Clodagh was included in first batch of interviews and she was as fascinating then as she is this second time around. With that background straight out of an Edna O’Brien novel, “downwardly mobile aristocrats” as she describes her family, growing up in Oscar Wilde’s summer home and having a near-death experience after breaking her back when she was teenager, how could she fail to be? She started out as a fashion designer “a thousand, maybe two thousand years ago” and is now known throughout the world as a designer of tranquil spaces, although that is not quite how she sees herself. She says she designs for the appropriate space be it a nightclub or a spa—for her, it is “a question of putting your ego out of the way.”
I’m interested to pick up where we left off—what’s changed?
In my life, you mean? Well, we moved our studio because the building was sold to Equinox, so we had to get out very sharp and fast. We found this very beautiful skylit studio on 23rd and Park with three massive skylights. We’re still in construction because we’re putting in a full kitchen so that we can give cooking and nutrition classes. You know that nutrition has always been part of our thing.
How did that come about, the nutrition being part of your thing? Were you doing that the last time? I don’t remember.
My life’s like an accordion … it does this and it does that. Well we had always had that in the old studio too … we had two raw cooks … we weren’t allowed to cook in the old place but we were allowed to do prep and raw food.
Who was that for—the staff, the clients?
It was kind of for everybody. And we had a class. In this new studio we’re going to have a proper cooking class. We’ve been advocates of wellness in the workplace since I was a fashion designer in Ireland a thousand years ago, maybe two thousand years ago. The whole place is very carefully monitored—all non-toxic cleaning agents, and now we’re putting in a massage program so that every member of staff gets a massage a month.
How many employees do you have?
Twenty-five—it’s very big on payday but not enough at all when you’re trying to rush out a project. And we have a lot of projects on our boards right now.
What types of projects are you doing?
We just opened a very big wonderful hotel called EAST for the Swire Group in Miami. It’s like a business-glamorous resort hotel. And we did a hotel for Six Senses in the Douro valley. We’re going back there next week to do the villas.
What’s the ratio of spa hotels to the residential work like the rental buildings you’ve done, would you say?
(Laughs) I’ve never thought like that!
The last time we interviewed you, the rental buildings with all these amenities hadn’t quite caught on—what do you think of them?
There’s a kind of “amenities war” going on with developers, which I think is fantastic because it means people living in the building can have more fun.
You’ve mentioned that since we last talked you’ve taken up art photography, and there’s the cooking and the art consultancy… the travel … not to mention the actual design work … my head is spinning already – I don’t know where to go with my questions. How do you organize your time?
With difficulty. I have four plane flights to take in the next two weeks. I’m not so much overwhelmed in my head but sometimes I have wardrobe moments when I think what the hell am I going to wear? I don’t like to check my bag—everything has to be very minimal.
So how do you do that? Everyone would love to know.
I write down the events that I’m going to be at. I choose the clothes for the events. I roll up stuff and I onion it. Uniqlo … Norma Kamali.
So you seem to like this way of living without too many hindrances—almost as if you are designing people out of their spaces, to be free of their spaces and go and do something else.
(Laughs) People are so nomadic now that in these buildings [with amenities] it does give people a chance to build a community, I think, but yes, [these kinds of buildings] free people up. Also maintenance is a bitch.
I was interested in something you said that people think of you as a “Zen” designer but actually you like designing things like clubs and places where people are going to dance and drink.
I like to be appropriate. I mean we designed Whiskey Blue in Florida for the W Hotel with two thousand oxidized brass rods with an LED in the end of each because that’s what you do. You go there and you have a couple of cocktails and you hang out and you don’t want to be in a Zen place when you’re partying. You don’t want a place wagging its finger at you and saying, “Quiet down” when you want to be noisy.
I’m not sure that I have this right but you seem to like things that are unadorned and yet you grew up in Irish country houses with lots of antiques and silver …
Oh please … I have absolutely no nostalgia for the antiques I grew up with.
I do wonder though about the way we might be losing all that embellishment and adornment—no one seems to want it anymore. [Note: Sian does not agree with this]
I don’t think so. I think it’s always there. I’ve noticed too that people are going for more sequins and more embroidery. But I call [what I do] life-enhancing minimalism—it comes along with me because it’s working and because it’s comfortable. And you’re talking about embellishing, I love light and shadow …
But you say you have no nostalgia for Georgian silver.
If you were brought up as I was brought up with rapidly downwardly mobile aristocrats being told to behave ourselves in every way but with no money but we had to polish the silver and we had to change the lamps and we had to polish the mahogany sideboards, believe you me, you would have no interest at all in any of that anymore. And then the mover would come and we’d go to a smaller house and the antique dealer would come and buy the antiques so that we could all go to boarding school … we were encumbered … we moved five times before I was seventeen. You’re not defined by your antiques.
I’m struck by how much you see as encumbrance.
Well I’m a free spirit. I’m a Libra.
Do you ever raise your voice?
Not now. I was a skinny bad-tempered child and I was still bad-tempered when I started my fashion business—I thought I had a license to be bad tempered. But I had started to study Buddhism when I was fifteen or sixteen, when I had had a back accident—I broke my back, a near-death experience—that changes your life.
Well what I really liked was your description of yourself as “a sensitive army tank”.
Well, yes. Because I have to get things done.