Today it is our pleasure to introduce Stighlorgan (stighlorgan.com), a contemporary Irish brand to The Holborn. Stighlorgan make clean, well constructed accessories that are built to last out on the open road and made with fine Irish wools, bridle leathers and smart Italian linens for the comfort of their discerning, nomadic owners. The highlight of their accomplished range has to be their bags (they also make scarves, belts and hats), which range from holdalls to messengers to backpacks and which make showcase a full, varied range of design and craft. We got in touch with Christian Bourke at Stighlorgan to find out more about the brand’s Spring 13 collection and the new Limited Edition Roban Backpack.
What were the founding ideas behind Stighlorgan? How did the company get up and running?
Ireland is a power island. In a similar way in which the island of Jamaica has managed to spread its culture over the entire world, Ireland has too. For such a relatively small place, Ireland’s reach is huge. Not just the population abroad and their famous drinking habits, but also the type of people the Irish are. They have a reputation that has endured of being happy, determined and trustworthy. There are a few reasons why Stighlorgan was founded but I think the key reason was we wanted to tell a story of Ireland, to get it out there in the modern fashion market.
I myself have spent a decade working within English and American fashion. Perhaps because all the companies that I have worked for are such strong representations of their own countries, I have spent many years wondering why Ireland is not yet properly represented out there. There isn’t yet an Irish Paul Smith or Ralph Lauren. There are plenty of Irish clothing makers that make the classic tweed jackets and Aran jumpers that Ireland is known so well for but these don’t properly represent the modern Irish people and they way that they dress. The Irish have their own way of doing things and from the beginning we’ve tried to recreate that approach with Stighlorgan accessories.
What would you say is characteristically Irish about Stighlorgan?
The Irish do things their own way. They layer clothes in different ways, they combine smart and casual in their own way, and they’re into different accessories. Growing up in Ireland in the 80’s and 90’s you were ushered into a very specifically Irish way of dressing. I’m not talking about anything traditional but certainly when I was a teenager in Dublin there wasn’t an awful lot of international influence. Perhaps American if any but the rest was left for us Irish to work out for ourselves.
I’ve also been collecting Irish accessories for many years. New and old Irish military accessories, An-post mail bags, Irish train engineer tool bags, utility belts & caps, vintage Aer Lingus flights bags etc. We combine our start point that writer Davin Gaffney describes in his seasonal Stighlorgan poem, with various Irish accessories and materials that we may have found over the course of the previous season. We then use colours that we feel are relevant to shops and street style we see around Dublin and design a collection that we feel represents modern Dublin.
When you look at a bag made by a Swedish brand, it feels sharp, minimal and Swedish. When you look at a Jacket made in a factory in London, it feels austere, clean and British. American designs can mix British austere with playful American, finished with rugged manufacturing which feels unmistakably American. At Stighlorgan, we feel that we are creating modern collections that feel honest, dynamic, minimal and inherently Irish.
Spring 13 is a lovely season as it was inspired by train stations. We’ve always loved train station aesthetic. Not just the utility of train engineer bags and equipment, but also the luggage that passes through a train station. Including the various trains and station signs, its the ideal environment to be thinking about colourful accessories. So in terms of colour; carriage and signal colours were key inspiration. And it terms of a feeling of utility, train engineer bags and equipment were also key inspiration.
There are bags in the collection like Sé and Doherty which play with this theme of utility with their dual use. One is a train engineer’s tool bag, the other is a flap over shoulder bag, but both can be worn hands free as backpacks. Then for colour we created the Kavan bag. We wanted a really useful but minimal shopper, and we wanted it to be colourful. Something along the lines of a simple book bag but with more substantial detailing and a fully adjustable shoulder strap. The base is screen printed with a special lacquer that coats the raw calico cotton canvas whilst preserving the grain of the canvas weave. The colour range that Kavan came in, which we called the ‘signals’ after train station lights and signs, inspired colour within the whole collection. As a result it was our first collection that was ranged up by colour instead of fabric ranges.
There were also some very literal inspirations such as the beautiful linen gunny-sack material that we made the Spring 13 Rían bag from. This came from a very old train carriage post bag that we found. The fabric we created with our mill has all the substance of a thick canvas mail bag, but with the luxurious softness of linen. A real favourite.
How do you ensure the quality of a Stighlorgan product, what kind of techniques go into making one of your bags?
I’ve been working with the same factories for nearly a decade. With all of them, particularly the factories in China, we’ve learnt together. The factories have carefully taught me the requirements of a finely tuned production line. In turn I’ve taught the factories how to engineer fabrics in unusual and unique ways. Always the two have gone hand in hand as there is no point innovating unusual details if the production line cannot reproduce them with the same quality as a familiar seam. If a detail that looks good cannot be reliably reproduced on the production line, we drop it and find another way.
Some techniques that go into our bags have truly baffled our sample rooms in the beginning. A good example is the leather handle without a seam. Its special technique which we created where you use mock stitch lines to cover up a folded and secured seam that gives the effect that the handle is continuous, without any seam at all. In terms of complexity, one of our new Autumn 13 bags is made up of over 50 different panels.
Where you source the materials for your accessories?
We source all over the world. However, we mainly source inspiration and then re-create materials with our various mills. A great example is our ‘fisherman’s lacquer canvas‘. We were in Sligo on the west coast of Ireland for one of the annual surf competitions (which I highly recommend!). Whilst travelling down the came across a sleepy little fishing town which had beautiful colourful dinghies moored in the bay. On closer inspection we saw that the boats weren’t covered with ‘manufactured’ tarpaulins, they seemed to be individually painted with some sort of lacquer. We investigated, managed to buy one of these covers and worked out that basic cotton canvases had simply been painted with various glossy or satin paints. We brought the homemade tarp with us to our mill in China and recreated it in a way that we could use on our bags. Its been our most popular fabric ever since.
Can you tell us a little bit more about the Limited-Edition Sea-Washed Roban? – As it is pretty special.
My family has a tradition of swimming the forty foot on the coast near Dún Laoghaire. Its a very cold swim but its apparently good for your health. I think that’s where the idea came from. Its also been a long time since I made water distressed/ washed accessories. Last time I did it was for Paul Smith accessories around 8 years ago so I felt it could be popular again.However, I had never done it with salt water and I knew this would have a wonderful effect on the fabric and leather. So, we produced a small batch of our Roban backpack, took them to Salt hill near Dún Laoghaire and then threw them in the sea. The sea did the work for us. Actually, something did go wrong on the day: The bags were all secured with a heavy rope we had anchored to the diving steps. However, two of the Robans somehow (we still dont know how), managed to get loose. We noticed too late that they were floating away. We said goodbye to those 2; the ones that got away. Four hours later when we were packed up we were about 500 yards down the coast when one of us spotted the two bags coming back in to shore! I have no idea why they came back or how they hadn’t sunk. They came so close we managed to pluck them out of the water. They went for the same industrial wash as the others and they’re available to buy now.
We were sure to throw a few coins in the sea in for Lí Ban (Poseidon) before we left, to thank her for helping out.
Can you give us any hints as to what we can look forward to in the future from Stighlorgan?
There is so much more to come. We are evolving very quickly but we know clearly who we are and what we look like. Each new collection has leapt ahead of the previous one and the Spring 14 collection we are finalising now is no exception. Watch this space!
Christian Bourke & JMN