“I went from working by myself in college to working in Marc Jacobs in New York”
In the final part of our series, in association with the all-new BMW 1 Series, we meet Katie Ann McGuigan, to talk fashion, furniture and founding her own clothing label
Fashion Scout Merit Award and Mittelmoda Absolute Prize winner Katie Ann McGuigan: “I was really impressed by the stitching and the manufacturing inside the car. The quality standards were incredible.” Photographs: Declan Devlin
“I need a car with space,” says Katie Ann McGuigan, “because I'm constantly lugging garment bags and cases with me wherever I go.” The Newry-born fashion designer is now London-based, but tested out the all-new BMW 1 Series on one of her regular trips back to Ireland. “From the outside it looks so compact,” she says, “but I was really surprised with the amount of storage space it had. There was enough space for everything, and my dog would have been very happy in there too, but luckily for the garage, the puppy didn’t travel with me on this trip.”
The trip back to Newry via Dublin has become a staple for McGuigan, who keeps a close connection with her childhood home. “It all started in Newry for me,” she says. “My family run a furniture company there, and I have a lot of fond memories of that place.”
After winning the Fashion Scout Merit Award for her debut collection in 2017, McGuigan has also received the Mittelmoda Absolute Prize, and was featured as part of BT Create 2019. She recently showcased her latest collection at London Fashion week.
While McGuigan’s print-heavy collections are inspired from subcultures around the globe, it was watching the process of furniture being made that gave her the initial impetus and confidence that would lead her into the world of design.
“When I was growing up, I would always see something being made from the start to the end. It is like a massive jigsaw puzzle,” she says. “With a chair you have these different sections, from the frame getting made, to it being foamed up, to it being sewed and cut, and then upholstered.”
“To me, fashion and furniture aren't all that different. You still have to make your patterns, you still have to make your template, you still have to cut and you still have to sew. I think constantly seeing the process from the beginning to the end was always very satisfying, and being able to see the craftsmanship and attention that went into it all the way through as well.”
There’s an evident eye for detail and appreciation of quality when asked about her experience with the BMW 1 Series. “I was really impressed by the stitching and the manufacturing inside the car,” she says. “The quality standards were incredible.”
School and college
The drive toward the world of design and manufacture came about through an early diagnosis of dyslexia, while McGuigan was in primary school. “I’m not from that generation where dyslexia wasn’t recognised,” she says, “but when I was in school people didn’t understand it to the level they do today. School just wasn't a happy place for me, it was much tougher than it should have been. Because of that I was at my parents’ workshop any chance I could get. I would skip school just to be there, and on the days that I went to school, I went to the workshop straight after. There was always something to do there. I would be sweeping the floor, or up in the sewing room - once I could work with my hands I was happy.”
A move to London when she was 16 to study for A Levels opened up a new world of possibility for McGuigan. “I couldn't possibly do the Leaving Cert, it was a crazy amount of subjects for me. It just wasn't an option. It was so much better for me to sit A Levels where I could study textiles, photography, and art.”
I went from working by myself in college, to working in Marc Jacobs in New York
After school, a fashion design undergraduate degree at University of Westminster further cemented her choice. “That course was incredible for me. It was a mixture of design, but very heavily based on practical skills. So from there we learned how to pattern-cut properly, how to sew, and a lot of other technical skills, alongside learning theory about design. As part of the course we were also sent out to work in the industry, which is scary. It is where you really get to see the inside of a design house and you get to see the amount of hard work that everyone has to put in to make it succeed.”
“I went from working by myself in college, to working in Marc Jacobs in New York, where there are 15 seamstresses, four cutters, and five pattern makers who are there just making the in-house samples for the collection,” she says. “The whole experience was really good for me. I did six months there and I did three months at MCQ for Alexander McQueen, which was also priceless for me. It was the first time I had ever created prints that went onto garments, mass production-wise. The whole experience gave me so much experience and confidence and after I graduated I suddenly found myself starting my own brand.”
Chic and practical
Driving from Dublin to Newry, the intuitive, hands-on approach that defines McGuigan’s approach was also applied to the new BMW 1 Series. “I was on the road from Dublin to Newry,” she says, “and then from Newry to Carlingford. The route I take on that last part isn’t the nicest road but I actually found the car lovely to drive, the road has plenty of twists and turns but the car felt really settled and stable.”
While appreciating the style - “The model I had was grey which I thought suited the car perfectly, it is very chic, but it is a toned down colour so it is not massively in your face” - it was the practical features that won McGuigan over.
“The technology on the dash really impressed me,” she says. “There was no searching around for buttons or trying to decipher anything. Everything connected easily, and it was clear and immediately understandable. I used the navigation quite a lot and found it so handy that the chunk of map you need is shown where you check your speed. There were little touches like that, that showed me some real thought had gone into the process.”
The trip back to Newry served as a way to connect back to origins, as well as take time to plan for the future. “This year we're looking to expand the brand, and as each season goes on I know that our product gets better, the skill level gets better, and the finish gets better,” she says.
“We just released our Autumn/Winter collection at fashion week in February. It was inspired by the work of photographer Tom Wood and the whole event was a lot of fun. I’m also really looking forward to being part of the upcoming ARC Fashion Show at the RDS in Dublin. I love coming home and being able to showcase my work in Ireland,” she says. “This is where I grew up, and where I first got that feeling of happiness working with my hands. Once you make something yourself, and you know that that item is made to such a high standard, you just become part of it.”
For more information on the all-new BMW 1 Series, visit discover.bmw.ie/models/bmw-1-series