If you think of where you would pick as the shopping destination of Ireland, you default to Dublin as your answer. Well I would like to change that somewhat, and open your fashion filled eyes to some other great locations around the country as some alternatives to the big smoke. So I have taken it upon myself to travel the country in search of shops, boutiques, markets, high street retailers…you name it I’m on the look for it. My original intention with the styleisle project was to put Ireland firmly on the fashion map and one way of doing this, is to promote city and regional locations as places to shop. As I started this project by heading to Cork Fashion Week back in April, Cork was going to be the first stop on the journey.
So where to start? Well I needed some help with that, so I got in touch with Emer O’Sullivan and Vivienne Kelly from Lockdown Models in Cork for some advice. These ladies know their fashion and have been the catalyst behind not only Cork Fashion Week, but are ambassadors of how the south is fast becoming a contender in the style stakes. “Fashion in Cork has evolved hugely in the recent decade” says Emer. “If you had a function/ball/wedding to attend, it was always the done thing to book a day trip to London or go ‘up country’ to visit fancy boutiques. But thankfully a new breed of fashionistas have taken the plunge even in these recessionary times and opened amazing boutiques in Cork. We have a wealth of new independent boutiques in the city and county that have become renowned all over the country and that dress many Irish people in media”.
So with advice from the experts, I ventured to the people’s republic for a whole weekend of retail therapy.
On Saturday morning there is only one place to be to top up on your fresh food and a little bit of vintage fashion if you are that way inclined. Cork’s English Market started trading in 1788, being a centrepoint in the city’s retail history. Since then, as you can imagine, the market is now home to a variety of stalls including organic foods, chocolate, wine, Asian and Italian offerings, in addition to some of the more traditional stalls which have been there since the beginning. I however, was interested in one little, but famous store to the fashionista, Miss Daisy Blue.
The store is a treasure trove of well cared and loved vintage clothes, sourced from all over the globe by its dedicated owner Breda Casey. Working in the store is photographer, Samantha Hunt, who I had met back in March at the launch of fellow vintage lovers, Charlotte and Jane. Samantha was my guide for the morning, telling me about the clothes, how they are all cleaned and repaired before they appear on the hangers and some have never even been worn. One purchase I did make was of a black satin slip which I reckon came from the 1950s. Samantha said they even found some with matching stockings which had never been worn. They sell for about €18 each and are great for wearing as tops over skinny jeans or with leggings and flat pumps for more of a daytime look but equally glamorous.
Some people do live under the guise that vintage means old and mothy. To some degree I have to concur where no thought has been given to the stock of the store or the history of each individual piece. I could see from each piece in Miss Daisy Blue that there was a story buried in it, whether it be a dress that was worn as a wedding dress in the 1940s, or a sequinned white balero jacket from LA design house Scala, which no doubt has attend a few parties in its lifetime. A vintage shop opens up a new life for an item of clothing. It’s had one journey in one era, and now that it is restored, it can re enter modern life and live vicariously through its new owner. It’s this concept that makes me fall in love with pre-loved dresses. Samantha has taken some magnificent images of the store and a select few dresses which any fashionista would die for. While I was in the store amidst the chatting, designer Gina Carley popped in to say hello. Gina’s designs include cushions, jewellery, handbags, aprons and the most fabulous collection of handcrafted 1950s inspired dresses.
“I started out a few years back making jewellery, cushions,handbags,aprons etc,but as i’m a massive fan of 40’s,50’s,60’s clothes and I love rockabilly clothes,culture,music and I could never find anything I wanted to wear so with the help of my sister who kept pushing me to do more,(thanks sis !!). I wanted to take it to another level and start making dresses, I was thinking if I liked that style and couldn’t find something original that suited my personality and style, then there had to be more, so as it happens there are ,thank god !”. I like to use quirky and unusual fabric with an old style twist with yards of netting so I now have full 50’s style dresses,summer dresses,full skirts with netting , mini skirts with netting , 50’s stlye wiggle skirts and much more to come and i’m still doing the cushions and bags so i’m kept really busy”.
