went on to work with Coty International, an opportunity that she believes has a lot to do with her location in NYC.
It’s so hard, especially in Ireland [to break through]” she says. “A lot of it is ‘who you know’, rather than merit… it drives me crazy!” she says with a laugh. She is refreshingly honest and speaks with candour. “I’m not going to send someone to every ladies day. Fashion is getting grounded here, thanks to the awards”. The awards in question include the one she picked up a matter of weeks ago, the path to which began when she returned to Ireland. After studying one year of fashion design in Galway, Halton had already made noticeable waves. “My contract [for the bar in NY] and visa were tied in together. So I thought, I’m going to come home, see how the waters are.”
“I just wanted to try something new” she adds. “See how it goes at Galway IT. I threw myself in and I really believe that you get what you give.” Her dedicated work ethic was quickly noticed; after just three months, she was nominated for Student Designer of the Year. Although she didn’t win, “it was the start of sleepless nights!”
She bought a sewing machine and got to it making her own clothes, which astoundingly, is something she’s still doing today; all of Halton’s pieces are custom made to the shape of her client by her more than capable hands. “I’m such a perfectionist” she admits when I question this circumstance. Her passion as a designer is clear. “I invest in a lot of fabric. No matter how good the design, cutting and tailoring is, I want it to have a luxurious finish.”
It’s not just her designs which take inspiration from the 1950s with her precise tailoring and understated elegance, Halton is paying homage to the female form. “I want a woman to feel amazing, but I don’t want the clothes to overtake her… it should all speak for itself, I’m not mad on embellishments and frills.” Her designs do indeed speak for themselves. Her first collection took inspiration from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. “That kind of prim, Victorian look” she explains. She used berry colours with champagne nude and black to balance them out. “Olive velvet, wool cashmere, silk mixes” she reveals, and I’m longing for her pieces as she describes the materials.
Each of her collections has a story. “Like art and design, fashion should evoke a memory or a sense of emotion. You dress to make yourself feel better, not for anyone else. I don’t think someone who loves glitter and sequins or ten-inch heels would like my stuff!” she says, good-heartedly. “I create a different silhouette [with each collection], I push myself as a designer.”
All of Halton’s creativity is visible throughout the different fractions of her work; her love of the 1950s womanly figure inspires her paintings. “Ava Gardner and Sophia Loren are my muses… there was no weakness or vulnerability.” For her “Stop The Lights” collection, she was inspired by slow-exposure pictures of NYC traffic, directly affecting the colour pallet she chose. “I introduced prints and colour blocking”. It was with this collection she showcased at Kerry, with The Black Key’s “Gold On The Ceiling” for background music, that she won her award.
So where to now for Ms Halton? She definitely isn’t stuck for ideas or talent and it is entirely plausible that she will become as well-known for all of her work as opposed to just one dimension of it. “I don’t believe in bitchiness in the industry, there’s no need for it” she says staunchly. Using a quote, she adds, “A woman should show her curves – not her joints!”
Her spirit is incredible and as the interview winds down, I’m thoroughly impressed. Her fashion takes the luxury of the 30s and combines it with the cut and tailoring of the 50s, her furniture fuses her fashion touch in to woodwork; her devotion to glamorous icons is demonstrated in her art. She fuses together all of her creative tastes to make all of her work cohesive and desirable; not an easy feat. By making her mark recognisable in all of her work, Halton is creating a brand, and a unique one at that. As this interview goes live, she’ll be in Italy where she knows she’ll be taking inspiration from The Renaissance. “Botticelli… dimensions and bold colours… pigments, corals and blues and golds” she says happily. “I’m going to immerse myself for the week!” she adds with excitement evident as the creative juices are already flowing. One to watch? Laura-Jane Halton is one to stalk; which is what I’ll be doing as I impatiently wait for her collection.