Diffusion boutique brings back the essentials
Diffusion's Kate Gleeson is helping to rediscover, or create, great pieces that you can no longer find, says Constance Harris
A few years ago, when Armando Pollini ceased producing those great stretch shoes and boots, which were a staple in our Helmut Lang-Issey Miyake-influenced Nineties wardrobes, Kate Gleeson -- owner of Diffusion in Clontarf -- and her customers were pretty devastated.
After several seasons of footwear frustration, two years ago Kate decided to find out who used to produce the range, located the factory in Italy and asked them to produce a range of footwear for her. And an idea was born.
Today, these shoes form part of Diffusion essentials, a new concept that Kate is launching with her revamped website -- www.diffusion.ie -- to go live before the end of the month.
"I found I was always looking for those great, hard-working pieces that you never want to take off -- smart, comfortable boots that went with everything ... a slip to wear under a tunic, or a great white shirt ... and labels just weren't making them any more," Kate explains to me.
"So I went to a lot of my good suppliers and asked them to go through their archives and bring back those great pieces. Or create new ones. And it has really worked. What is also great is that they are very respectful of us, of our customers, showing them what they are not seeing in their own business."
It is a genius idea. There are so many women out there in need of time-saving and informed fashion assistance. And, after all, what is the use of all those years of experience without sharing it?
So the new website -- as well as the store -- is selling everything from classic white shirts (often with stretch in them for comfort) to comfortably tailored black pants and skirts, and stylish jackets, coats, footwear, bags, slips and vests for under tops and dresses, all labelled Diffusion.
"I am not saying I am a designer -- I am using my informed, professional eye to give women what they really need," says Kate. "I am looking to the pieces they use every day, and will have them here, in stock, all the time.
"If she lives in Dublin, she can come in personally. If she lives in the country, she can call us, or use the website, and we will be able to send to her immediately what it is she needs. With no fuss, no stress. That is what we need."
Already, Kate's concept has earned her some corporate clients looking for their staff to be dressed chicly. She is trying to keep the price points accessible, so tops and separates are from €100 to €200.
"Shoes and boots have become too expensive," Kate says. "Everything seems to be €500 and more for something that might not necessarily be comfortable."
So, Diffusion's shoes and boots cost around €179 to €279. Her knee-high boots are especially good for "Irish dancing calves", with their elastic inserts or their stretch suede fabrics.
In the late 1980s, Donna Karan was the first real proponent of modern, working women's needs. She built her empire on it. Recently, in an interview in Grazia, she expounded on her "seven essentials in your wardrobe" concept, and people are talking about her again.
But Diffusion is not all about work-wear, even if Kate is in practical mode right now. "I found I was really a bit tired of London Fashion Week and Paris," she says.
"So I hopped on a plane to New York, and loved the energy and optimism in the looks. So we have some great, new labels from there for a bit of light relief."
Nicole Miller is a very flexible designer, doing lots of sassy, flattering pieces. Yoana Baraschi has some great, funky, slinky tunic dresses in that techno-print new way -- all short, sexy easiness. Dina Bar-El does exactly what you would expect from an LA-located label -- eye-catching, striking red-carpet evening gowns in bold colour and embellishment.
"I also think we are good at dressing women who are in their fifties," Kate says.
"They tend to feel a little bit lost when it comes to fashion. They don't necessarily want to look sexy and appeal to men, but they want to look confident and relevant, and for it to be easy.
"So, labels such as Annette Gortz, Anett Rostel and Patrizia Pepe can be very good, as well as Marithe et Francois Girbaud and High by Claire Campbell -- Girbaud's main designer for 15 years, who has now set up her own label.
"Ann Louise Roswald and Paddy Campbell are great for mother of the bride. As is Paule Ka. We get a lot of young-looking women who say 'my son is getting married and I don't want to look old fashioned -- I want to look like myself'."
As a buyer, Kate Gleeson will always take bigger sizes in a range if she can get them. So, Diffusion can be good for size 16s, and sometimes 18s. She also stocks shoes from 36 to 42.
"I am very lucky," she concludes. "I have worked hard all my life, but I have always had the support of great staff and great customers.
"I don't drag myself into work everyday. What would be the point? Life is good. You make it so."
The secret of happiness. Diffusion style.
Photography: Agata Stoinska assisted by Aoife Herrity
Styling: Liadan Hynes assisted by Jessica Gaffney
Make-up: Vivien Pomeroy, firstname.lastname@example.org
Hair: Paul Davey at DaveyDavey, 087 4173504
All clothes from Diffusion, 47 Clontarf Road, D3, tel: (01) 833-1592.
All tights model’s own