With the high street exerting more and more control over the fashion market, Anna Burzlaff talks to three of Dublin’s most creative boutique owners about providing a different kind of space for the Dublin shopper
14A Emorville Avenue, Dublin 8
Creating a concept is the easy part. Marketing that concept is where things can start to get tricky. This is a fact Dolls owner, Petria Lenehan, knows all too well. After all, Dublin is hardly the epicentre of fashion-forward thinking. Finding a consumer base at the edgier end of the spectrum can be tough. “I have found that the market [in Dublin] is small and can be quite conservative,” says Lenehan. “So it has often been a challenge to introduce more unusual items to the customer and at times hard to stay true to the vision of the store.” Along with this many independent boutiques face tough competition from the high street, which tends to dominate, often proving the demise of many smaller retailers: “I think the high street has a firm grip on the market here, and so unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be much room for something a bit different and of a higher quality.”
Despite this tricky market base and the dominance of larger shops, Dolls has managed to survive with its vision relatively intact. Tucked away in the charming area of Dublin 8, Doll’s commitment to the concept of the boutique is steadfast, with each piece having been carefully chosen to suit the specificities of Lenehan’s taste and the boutique’s direction. Dolls has introduced a variety of international brands into the Irish market, much of the labels found there are hard found anywhere else in the country. Names such as Peter Jensen and You Must Create (YMC) grace the rails of the boutique; beautiful items of clothing in a beautiful environment is the essence of Dolls.
From the brands stocked, to the layout, to the décor, Dolls is a testament that a boutique is more than just a shop; it’s a creative space with a concept and a particular vision and ambition. As Lenehan puts it: “I always felt that there weren’t many independent boutiques with their own individual style and direction. Presenting the customer with something new and interesting was something I really wanted to do.”
14b Chatham Street, Dublin 2
It’s a well-known fact that jewellery can make or break an outfit. Those looking to make a statement with their accessories are sure to find the solution to their problem at Loulerie. Delicate but edgy, refined yet striking; Loulerie’s collection of jewellery is unique to the city. For owner, Louise Stokes, the idea of the personal is important: “I suppose the concept is exclusivity. I want to offer something different to everyone else.”
Jewellery designers such as Alexis Bittar, Ben Amun, and Zoja may not be names that immediately register in the typical shopper’s mind, but they are some of the most exciting names in the field at the moment, creating nothing less than tenderly crafted pieces of artistry. They are also some of the stand out names of Stoke’s boutique and help transform the space of Loulerie into a somewhat of a Pandora’s Box. Like all good boutiques, Loulerie focuses on quality over quantity; there is a small selection yet each piece has clearly been chosen with care and attention to the direction and cohesion of the store.
The foray into costume jewellery is an ambitious feat, and certainly one that has brought its difficulties. But Stoke has forged ahead. “You have to turn the negative into positives and we try and offer the highest level of customer service … It’s very tough trading times especially for independents, so I try and focus on having a very specialized product.”
Costume jewellery may not be the easiest thing to sell to the typical Irish consumer, but Loulerie is surviving, because as Stokes says: “The market for fashion-forward costume designer jewellery is growing hugely as customers want quality items for affordable prices and a focus on craftsmanship.” And it’s these two very things that Loulerie achieves. Ultimately it must be the impeccable eye that Stoke displays in her selection of pieces that makes the store so unique. For those looking for key pieces of timeless jewellery, this is the place.
Indigo & Cloth
9 Essex Street East, Temple Bar, Dublin 2
Boom, boom the fashion scene is dead. Or so it would appear if you happened to stumble across an empty South William Street shop where Indigo & Cloth once stood. One could be forgiven for thinking that owner Garrett Pitcher had finally come to his senses and moved to London, or Berlin, or somewhere that would probably appreciate him more. Fear not though, Pitcher and his store of sartorial delights have simply moved to Temple Bar, adding a few conceptual extras to the Indigo & Cloth vision along the way.
The new premises adopts the notion of the concept store more stringently than before; combining a clothing store, creative studio, and magazine and coffee shop. Indigo & Cloth stocks some of the most exciting menswear labels on offer in the city, all laid out and displayed with impeccable precision. It is, put simply, a fantastic space, and a testament to Pitcher’s vision.
Dublin badly needs Indigo & Cloth; it’s one of the few really innovative fashion spaces within the city. For Pitcher, fashion-forward retail in Dublin is far from progressive: “I love Dublin and I think it has become very interesting and creative lately as younger creatives lay claim. But to make it in fashion, you have to look abroad. Retail is dead here, and interesting labels have no platform now. If I had to guess, I would say give it three years and there will be a new breed of shops and labels filling the ‘To Let’ signs.”
No one could argue that the environment is an easy one, as boutiques battle against a narrow-minded consumer base and a media sticking to convention. “The press don’t do any favours about educating the public,” explains Pitcher. “They just get into bed with the advertisers and that’s why people only know 10 labels in this county, most of which are high street or dead duck brands in every other country.”
One can only hope that Pitcher’s ambition to stay in the city doesn’t dwindle, and that he and Indigo & Cloth eventually find the appreciation here they so thoroughly deserve.