styleisle file – January 2010
This month’s styleisle file meets Suzanne Hourican, owner of Covet at the Powerscourt Centre, to talk about the new store concept she’s brought to Dublin and we delve into this fabulous borrower’s boudoir….
Traditionally in Ireland, the only items of clothing people rented were hats, but the idea of borrowing the outfit from head to toe has hit our shores in the form of Covet.
Owner Suzanne Hourican previously lived in New York and she and her roommates were forever trying to come up with business ideas. “This is one I just couldn’t believe hadn’t been done, so I kept coming back to it as it just made sense on so many levels. I am not the most practical person in the world- I even hate the word ‘practical’, but this kind of practical I can certainly do- it’s practical indulgence! The ultimate in guilt free shopping. I started looking into the business model seriously a couple of years ago. I spent a bit of time with a similar business in New York. At the time I was attending about 8 weddings a year- mostly with the same people, so such a service would have been a God send, and thankfully market research, and eventually store opening proved that I wasn’t alone in my thinking. People have just really instinctively latched onto the concept”.
Covet is set in the heart of the little fashion Mecca that is the top floor of the Powerscourt town centre and the traditional surroundings compliment the magnificent décor of the store. Suzanne originally wanted less of a traditional store but went with Powerscourt in the end and hasn’t looked back. “It’s a stunning centre and I love our space there. Our store comprised the ladies dressing room area of the original house so it makes a lot of sense it’s now a borrower’s boudoir!”.
I’ve always believed experience is invaluable and the success of Covet is attributable to the hard work and dedication to fashion of its owner. And so, I was intrigued to know how Suzanne started in the business so we went back to her college days. “After an Arts degree in UCD I went to New York where I studied Fashion Merchandising Management at FIT. I then went on to start my career in New York, being lucky enough to work with such prestigious brands as D&G, Cavalli and Gianfranco Ferre, and a well known bridal designer. My focus was fashion marketing and PR. After three years work experience in New York I decided to move home and took up the role of marketing manager for The Fashion House of Michael H where I worked for two years and from there moved on to Brown Thomas, where I spent four years as a marketing manager”.
Covet is filled with some of the most elegant pieces any fashion lover could lay their eyes on and I started to pop into the store as soon as it opened. So, as you can imagine one of the first questions I had to ask was a description of the most memorable pieces passing through its doors. “Once in a while there will be a piece that does literally take your breath away, and makes you gasp out loud! It’s lovely to see customers in turn have the same reaction when they come across such pieces in the collection. A cream Valentino jacket with an accordion detail sleeve, bejewelled teal YSL shoes, and a magnificent grey silk full length Fendi dress with capped sleeve and swarovski accents stand out, to name but a few”. And of course, the owner herself has flawless personal taste; “I love Valentino (the cut’s just impeccable), Chloé, Stella Mc Cartney, Isabel Marant, Catherine Malandrino, Giambattista Valli…I also absolutely love vintage finds and mixing things up to create a unique and personalised look”.
On that note, not only can you get the dress at Covet, you can accessorise to your heart’s content from shoes, to the little clutch keep your lipstick in, and even jackets! Covet will style you from head to toe. Literally. “When you borrow a magnificent dress at Covet- often times with retail value of up to €8000- usually we’ve spent quite a bit of time with you working on a look that’s right for you. The main thing is to follow the look through with accessories. We’re also forever printing out hair and make-up looks for customers, advising on undergarments, that kind of thing. It doesn’t just stop with the dress and we always spend time on the complete look- whether it’s sending the customer somewhere else or providing all they need from our treasure trove of fashion delights”.
I was keen to know whether trends are paramount when choosing pieces to rent to customers, but Suzanne believes that women just need to look their best, “obviously we pick up a sense of direction, but I think it’s much more important to focus on what suits an individual, personality, and magnificently made garments. Most women get that and really are just simply aiming to look their best, rather than replicate an exact look from the catwalk”.�
At the same time, there are always a couple of trends that women tend to pick up on over the years. Like me, Suzanne loves the Roland Mouret Galaxy dress, and loves the structured designs by the likes of Alexander Mc Queen and Victoria Beckham. “I like asymmetric necklines and we’ve some beauties from the likes of Versace, Stella Mc Cartney and vintage pieces. I also love the peplum which is enjoying a bit of a revival. We have some beautiful vintage peplum pieces and a stunning Betsey Johnson belted peplum number”.
The concept of renting outfits could not be timelier than in a recession when women have become more cost conscious. My peers are now embarking on the “five weddings a year” phenomenon” but gone are the days when a new outfit was purchased for each one. I am a reformed-impulse buyer and I have started to think about how I invest in style, without totally shattering the excitement associated with a trip to the shops and picking up that top you have been eyeing every lunchtime for the last week. I really wanted to know how Suzanne views the spending habits of Irish women in a recession and I think we concur on this one “Women still love to shop but are shopping more consciously- even regardless of whether they have money or not. Something like Covet allows the customer to experiment and play dress up without the hefty price tag”.
