John Regan Designs

When receiving his engineering degree in 1985, John Regan would never have imagined that eighteen years later he’d be established as one of Ireland’s foremost bridal and evening wear dress designers. So how did he get from T-squares and plotters to sequins and hems?


By John’s own admission he hated engineering and knew right from the start that it wasn’t the career for him. “I detested my college course and when finished opted for a job as a sales rep rather than an engineer, but I still wasn’t happy”.


“At 19, I’d always been more interested in the Home Economics course my girlfriend (now my wife) was doing. Her college work appealed to me much more than my own and I found that I had a real interest in dress design”.


Finally I found the career – Bridal and Evening Dress Design


“Finally, thanks to a lot of persuasion from her and months of doing a job I really disliked, I bit the bullet and enrolled onto a four year evening course for dress design within the Grafton Academy, the college of Fashion Design”.


At the academy, John specialised in evening and bridal wear, and for four years lead a double life. By day he ran a Deli in Drogheda in order to financially support his wife and their growing family. By night he learnt the trade of dress designer, ingesting everything he could about sequins, beading, zips, hems, boning, fabric and haberdashery.


Build up a good clientele


On completion of the course John found that he had built up a steady stream of business from local women wanting bridal and special occasion wear. This prompted him to set up his own business in 1990.


Working for oneself is the way to go


Speaking about that time, John said: ‘I was always bad at taking orders and never wanted to work for someone else, so setting up my own business was a natural progression. If I were to do it all over again, my one piece of advice to others would be to talk to as many people as possible in order to get advice. Don’t be afraid they might put you off. If you are dedicated and ready for hard work – it will work”.


Certainly for John, this advice paid dividends. Working out of a converted room in his home John built up his business through a combination of ‘neck’ and word of mouth.


“In the early days I was full of myself and didn’t find it difficult to walk into any exhibition or bridal fair selling myself and my talent. That’s the primary reason why I got on television shows like ‘Head to Toe’ (the fore-runner of ‘Off the Rails’)”.


“I just walked into the programmes offices one day and asked if they’d be interested in showcasing some of my work. They were delighted to be able to promote an Irish designer and really liked the fact that I had the ‘get up and go’ to approach them with the idea.”


Word of Mouth – Extremely important in the Design Business


“Of course, in the design business word of mouth is also extremely important. People are much more comfortable when a friend or relative has recommended you and that shows in the way the approach you and the questions they ask. There are a lot less questions when they trust the quality of my work and my judgement when it comes to flattering designs and styles” says John.


Today, John is commissioned to design and make all types of special occasion wear and can boast a client list that includes everyone from his next-door-neighbour to T.V. personalities and the wives of very prominent business men.


“This year business has been about 50/50 on bridal/evening wear for the first time ever” says John. “I enjoy making both, but find that evening wear can be a lot more time consuming for the budget involved. Also, because of the likelihood that it will be worn on numerous occasions, evening wear must also be a lot more durable than bridal wear.”


Women want something unique and a little different


“I travel all over Ireland and the UK for fabrics and have found that over the years, specialist shops, such as Deery’s in Dundalk, Róisin Cross and Hickeys in Dublin, have really expanded their ranges to reflect the fact that all women want to wear something unique and a little different.”


The opportunities for creative licence also keep the job very interesting. For example, John annually creates a special piece for raffle at the Drogheda Cancer Show, hosted to raise money for cancel awareness.


John also creates the outfits worn by the ladies sporting new David Murray haircuts at the annual Hairdresser of the Year awards in Dublin. Commenting on this particular commission, John says: “I always get to have a bit of fun with these outfits because they are created for dramatic effect rather than everyday or special occasion wear. When creating these pieces I simply take the events theme (e.g. Fire and Ice or Dominatrix) and let my imagination run riot!”


Off the wall requests


Every once and a while a really ‘off the wall’ request will come in that also really fires the imagination. For example, when a well off restaurateur from Drogheda was hosting his fortieth birthday, he decided to host a masked ball in Venice, Italy. As a result John was commissioned to create eight individual and unique ball gowns, complete with underskirts and corsets, which the ladies then coupled with wigs made from London and masks made in Venice!


Nominated twice for the Irish Brides, Bridal Designer of the year awards


When it comes to accolades within his industry, John has been twice nominated for the Irish Brides, Bridal Designer of the year awards. An annual event, the awards take place in Dublin and showcase the countries best talent in Bridal Design. The magazine chooses the entrants and approaches them to submit three individual dresses for judging. Speaking on the event, John commented: “It was a great honour to be asked and a great opportunity to showcase my designs to a wider audience. Once finished the dresses are a great conversation piece at wedding fares all over the country so it’s a great marketing a promotional tool.”


Asked if he one particular favourite in all the dresses he has made over the years, Johns answer is a safe bet: “People always ask me ‘what my favourite dress has been’ but my regular answer is that it is always ‘the dress I am working on now’. Exactly the answer any bride would wish to hear about her special dress!


An Entrepreneur who loves his work


Clearly, John Regan is an entrepreneur and a man who loves his work. He enjoys the creativity of ‘his art’ and the freedom it gives him to lead the life he regards as important, but he also works hard for that privilege.


“There are many days I work all night and weeks when I don’t get a break but it’s worth it. When I hear about people who seem to spend most of their lives stuck in rush hour traffic, or harassed by their bosses or customers all day, I realise how lucky I am. I’ve chosen to work from home, be my own boss and the people that I meet every day are in great spirits because they are about to get married or celebrate a special occasion. Mine is a great profession and I’d recommend it to anyone”.