Irish designer Lia Cowan: "Fashion was what saved me in the end" 2 weeks ago

Irish designer Lia Cowan: "Fashion was what saved me in the end"

We caught up with the award-winning Lia Cowan to chat about her new collection, her first solo show, and how fashion aided her eating disorder recovery.

The last time I spoke to Irish designer Lia Cowan, Nicola Coughlan was dressed in one of her designs for the Bridgerton press tour. Since then, she has firmly cemented her place within the Irish fashion scene, and can now add dressing a number of Irish celebrities – Joanne McNally and Charlene McKenna, for instance – to her CV.

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Last month also saw her curate first ever solo show, a multi-disciplinary project she titled Undisciplined Tulips in the Chocolate Factory in Dublin. The event, as well as her autumn/winter collection took inspiration from a tapestry work by her aunt, Gillian Freedman, who passed away when she was 18.

Photo: Isabel Farrington

"She was always kind of the driving force in my life, without me realising it," Lia tells Her. "She was this really outspoken, 'took no bullshit' woman. But she had this tapestry called Disciplined Tulips, and I read into it way deeper than I was supposed to. It was looking at the idea of what a woman is supposed to be like in society, or what society expects them to be. Obedient, agreeable, don't take up too much space, don't be loud, fade into the background; it made me sad to think of her making a piece called that."

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Lia's reflections on her aunt's work came to her when she was in recovery from an eating disorder. 

Photo: Isabel Farrington

"It had taken over my life for many, many years," she explains. "I had let myself become this disciplined tulip. And so, I wanted a rebirth."

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For Lia, fashion proved to be a driving force in her recovery.

Photo: Isabel Farrington

"All I had when I was in the depths of my eating disorder was my eating disorder. That was all I wanted. And then, as soon as I found fashion, it kind of flipped it on its head. Fashion was everything. It's really what saved me in the end. It turned me into this undisciplined tulip because I really saw my body for what it was."

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The culmination of her recovery reflects not only in her collection, but in her design principles generally.

Photo: Isabel Farrington

"There was this idea that women can be beautiful, they can wear what they want, they can be who they want, they can do whatever they want with their bodies, but still be beautiful, but also strong and outspoken," she shares.

That, Lia says, is the idea behind her characteristic billowing tulle numbers.

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Photo: Isabel Farrington

"They're quite big, they take up space, they demand the room," she says. "You put them on and you become this different person, this big, confident, loud person. It's all about this contrast of wanting to be beautiful and delicate, but also being a badass as well."

For her first solo show, Lia enlisted the help of two style interns, her family, spoken word artist Molly May O'Leary, and a group of models she's worked with many times in the past. This sense of community is what she finds so appealing about Ireland's fashion industry.

Photo: Isabel Farrington

"The Irish community brings everyone together," she says. "It's great that Ireland is so small, because I feel like if you're in London, it's not the same. I wonder, if I moved to London, would I feel that same sense of community? It's a totally different ballgame. You can be working with the top tier in fashion over there, but I think it's such a different vibe. For me, it's about creating a little family."

Photo: Isabel Farrington

While she doesn't plan on moving abroad anytime soon, Lia teases a new venture she'd like to dip her toes in.

"I do love bridal," she teases, when I ask her what's next. "That's something I really want to explore. Alternative bride is something I really want to get into."

To shop Lia Cowan's line, head to her website right here. 

Feature image: Isabel Farrington