Having seen the rent a dress concept translated into a thriving store I can now see that it’s so much more than borrowing just the dress, it’s access to the “ultimate wardrobe”.
And on a final note, what is Suzanne’s fashion must have “a magnificently cut little black dress is always a winner and fun to accessorise”.
Styleisle would like to extend its thanks to Suzanne and Covet for giving us the most wonderful insight into the newest fashion phenomenon.
Covet is located on the top floor of the Powerscourt town centre and is open Monday through Friday from 10am to 6pm with late opening on Thursday until 8pm.
styleisle file – March 2010
Think Barbie. Think platinum blonde hair. Think pink lipstick, and the icon that represents innocent childhood memories. The perfect figure, the colourful clothes, the permanent smile and of course…the handsome boyfriend. Little girls just wanted to be her. I have the most fond memory of my little sister, aged three, die hard Barbie fan, standing in the aisle of the Toymaster on Mary street, screaming her little head off at my poor mother, begging and pleading for mum to buy Ken. She gave a classic line back to my mum through innocent and bewildered eyes “But mummy, Barbie has no boyfriend!”. Barbie would remain single in our house for several birthdays and Christmases. We still laugh at this story to this day. And my sister still has Barbie’s corvette and she refuses to part with it.
Barbie had staying power that’s for sure.
Barbie was a childhood phenomenon that has transcended the decades as not only a consistent feature on toy store shelves, but as an immortal fashion icon. She continues to be the backbone that represents perfection and the figure that we all want to be. It’s funny that since the doll hit the shelves in 1959, the aesthetics of the doll remain largely unchanged despite several attempts to make her more in tune with real life (i.e. Mattel redesigned her figure in 1997 to be more realistic than her traditional scaled 18 inch waist).
As a dedication to the super-doll, this Barbie-themed shoot was shot exclusively for styleisle.
styleisle file – April 2010
Jewellery Shop Online was started by Susan Salkeld in May 2009, and is based in the Citywest area of Dublin. The concept for Jewellery Shop Online was inspired by Susan’s desire to bring an affordable yet ultra-glamorous range of jewellery to the online retail market. Susan enthuses that she has always loved costume and designer jewellery and she wanted to promote her favourite designers by exposing them on her new and highly attractive website.
“I do most of my shopping online these days, but when I started out there wasn’t a great choice of jewellery available to view or buy on the internet. You can purchase great outfits and shoes, bags, sunglasses etc online, but there was certainly an opening for a web-based jewellery shop with good quality and recognisable brands to suit all budgets” explains Susan.
For many years Susan worked in management accounts, running the Irish branch office of a large UK-based construction company alongside her partner Gerard. “We were part of a massive global empire. I was made redundant in January 2009 when the property market crashed. In reality, this enforced redundancy was a godsend; I was fed up with the corporate world of big business and the tactless ways hard-working staff are often treated. I had become just another name and number on a balance sheet, and I had started to dislike the attitude of my particular so-called bosses. This was just my experience – hopefully some of the other multi-nationals are better employers. Smaller companies care passionately about their products, their customers and their employees. I knew that I wanted to get back to basics and work by these principles again. I used this opportunity to take a change in career direction by setting up the Jewellery Shop Online business. Jewellery had always been my passion – so why not embark on a new career revolving around my favourite fashion accessories and the glamour of new jewellery designs”. One of the upsides of her business is that Susan gets to explore the world to find new creations and the designers that fuel them. “The best part of my new role is travelling the world to meet up and coming jewellery designers and to view their new creations. There are many producers of amazing-looking costume jewellery but I want to ensure that the quality of the pieces is of the highest standard upon close inspection before I agree to promote them at Jewellery Shop Online. Also, I am always on the look-out for jewellery ranges which are not just memorably beautiful but are affordable for today’s cost-conscious shoppers”. From all this exploring, Susan has to have some favourites which include, Krystal London. “They meet all my appraisal criteria; i.e., consistent top quality, prices to suit all pockets, and of course, their swarovski crystal pieces are absolutely breathtaking”!
I ask all the fashion professionals I meet, what is the key to accessorising, so I was dying to know Susan’s views on how to “dress the perfect dress” so to speak, she explains “when it comes to accessorizing, I have two simple tips which are worth considering. First, if you are selecting an outfit for a special event, then don’t hold back on your jewellery accessories. Jewellery Shop Online showcases some remarkable-looking necklace sets for example which surprisingly don’t “cost the earth” – yet they make you feel like “a million-dollars”! Secondly, and on the other hand, we also stock many understated and desirable pieces which are ideal to mix & match with more everyday outfits. Relatively inexpensive jewellery can still subtly glamorise one’s more casual evening outfits, work suits and daytime clothing”.
