Few Irish eyes are smiling during the country’s brutal recession. Yet in Dublin, some artisans and clothing designers are seizing the downturn as an opportunity for rebirth.
Collapsing rents and surplus commercial space have enticed designers to
open galleries and boutiques, while established entrepreneurs are applying
lessons learnt during the past decade to become savvier and more innovative. According
to the Dublin City Business Association, for every 100 euros spent in a
multinational store, only 14 euros are returned to the local economy — compared
to 45 euros for an Irish-owned shop. So a fresh wave of independent boutiques
could revive the city’s prospects.
To find Dublin’s cutting-edge independent brands, you will need to look
past Grafton Street, the city’s best-known commercial boulevard, which remains
a hive of chain stores hawking international labels. Clued-in visitors turn to Dublin’s
other shopping corridors, including Exchange Street, the canal front by
Portobello Harbour and the blocks around the Irish Film Institute in the Temple
Bar nightlife strip.
One shopping district in particular, full of refurbished Victorian and
Georgian buildings, provides a one-stop shop for visitors looking for
Irish-designed fashions, accessories and housewares. The so-called “Creative
Quarter” is located two blocks west of Grafton Street, amid the cobblestone
alleyways between Clarendon and South Great George's Streets east-to-west and
between Lower Stephen’s and Wicklow Streets north-to-south. This area -- the
city’s original 18th-century garment district -- goes by a few other nicknames,
including Castle Market, Fashion Quarter and Soda (South of Dame Street Area). In
the last few years, a wave of store closures, which
claimed Road Records on Fade Street and the Doll Store on George's Street,
is being countered by a wave of revitalisation, such as the Doll Store re-opening at Powerscourt Centre
in response to community outcry this winter, and a collection of Irish
designers unveiling retail ventures at Project
51. Walk into any shop in this district and you may catch the first of many
Irish eyes smiling once again.
Launched in September 2011, Project 51 is a Georgian building refitted
to house a mix of shops and studios for 16 Irish designers who specialise in
crafting luxury clothing and accessories, such as bridalwear and jewellery,
including the award-winning brooches of Irish designer
Eily O'Connell. Led by Jennifer Rothwell and Eoin McDonnell, the collective
makes the most of its space at 51 South William Street, where work is created at
jeweller's benches and sewing machines on-site.
Last year, Ruth Ni Loinsigh moved Om Diva, her unabashedly feminine fashion and design emporium, into a Victorian
building on Drury Street. The four-storey boutique and workshop space is a far
cry from the tiny market stall that was Om Diva’s first home 13 years ago. Two
storeys of the new venue showcase Ni Loinsigh’s vintage finds (bags, hats,
skirts and scarves), most of which she customises to suit modern tastes. Also
for sale are the baubles she finds during her frequent travels through Asia,
such as a faux-turquoise stone and silver necklace. (Her visits to Asia
inspired the store’s name.) The rest of the building houses Atelier 27, a retail space for
about 30 novice designers and a sewing school. Ni Loinsigh mentors the
fledgling artisans with frequent workshops, and supports them by taking a
commission of sales instead of charging
Opened in in 2007 by Irishman Garrett Pitcher, Indigo & Cloth is now one of the country’s leading independent clothing stores. Lodged
in a subterranean shop on South William Street, it focuses on heritage Irish styles
that are tweaked to ensure up-to-date functionality. For instance, a tweed
jacket woven using traditional methods by Donegal-based Molloy & Sons also features
pockets that are designed and shaped for stashing today's handheld electronics.
Indigo & Cloth has a broad selection of clothes for men as well as women,
unlike some of the more female-oriented stores in this part of town. Expect
knowledgeable, unpretentious service and an exhaustive selection of jeans, with
upwards of 30 denim brands at any given time.
Powerscourt Centre is an upscale shopping centre that is
set inside one of Dublin’s most elegant Georgian mansions. The centre’s 36
stores are mostly independent shops, selling antiques, crafts and fashion. Be
sure to drop by Article, opened in 2010
by Irishman John Adams, which showcases decorative items that make for unique
souvenirs, such as a typographic
map of Ireland made entirely out of the names of the country’s various towns.
Another must-see is Bow, launched
in 2010 by Irish designers Wendy Crawford, Margaret O'Rourke and Eilis Boyle.
It stocks a well-curated range of jewellery, accessories and gifts, such as one
of Irish designer Ursula
Celano’s whimsically-coloured notebooks bearing images of Dublin landmarks
on its cover.
In 2010, Irish duo Barbara Nolan and Jennie Flynn
opened boutique shop Designist in a former pharmacy
on South Great George’s Street. The shop’s aim is to present a carefully curated
mix of housewares and interior accessories, with all items costing less than 100
euros each. Among the products featured is Allium, a spherical lampshade made from peacock feather-shaped
slats. The lamp, which packs flat for easy storage and self-assembly, is the
brainchild of Klickity, a line of home-accessory
products founded in 2011 by Irish women Kate Cronin and Elizabeth Fingleton.
If all of this shopping whets your appetite, a great place to sate your
hunger is Fallon & Byrne, a 21,000sqft food
store with a wine bar and restaurant, located in a renovated 1920s building on
Exchequer Street. The shop’s restaurant is reminiscent of New York City’s famed
Balthazar, with guests dining on comfort foods while sitting on
turn-of-last-century-style bentwood chairs and being served by wait staff in
long white aprons. The store’s profits were strong in 2011 thanks to its sales
of distinctive local items, such as the house soda bread, baked daily.