Words: Niamh McNeela
It may seem an unlikely location for a boutique but Deirdre Mahon has carved out a select customer base stocking vintage and handmade pieces from a renovated garage in Fairview’s Marino Mart. With carefully curated accessories, pretty umbrellas and reclaimed china, Quack and Dirk fits a surprising amount of stock into an artfully coordinated space, making room for her Singer sewing machine and producing her own designs as you browse. We spoke to Deirdre in the cosy Quack and Dirk premises.
You started off studying sports science in the University of Limerick, which seems a million miles away from where you are now. How did you end up focusing on fashion?
During summers in college I think my mum just wanted me out of her hair, so she told me to open up the little garage my dad had. It was essentially a bag shop and at the start I made everything myself – basically because I didn’t know where to source or buy things! When I finished college I worked with Sasha as a buyer and I learned how to work out quantities and cost prices. When they closed down my parents suggested I open up the little garage again. At the time I thought ‘are you joking!’, but within the week I’d decided to do it. Luckily my dad and my husband are really handy, and my mum and sister are both architects, so within six months the shop was open and that was six years ago now!
So all along you had a real love for fashion and sewing; were you focusing on styles that you felt were missing from the market?
At the start I just wanted to make clothes I liked myself. Dresses were €30-€40 and I was making them all myself which was fine as I had six months before we opened. But then after about two months I realised I had nothing left and I had to go to suppliers and wholesalers. I went back through my address book from Sasha and called people up to see what they could do. I got to know my customers a bit better and now we have dresses for €69 and €79 which work fine as people are willing to pay that little bit extra if things are good quality. For me, it’s more about listening to the customer rather than to magazines. At the same time you can never veer too far away from the catwalks because when you go away to Paris or anywhere, they’re taking inspiration from those trends and colour palates. You can’t help but go with it!
You get asked a lot about Quack and Dirk’s location and whether or not you find it difficult tucked away here. Do you feel it hinders you at all?
It’s funny; three out of four customers would separately ask how I’m finding the location and whether or not I find it difficult. But I really like it here; my dad had the garage around the corner, so I’ve been a little grease monkey down this lane for as long as I can remember! It’s nice the way it’s small and the majority of my client base would be from around here. I do sometimes wish that the shop was a tiny bit bigger! I’ve got my two sewing machines behind the counter and I wish I had a bit more space for pattern-cutting. But I suppose it’s nice for people to see me mid-stitch!
With your design experience I’m sure you must get asked to create bespoke pieces for people, would that be something you do often?
That was initially the idea but then it’s hard to find the time when you’re running the shop as well. So now I have basic patterns and styles that people can flick through and decide on a particular fabric in whatever size. It can be hard to meet other people’s expectations, so at least when people come in they can try something on and see if they like it. Then I can alter it to their size, so it cuts out a lot of time.
Alongside your own creations you stock vintage items, where do you source these?
Berlin is usually great for vintage but I’m kind of veering away from that now, because vintage isn’t selling massively. Shops need to be big enough to have a huge collection because it can be so hard to find a piece you like in your size. I used to go to London a lot more but I find it handier now to go to Paris. The shops I need are grouped together which is great and there’s less hassle with tubes and transport. Wherever I go on holidays I tend to pick things up too!
It sounds like a dream job! But does it still seem like work for you when you’re looking for new stock?
Definitely, I go away every three to four months and my customers think I’m so lucky – off to Paris again! I just say nothing. It is amazing, but when you have to go to Paris in August in the sweltering heat and you’re sweating, it’s not so great. It’s difficult getting a flight at 6am and having to work that day. I do try and keep the beauty of it; you know, I’m in Paris, drinking wine and eating cheese! I do love it and next year I might go somewhere different like Barcelona, depending on the customer!
You’ve showcased your wares at various fashion shows, including a great collection at Electric Picnic, have you anything special coming up for Christmas?
We do shoots for collections twice a year and I’ve been doing around four fashion shows a year. They’re fun because I can get my friends to model and others to do hair and makeup and it’s a treat for customers too! I might sell a couple of pieces on the night, someone might come backstage afterwards and we’ll have to get the dress off the model then and there! This year I’m doing a special Christmas event on the 5th of December. The shop will be open all day as usual and from 5pm to 8pm we’ll have a special gathering with mulled wine and a 20% discount – a nice chance for people to pop in and have a look around!