I catch up with top Irish stylist, Courtney Smith on St Patrick’s Day
“I’m a people watcher”, says Courtney Smith, international stylist hailing from the picturesque coastal town of Malahide, South Dublin. While her affection for people watching may suggest she is some kind of stalker, for Ms Smith the only thing worth stalking in life is style. “Even at New York Fashion Week I love sitting in café’s and seeing what people are wearing, discovering new trends and things like that. My style has always been quite bohemian so I love fringing and people like Nicole Richie, Kate Bosworth and the Olsen Twins”
While Courtney views these red-carpet celebrities as her style inspirations, the bubbly Dubliner is fast-becoming a style icon in her own right. Having been a cult follower of fashion from a young age, Courtney went on to study design after school and travelled to London to complete a post-graduate course in styling in the prestigious London College of Fashion.
“I guess if you ask my parents I was always really interested in fashion from a young age. I’d be cutting up patches of material and things like that”, laughs the fashionista “I studied design in Ireland and then did a post-grad in London which was a huge learning curve for me. Being away from friends and family makes it difficult to cope but I certainly enjoyed it. Back then there were much less styling courses in Ireland so I had no choice but to go to London and study styling”
At the age of 21 Courtney began working as a professional stylist in London, styling high-profile clients from Leona Lewis to Amy Winehouse. Being thrown in at the deep-end at such a young age is where Courtney credits she learned her craft. Having to deal with a range of personalities with different style tastes can be a challenge, but working for a set brand makes this task easier.
“I styled a lot of people in London and I was working for a brand which was quite funky so the clients obviously liked the clothes. Amy Winehouse was with us for a bit but then left, I couriered her a lot of items. I also styled Sarah Harding from Girls Aloud” says Courtney modestly
Having completed successful campaigns for Newbridge Silverware starring Amy Huberman and most recently, Roz Purcell in the promotion of their eShe jewellery line, Courtney declares that she is more at home with magazine shoots as they provide her with room to experiment.
“I usually prefer styling for magazine editorials and photoshoots because there is more freedom. The type of clothes used in commercial shoots are much different to clothes used in magazine shoots”, says Courtney who’s work regularly appears on the glossy pages of The Sunday Independent’s, Life Magazine. “Even the styles I create on TV3 for Xpose are a lot different to magazine shoots. Xpose is a commercial show watched by a commercial audience, so that has to be taken into account”
Courtney now spends the majority of her time working in Ireland, despite travelling to London on a regular basis to look after international clients. For Courtney there is a clear difference in the British and Irish fashion industries, with the most major difference of all being size.
“Ireland is a lot smaller than the UK and I think we are always a little bit behind on the trends, maybe just by a few months. Also we don’t have as big a budget, so we encounter problems like that and there just aren’t as many fashion magazines to do big photoshoots and editorials for”
Like many people working in the Irish Fashion industry, Smith is acutely aware of how important it is to support Irish designers and home-grown magazines in order to allow the sector to flourish.
“I had a ticket for a really big show at New York Fashion Week but I chose to go to an Irish designer obviously because they are Irish and we need to support that. Even at London Fashion Week, Paul Costello has been there for many years and Simone Rocha is showcasing her stuff. John Rocha doesn’t have his show anymore, but I always used to go to that. So it is extremely important I think. Many designers have made it in the UK and internationally which is great for them and the industry”
Although Courtney is now Ireland’s top stylist and highly acclaimed internationally, her success is the result of years of hard work. While upon her return to Ireland, Smith was offered positions in retail, she didn’t take them, knowing that styling was her true calling. “It was the start of the recession and my Mum thought I was mad for not taking these jobs but I knew styling was what I wanted to do. I started writing for a blog which at the time was quite big, it was called wow.ie, they paid me and that tipped me over while I was waiting for more gigs to come. It took a long time, but perseverance is the key if it’s what you really want to do, it will happen, but not overnight”
As my conversation with one of the world’s most vibrant fashion names comes to a close, I grab my chance to quiz Courtney about her style tips for the summer season ahead. “White and tan seems to be a big trend actually which isn’t great for those of us with pale skin because it means we’ll have to be putting on the fake tan. Fringing, pastels, lace… there really seems to be an L.A summer vibe going on for the summer which is great”