Miss Daisy Blue and Peacock and Ruby (across the hall from Miss Daisy Blue) carry a range of Gina’s designs but she also sells at The Fair Alternative market held every Saturday in the Unitarian Church in Cork. I feel inspired by Gina as she had a vision for what she wanted to make and with a little motivation and support, took the leap of faith and now the result is the most beautiful range of pieces. Maybe this is the next Kath Kidson of the fashion world?
My trip through the 1950s left me in a positively good mood and made me realise just how much I love researching fashion and Cork is definitely a great place to do this. If you are looking for a one off piece, something that came from an era where everyone dressed for dinner and retro glamour was the thing, Cork has an abundance of shops to satisfy the hunger. I also visited Retrograde, full of vintage jewels, pearls and even men’s clothes! Positively Vintage on Castle street also has a great selection of coats and bags.
It was time to get back to reality and move to the more modern era. Cork’s most recent addition to the Patrick Street area is Opera Lane, which is where the high street resides in the city. Home to New Look, Topshop, Next, H&M, River Island and Tommy Hilfiger. One is next door to the other so you are geographically in the fashion high street. My shopping companion for Opera Lane was my former styleisle-con (and my buddy), Laura Speight. We did the tour of the shops to try and see if these flagship stores in Cork can match their Dublin counterparts, and the answer is yes. I found some pieces which I had never seen in a Dublin store and one in particular that I had been hunting for a long time. It’s great to see that although we have hit a rough spot economically, the appeal for the high street giants is still there. This development is hugely attractive to the 15 – 30 demographic, all of whom were out in force on this sunny Saturday afternoon.
Moving up Patrick street and up the price range, Brown Thomas Cork maintains a great range of designers. Not all the high “enders” are present, but I was surprised to see Halston Heritage making an appearance here. Then again we are still living in the aftermath of SATC 2, so I guess it will test the staying power of this brand in particular. DVF, Moschino Cheap and Chic and Elie Tahari sit quietly in the space shared with shoes and next door to the more trendy brands like All Saints and Selected Femme, two of my personal favourites (see fashion find to see why!).
Cork is also good friends with the back street boutique and I fell in love with Amity on French Church Street. With dresses starting at €40 and accessories not far off that price point, this is challenging the pulling power of the high street brands on Opera Lane around the corner. The décor of this store is impeccable, keeping it young and fresh and clearly its audience are feeling the vibe, the store was hopping that afternoon. What I loved about this store especially was the opening hours on the door “10am to 6ish”.
For the beauty addicts, I stumbled across Fifth Avenue nail bar where you can get a file and paint for €10! No wonder it was packed when I walked by.
In a Saturday you can only cover so much ground, but from what I can see is a place well worth a visit if you are looking for something individual and not too pricey. That night, I ate in the Cornstore in town and donned my new vintage slip, a pair of dark wash skinny jeans, nude leather peep toes and a cream balero jacket, in keeping with the beautiful summer’s eve it was. This was a chance to see the females of Cork dressed to the nines. Chic ladies and loved up couples dined around us and to no surprise the style was on show. From pieces I recognised from Opera Lane to some crazy beautiful dresses (I restrained myself from interrupting several meals to see where the dress came from).
Cork is simply a great place to shop and I was delighted to find a good variety of stores which cater for everyone. Ending the way I began I asked Emer about why she loves fashion in Cork, “I love shopping and working in the industry here as people aren’t afraid to be unique, different and experiment with fashion. Cork people have become much more cosmopolitan and open minded in their approach to style and all these fabulous boutiques allow us to be more inventive and creative and more importantly, up to date and on a par with our European rivals”.
And she’s right. The trends are there on the street, maxi dresses, leggings with layered tees, gladiator style sandles, blazers to name but a few. With the new M6 now connecting Cork with Dublin within 2 ½ hours, the trip can now be a day trip. This will definitely be a destination on my Christmas shopping list.
With thanks to the River Lee Hotel, Cork; Samantha Hunt, Laura Speight, Miss Daisy Blue and Gina Carley.
And especially to Emer and Vivienne of Lockdown Models, to whom I am so grateful for their continued support of the styleisle project.