An Interview with Frances O’Leary

One of my favourite bits about blogging with The Glass Pineapple is getting the opportunity to interview exciting new design talent. This month I spoke to Frances O’Leary who is without a doubt one of the most talented, funny and genuine designers I’ve had the privilege of talking to; so, of course, I couldn’t wait to share it with you:

She’s more than just a talented young designer, Frances O’Leary is an inspiration to all artistic spirits. Forgoing a creatively stifling commercial role to independently create her very own collection, Frances has proved that dreams really can come true. She didn’t even need the help of a Fairy Godmother – just determination and passion for her work. Whilst her journey has only just begun and Frances is facing up to the challenge of competing with her contemporaries, she has proven herself a force to be reckoned with, gaining a substantial following since the launch of her first collection in 2012. A unique combination of classic femininity, ethereal beauty and striking prints creates a captivating and covetable collection, so it’s unsurprising that her pieces have already been featured in the likes of Vogue and Hunger TV.  And we are delighted to announce that Frances is also one of the first Glass Pineapple bespoke designers so from 30th November you will be able to buy her pieces from our site.

Frances O’Leary’s SS14 collection explored the media’s unhealthy obsession with perfection with a focus on clean silhouettes, flowing fabrics and a subtle colour palette, contrasted with bold graphic prints that represented aging and imperfections. A powerful message that beauty does not only exist for the young and beautiful and a brave sartorial statement to make for a fashion newcomer. We decided to have a chat with Frances to show why we think she is such an exciting design talent.

What made you choose to study fashion and what were your early influences?

It’s weird because I don’t remember ever making a conscious decision, it kind of just happened organically. Although I wasn’t stupid, I was never the most academic child in school, and holding my attention was hard.  But, where I found I could hardly concentrate on a book for more than five minutes, I could paint and draw for hours – so that’s what I did. I always planned to do something creative once I left school, I guess at the time, I very lightheartedly chose fashion because I thought it would be fun! It wasn’t until my competitive streak kicked in that I really began to take it seriously and it began to mean a lot to me to succeed.

Tell us about your journey between graduating and starting your own label – what did you do and where did you get your work experience?

When I graduated, I remember feeling unsure of what to do next. After a lot of emailing, I had a placement lined up at a big fashion house, it was really exciting, but it was unpaid and I wasn’t sure how I would afford to live. Within the same week, I was offered a paid job, but for a smaller more commercial company – I took it.  At the time, I felt I needed the money; but it was only after making this decision, that I realised, finding a truly creative role in this industry is hard, and where you start out is really important in terms of your progression. The job was really creatively stifling, and I found myself feeling really quite lost and unfulfilled.

I began to make my own work at home, just because I wanted to really, it was an outlet for me, it was a way I could do what I wanted, the way I wanted. It kept me sane and reminded me why I started out. By the summer of 2012, I had made my first collection, which I launched on my website in October of the same year. I didn’t really think anyone would look at it, but they did and the response was amazing. It was then that I decided to continue as an independent designer.

What are the key challenges you’ve faced whilst trying to stand out in an industry as competitive as fashion?

The competition is huge, there are so many other designers starting out just like me; the main challenge is the financial side, you get ahead a lot faster when you have the capital to elevate your brand.

Which contemporary designers do you most admire?

Oh there are so many! I love Raf Simons, Mary Kantranzou, Meadham Kirchhoff, Alexander Wang, the list goes on!

How would you describe your creative process?

My creative process is quite chaotic, I collect a lot of images and make quite a lot of mess! I am inspired by lines, shapes, shadows, texture…I like to collect images and take photos of these things then I cut them up and make them into new images and shapes. This is what I use as the foundation for a new print design.

We love your Tumblr – do you find this to be an effective way of collating inspiration?

Oh thank you! And yes I do, it helps me to keep some of my images in one place. I also find Pinterest very helpful.

If you could sum up your label in five words, what would they be?

Feminine, contemporary, luxury, ethereal….what could number five be? I don’t know…silky?! Ha!

Do you design for a ‘Frances O’Leary girl’? If so, who is she? Is there a celebrity you would love to see wearing your designs?

The Frances O’Leary girl is someone who likes to own something a bit different and a bit special; she’s not into ‘throw away fashion’, but into pieces you can keep for years. I find a lot of the girls who contact me, are other creatives, like jewellery designers and photographers. In terms of celebrities, I think my most recent collection would really suit someone like Florence Welch, and I’d love to see my bolder prints on someone like Grimes or Alice Glass.

Your SS14 collection ‘Time and Lines’ aims to challenge the idea of perfection and the media’s unhealthy obsession with it – what inspired you to confront this issue? 

I like to have a story behind my work and the story is often something that’s personal to me; this was a story that was very much a personal one and at the time it made sense to me to confront it.

Do you have a favourite piece from this collection?

Ummm…I think the chiffon branch dress and the Magda trapeze dress.

Within the first year of launching your label you received coverage from Vogue and Hunger TV – how did it feel to achieve this recognition, and in such a short time?

Really weird, because at the time I was just doing my own work because I felt like it, I never really expected anyone to pay much attention, it was great for me to have people who didn’t even know me say they like my work, it gave me the confidence boost that I unknowingly so badly needed.

At the Glass Pineapple we aim to connect designers directly with the public, cutting out the middle man – we are very pleased to have you on board as one of our first designers! What advantages do you think platforms like this have for new designers like yourself?

It’s great for us to be able to connect directly, for us as designers it means that we can take away a fair amount of profit from sales, and for the customer, I think its great for them to buy pieces directly from a designer.

What’s your take on the increasing popularity of bespoke design?

I think its great! It’s like the way my grandmother used to buy her clothes and she’d keep them for years and years and really cherish them you know? She’d feel like a million dollars when she’d wear one of her favourite dresses. I think we’ve really lost that true love for something special, something that you’ve worked hard to pay for and so you deserve it. Unlike ‘throw away fashion’ which for me, doesn’t really have the same effect.

Have you started working on your next collection yet? If so, what are your sources of inspiration and can you give us any clues of what to expect?

I have started researching yes, I can’t give too much away, but I think I will be revisiting a bolder print style.

And finally – where would you like your label to be in five years?

Oh! In Five years! Id love to have lots of stockists and be making me some pennies!

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