The online shop stocks some of the most talented and inspiring designers including the aforementioned, Krystal London and of course, the incredibly popular, Lola Rose. Susan says of her particular favourite designer “Kish Vasa is the principal designer of Krystal London jewellery. Kish has over 20 years experience and his stunning uses of swarovski crystal colour combinations are incredible”. Susan also says that “Lola Rose Designer Jewellery present the most fabulous array of semi-precious stone designs and colours you will ever see. The highly talented Nicola Gewirtz is the designer and creator of the Lola Rose Collection. It is perhaps not surprising that the best European contemporary jewellery designers are to be found not far from the top fashion houses of London and Italy. However, less well known yet equally impressive ethnic designs originate from all corners of the world”.
As with clothes, jewellery has to follow some trends, but these are not always so clear. Some styles have transcended the decades including, the delicate short chains with pendants for everyday wear, to the highly embellished costume jewellery adorning the shelves of the high street giants. I had to know from an expert what the real trends are. Susan sees women going to Swarovski crystal earrings of all shapes, sizes and styles remain a firm favourite for fashionable ladies. “For more formal occasions, matching necklace sets are very popular. Some ladies like to add an extra touch of fun or glamour by completing or varying the set by the inclusion of a stylish dress ring. Also, Swarovski crystal cuff bangles are much sought after – and charm bracelets seem to be making a comeback. Many women are fans of tennis bracelets, although not many can afford the diamond versions worn by the rich and famous at red carpet events – so thrifty ladies will opt for the beautiful swarovski crystal tennis bracelets which are very simple yet highly elegant and beautiful”.
I have always been a fan of charm bracelets, and I believe that women have a staple piece of jewellery that epitomises their style and personality. I can see that Susan loves some sparkle from her love of large Swarovski crystal earrings. “The demand for these items, fashioned in a range of exotic colours and beautiful designs, has really exploded in the last year or two. I think that “big earrings” will remain popular for a long time, I am pleased to say”.
Women can splash out on jewellery but competition from cheaper brands is always a threat to the wider jewellery industry. If women have to restrain themselves to splurge, what is the alternative? Susan agrees that today’s women are very cost sensitive when weighing up new additions to their wardrobes. “You could even say that some probably feel guilty by trying to remain fashionable or at least by attempting to spruce up an existing outfit with the purchase of new accessories. This is where the online retail market comes to the fore. Ladies can browse fashion wear websites from the comfort of their own homes, without obligation. I do most of my shopping online these days – as I cannot think of anything worse than trying to find a parking space in a busy town centre at weekend, and then having to queue up at tills in packed fashion outlets. When shopping from home, your feet don’t hurt in the process! I find that many of Jewellery Shop Online’s new customers browse our web-based shop 2 or 3 times before making a final decision to purchase. I think that our unbeatable prices make them return and join the ever-growing number of people who choose to shop at home and save money at the same time. As with most stores, we offer a 30 day money back guarantee on all our jewellery if customers are not 100% satisfied – the only exclusion being pre-worn earrings for hygiene reasons. Online shoppers have everything to gain and nothing to lose, when using secure and reputable sites like our own”. This store is the perfect solution in my view, solving the accessory dilemma whilst sitting relaxing with your cup of tea.
I am delighted that what started as a fashion concept has materialised into a prosperous business. It is definitely inspiring to those who either find themselves in limbo in the current economic climate or those who just want to follow their passion. “I am fairly certain that new customers are initially surprised by our relatively low prices when compared to high street shops. Maybe some are even sceptical. Thankfully most return to Jewellery Shop Online and realise that a perhaps restricted budget can still provide a touch of affordable glamour when buying fashion accessories. Our customers are always our number one priority to us and we take pride in providing an exceptional customer service. We are prepared to answer questions about any showcased item, or to send additional images on request. We also do many home viewings or Skype viewings if customers prefer to see more of our retail items before they buy”.
As always, I had to know Susan’s wardrobe favourite, and not surprisingly, her choice is perfect. “My wardrobe must-have is most definitely Louboutin shoes. I am very prudent these days when it comes to shopping although I always treat myself now and again with a new pair of shoes and a glamorous dress from Lara’s”.
So the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The online fashion business is a model which is changing the way women shop, but as Susan’s business proves, it is inspiring. What I have learned from Susan is that motivation is key, and passion for what you do is paramount. Jewellery is the perfect complement to an outfit and now that accessories are so accessible, in terms of price and selection, we have no excuses!