Deirdre Macken has been curating and selling clothes in her various Dublin shops for over 41 years. Brian McMahon celebrates the city’s veteran of vintage.
The Dublin vintage clothes scene has never been so buoyant; there’s an exciting new breed of young local entrepreneurs selling online, at pop-ups and flea markets, and even the chain stores, like Penneys, now boast vintage sections. Someone who has seen all the ups and downs of the second hand scene is Deirdre Macken, who has been curating and selling clothes in her various Dublin shops for over 41 years. She is undoubtedly Dublin’s veteran of vintage clothing; a pioneer, a trailblazer, a supporter of young fashion designers and an inspiration for the new wave of sellers. Not that Deirdre would ever say this herself – she’s far too modest – but she did tell me the stories behind her lifetime ‘dream’ career and I’m delighted to share some of what she said here…
“I was 17 when I got my leaving cert in 1982. I grew up in the inner city and no one would give me a job. I was a New Romantic and at the time there was nobody really selling the clothes that I wanted to wear. I was fascinated with shops, and all I was interested in was clothes. I got a stall at the Mary Street Arcade, just at the end of Henry Street and began selling. For 60 quid rent a week, I got a tiny room, no more than a broom cupboard, but I could pull out my three clothes rails, made by my father, out onto the market floor. Luckily there was a toilet nearby where people could try clothes on. I called my shop Let Them Stare.
In the ‘80s, Dublin was a really conservative place. And if you wore anything different, you nearly got traumatised walking down the road. I mean, you’d get spit at, get shouted at, and you’d get things thrown at you. The stall was a success and by Christmas 1982 I moved to a shop on Ormond Quay. The shop was sublet and I got evicted when my landlord was evicted, so I moved to London in 1985, where I ran a stall at the weekend at the Camden Market and the Portobello Market. I learned a lot about doing business while in London and when I came back to Dublin in 1987 I opened up Sé Sí at 8 Crow St, Temple Bar.
When I started out, the majority of people perceived wearing secondhand as wearing rags and having no money. I mean, people didn’t have money in Ireland then. And so when you don’t have money, you don’t want to be associated with poor things. You want to have new labels and all of that. But there was always, in Ireland, underground people like punks, mods, rockers, new romantics, goths and futuristics, all these different people who wanted second hand clothes. I had a lot of gay customers too.
By the late 1990s I was running five shops including Sé Sí Original, Sé Sí Progressive, and Man of Mc Lir. I sold secondhand clothes, and then I sold young designers. I used to do a night at the POD and the Kitchen nightclubs where I sold kind of world clothes. But then the Celtic Tiger came and things got harder as people didn’t want second hand clothes. The general public became quite arrogant, saying things like ‘oh, you’re just selling secondhand clothes’. I just didn’t like the environment, it was all about new clothes. So I took a break for four years and I rented the shop out to someone else who continued to trade as Sé Sí. When I started selling again in 2009, I moved back into the basement at Fownes Street and named it Lucy’s Lounge.
People say to me, ‘Oh, you’re very lucky to still be in business’. But really, it’s been hard work, and, in some way, down to a lot of naivety. But I’ve always had fantastic people working with me. If you remember in the late ‘80s/’90s, nothing was happening in Dublin and there was this hunger to do something – and so the people who came to work with me were the movers and shakers, many who went on to do great things. I was lucky that they came.
The shop is more like an identity for me. I always say, my shop is like the inside of a pleasantly disturbed mind. It’s like wanting to express who you are. Today’s fashion people are very much into vintage and sustainable clothing. The new sellers, the new kids on the block, are fantastic. They do it in such a different, but really great way, and they curate and present it very nicely. I buy clothes from them for myself! I am the clothes addict, I’m always mooching around looking for that elusive dress – that I’ve yet to find.
Lucy’s Lounge, 11 Fownes St Upper, Temple Bar.
Opening times Sat 12 to 6, Sun 2 to 6.
Words: Brian McMahon, Brand New Retro