March 2, 2015

In the eyes of Dublin born brand Stighlorgan, there are few things more important than their Irish heritage and a modern approach to design. With each collection inspired by a single poem (written by co-founder Davin Gaffney), the brand cleverly embeds a strong sense of Irish culture into seasonal bags, rucksacks and accessories, proving there’s more clout to Emerald Isle’s sartorial scene than novelty St Paddy’s day hats and Bono’s sunglasses.

With the new Stighlorgan collection now available at UO, we thought it would be bloody nice to pop down to their flagship store in Dalston and chat with Creative Director / Head Designer, Christian Bourke.


UO: The fact that you’re an Irish brand forms the foundations of everything you do. How important to you is it that people know you’re from Ireland, and how does this reflect in your identity?

CHRISTIAN: I came to London from Dublin and worked for many years in British fashion before formulating Stighlorgan’s identity, which opened my eyes to what a powerful relationship there was between a brand exploring its cultural heritage, and allowing their patrons to buy into that personality. If someone felt their wardrobe needed a bit of eccentric British gentleman, there was Paul Smith. If someone wanted that gritty working class hero, you had brands like Fred Perry, and if someone wanted to explore their inner mod, there were brands like Ben Sherman – all very English brands.

Over the years my thoughts turned to home, Dublin, where I had grown up. I wondered what brands were offering that link to the Irish identity and what that meant. Increasingly I felt a powerful urge to contribute and to pin down my understanding of the Irish identity in design. What Stighlorgan produces now expresses better that ever an understanding of the Irish identity; it is a unique blend of American and European culture like nowhere else in the world. There is a mix of American utility and European minimal, which clashes and also compliments. This has led our brand towards a fantastically rich source of inspiration and has helped us maintain a unique aesthetic that has only got clearer with each season.


UO: Your collections are all inspired by poems written by your fellow Stighlorgan founder, Davin Gaffney. Talk us through how this works with your design process…

C: Before any design work takes place, Yvonne and Davin and I will sit down and have a chat. For background; my experience is in accessories design, Yvonne’s experience is in graphic design and Davin is a writer and poet. Yvonne almost always starts by introducing a thought – a rough direction and then it’s often a case of me and Davin trying to figure out what Yvonne is talking about – that’s half the fun.

Eventually we have a rough understanding of Yvonne’s thoughts so I begin to talk about things that have inspired me recently. Materials, fabrics, objects, shows and anything that I feel could be important for the new season. All this information is handed to Davin who goes away for a month or so and writes a poem for us. Sometimes it has a link to what we discussed initially, sometimes only the faintest trace is recognisable. Either way, once we receive Davin’s poem, it becomes gospel for the season. All colours, materials, and even silhouette designs link back to the poem. I’ve always loved working this way. We’re about to get Davin’s latest work, I can’t wait to read it and get started.


UO: Beyond the aesthetic inspiration of your creations, it seems the bags have been constructed in a very detailed and intelligent way. Tell us a little but more about the fabrics and added extras that ensure Stighlorgan bags last a very long time…

C: Of all the garments that you can own, a bag is the one that gets dragged across the floor, grabbed of a chair in a hurry, opened and closed a million times a day – they take a real beating. So, being clever about the design and maximising the length of time that a bag can service your needs is key to us.

We focus on weight distribution, shoulder strap direction movement, following strain points with reinforced seams, applying hidden structural tape to leather loops, and many more things that make a good bag tick. Beyond this it’s a case of choosing your materials carefully – some are suitable for shoulder strap loops, others aren’t and you need to know which will do the job best. We custom make almost all our materials and this is a hugely important part of keeping quality high.


UO: Do you think backpacks and bags have become increasingly more prominent in terms of how people layer them into their personal style?

C: People change their clothing every day. A bag however is a trusty companion that you wear all the time. It’s a sidekick that holds all your gear safe and adapts to your daily routine. I’m very happy to see how the market has really turned its attention to bags over the last few years. There is now an understanding that a bag is an important part, if not one of the most important parts of your outfit, and finding the right one is suitably important.

I also like how bags have taken the heat off finding a comfortable yet interesting outfit. If all you want to wear is a pair of your favourite raw denim jeans and a plain white T-shirt, you can now make your bag or backpack a prominent part of your style.


UO: Let’s get personal – what’s the contents of your bag right now?

C: My backpack currently contains; my Paul Smith pen, Sugino wheel wrench, Park tool tire lever, mini carbon fibre bike pump, a light bulb (no idea why), a pack of AA batteries, Fred Perry leather gloves, Stighlorgan scarf, a vintage Tootal scarf, a moleskin sketch book, and last but not least a MacBook.

UO: Hold up, what’s that you’re sipping on?

C: We stock Club Mate at the shop; a German ice tea made from Yerba mate. Its high caffeine, low sugar and has only natural ingredients. It’s a great alternative to coffee, morning or night. With the train seats being a good spot for friends and customers to hang out we were originally going to have a coffee counter in here, but I preferred the idea of a drinks cooler (and beer cooler if we decide to apply for a license).