top of page

Catholic Fairytales: a Queer Reclamation of the Church by Designer Patrick McDowell

Patrick McDowell, since graduating from Central Saint Martins, has made it his mission to make sustainable beautiful. From launching the first ever swap shop at London Fashion week, to joining forces with PINKO to create the global success that is Reimagined, their most renewable collection yet, (available at Selfridges for those who want to get their hands on it!), McDowell never ceases to come up with innovative ways to make the world of fashion more environmentally ethical, one Swarovski crystal at a time.

Having been featured in Vogue, Elle, and Dazed, to name just a few, McDowell was also nominated for the Stella McCartney Today for Tomorrow Award by Anna Wintour, who praised his artistry in combining sustainability and luxury.

Ever keen to tell a story through his work, McDowell’s latest collection, Catholic Fairytales, aims to reimagine a queer-inclusive Church, inspired by his own Catholic upbringing in Liverpool. It follows his collection, Firefighting Aunties, which puts a feminocentric spin on the male-dominated profession, whilst concurrently paying tribute to his own family.

We spoke to him about Catholic Fairytales and his hopes to create a collection that would act as a reminder to all queer members of the Church that they are not alone.

Instagram: @patrick__mcdowell

To begin with can you tell me a little bit about your brand in general?

Yeah, so, slightly different to a normal fashion design practice since we have a business model where we work with other brands to provide waste solution effectively and to recirculate things from the linear business model to create an elevated product. This raises the brand’s profile, but also increases profitability by recirculating things that usually would have gone to third party sellers. It’s a sustainable fashion label and it works with brands to take a holistic approach to sustainability. So we work across marketing, plans, production, the design, you know, the wider initiative of the brand. We try to look at it from all points because I think that’s the best way to do sustainability really; to try to go across the whole business.

I understand that your most recent collection, Catholic Fairytales, is based on an idyllic interpretation of the Catholic Church; a Church which would accept everyone. What inspired you to create this collection?

Growing up as a Catholic it was quite conflicting as a gay person to know that the institution that was running the school and also most of the life events that you have as a Catholic child are all kind of based around religion, so whether that’s weddings, or baptisms, or Christmas, or Easter, most of the family celebrations all stem from religious roots. To know, like, fundamentally that that institution is working against who you were born as can be quite conflicting. So, I tried to create something which could gesture to this idea of a queer-friendly religion.

Were you influenced by other designers to move away from your original aesthetic and to create a collection based around religion, or was it entirely personally-motivated? Or a mixture of both, perhaps?

Yeah, I mean, religion has been a popular topic in fashion for a really long time. You can see that through the exhibition at the Met Museum in New York called Heavenly Bodies. Religion has constantly been a source of inspiration for fashion, just like most institutions are, in the same way that the military inspired lots of fashion. Although, it is deeply personal as well. I like to try to do everything from quite a personal point of view because that’s my story and I think that’s how we can embrace people and embrace other people’s cultures and ideas. And if we focus on who we are and tell those stories, we’re less likely to be taking from other people’s stories that aren’t ours to tell.

What is your favourite look from your most recent collection and why?

There’s the look which is supposed to be like a human version of the aids ribbon for the National Aids Foundation and is also in support of Positive East, a charity that works with HIV positive people in East London; and obviously the National Aids Foundation works across the country. And, yeah, it was incredibly special to be able to work with them and, in a small way to, do what I can for them.

My favourite look from the collection is Swarovski crystal dress adorned with your logo. Could you tell me a little bit about how you chose your logo and what significance it holds?

Yeah, so the ‘P’ symbol from that collection is not new, it’s the Chi Rho symbol from the Church and it’s been around for a really long time. And obviously, because P is the first initial of my name, it’s themed. It’s funny and also quite nice to be able to use that logo in crystals. I think it’s quite funny to reinterpret serious religious iconography as something quite camp.

Do you think that your work, specifically your most recent collection, is linked more so with gender expression, sexuality or both?

I suppose it’s both in a way, and obviously those things are linked anyway, but it’s definitely meant to be a celebration of queerness and queer people. And, you know, the Church is quite responsible for the instalment of heteronormativity across the western world and, personally, I see quite a lot of issues with that. I think it doesn’t end well for many people in general to be honest, even people it’s supposed to serve the best.

In what ways do you hope that your collection will influence members of the LGBTQ+ community within and outside of fashion?

Well the main thing is that it’s, like, how I felt as a child, so I would hope that if any young queer people are feeling marginalised or conflicted because they’re in religious education or are growing up in religious backgrounds, I hope that they can look at it and think that somebody else went through the same thing, and that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, if you will.

So if you were to be appointed as the Pope, what is the first thing that you would want to change about the Catholic Church?

Oh, gosh! I think that it would be opening the Church up so that anybody who felt like they wanted to become part of the religion could do that, regardless of their identity. And I think really looking at the original scriptures and thinking about how to reinterpret them for today and how can we create something that makes people feel safe and included.

Last question; just for fun, if you could describe your own style in one word, what would it be?


Edited by Isabela Palancean, Fashion Editor