Monday, 4 July 2016

The Lost Fashion History of Wicklow Street: Guest Post by Ruth Griffin

Grafton Street’s a wonderland there’s magic in the air… and there’s even more if you turn the corner for a saunter down Wicklow Street.
Have you ever taken your eyes away from the shop windows of Wicklow Street long enough and really looked up as you walked down the street as it curves its way up to George’s Street?

Well I often #lookup and wonder who and what may have been working away in those handsome Victorian buildings, with their pretty bay windows, over the centuries. And having researched The Lost Fashion History of Dublin Tours (along with doing a Masters thesis on the topic of the history of fashion in Dublin), I have found out some intriguing style stories about the street which I am sharing with you and my lovely pals  here at Dirty Fabulous.
(Thanks for having me as a Guest Blogger girls).

Wicklow Street in the 1980's

Fabulous fashion businesses

Wicklow Street has always benefitted from its close proximity to Grafton Street. Being a tributary of Ireland’s premier shopping street has meant that over the centuries the ground floor and upper floor businesses have been home to prestigious dressmakers, milliners, tailors, furriers and designers. But it has particularly been the place for millinery and dressmaking over the decades.

Grafton Street

From the 1890s onwards there have been fashion businesses sewing, cutting, making and designing beautiful fashion for the elite (and not so elite) of Dublin in the  many rooms and floors of the red brick buildings.

From the early twentieth century the street had an array of fashion businesses, which tell us about the period of history. As we know before 1916, Dublin was still part of the British Empire and because of this Dublin Castle was the centre of power. 
One of the most notable fashion businesses of the early twenthieth century at that time were the Court Dressmakers; Madame Doyle who resided in Number 18 and would have created court dresses for debutantes and presentations at Dublin Castle as well as wedding trousseau for Dublin's finest.
Fashion Historian Elaine Hewitt of NCAD has written an interesting thesis on the subject of the wonderfully named Madame Doyle here

1920s wedding photo via The National Library of Ireland

By the 1930's the street became a millinery hub with clusters of milliners (mainly women) trading on the street. 
I love the names of these businesses as they feel very of the age (and a little bit Agatha Christie to boot). 
There was Miss Maude Millinery at Number 12, Miss Brady Bird Milliner, Costumier and Furrier at Number 19 and the milliners Tanner, Shire and Byrne at Number 11.

Grafton Street

From the 1930's-1960's

As the twenthieth century rolled on other fashion residents emerged from the street, most notably was Mai  Geldof  Dressmaking, sometimes known as Fifi, who was the daughter of Zenon Geldof (a Belgian immigrant from Ypres) and the Aunt of Bob Geldof who was a flamboyant socialite and couturier in 1920s Dublin. With her elder sister Cléo they took Dublin by storm, working in the family’s Patisserie Belge on Leinster Street and selling Sweepstake Tickets to fund their wild road trips across Europe. They quickly became the notable trend-setters of the time. She set up a dressmaking salon in Number 11 Wicklow Street from the 1920s/1930s and attracted admired customers from Maud Gonne to Constance Markievicz. A truly remarkable woman and one of Dublin’s oldest residents Mai only died last year in 2015 at the age of 106! Her nephew Bob Geldof was quoted at the time as saying how girls would often come up to him around Dublin and say his Aunt had made their Mother’s wedding dresses! He also mentioned how Mai had helped him as a child and that he often visited her shop on Wicklow Street, “I would mooch around and wander into her shop and she would make me Bovril and take me on dates to the cinema.”

Maude Gonne 

Constance Markievicz

Number 21 & Dirty Fabulous

So it is no surprise that Number 21 right in the heart of Wicklow Street also has also had a fashionable past. From the 1880's is was Beatty & Hughes manufacturing (quite possibly fashion related). From 1905-1940's onwards it was an exclusive hair salon Austin Kane Hairdressing who also had a business on Sackville (O’Connell Street).  And from the 1950's the building became home to a textile agent William B. O’Rourke Agents & Distributors.  

The building continues its stylish incarnation today with the unbelievably beautiful Dirty Fabulous, home to premier vintage from all the decades aforementioned. It is lovely to see when you look upwards now a fabulous bay window lit up with the prettiest of frocks and exquisite gowns still being altered and enhanced for Dublin’s great and good today by the twenty first century’s stylish residents – Caroline and Kathy.

Ruth Griffin is a Fashion Historian and Blogger who gives tours of Dublin’s stylish past, The Lost Fashion History of Dublin Tours. The 2016 programme is ready to book now and Dirty Fabulous Vintage will be featured on The Lost Fashion History of Grafton Street Tour on Saturday, 9th July.

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