The perfect 10 of Elaine Curtis: Looks that stand the test of time
Boutique owner Elaine Curtis strives for an ageless appeal, she tells Andrea Byrne, and she won't budge on quality
'EXPERIENCE is a great thing," Carlow-based boutique owner Elaine Curtis tells me minutes before her charity fashion show is about to kick off. "The older you yet, the more confident you get in business," she adds.
Elaine will soon celebrate 10 successful years in the boutique business. "It doesn't feel like 10 years. You work in six-month cycles, you think in terms of seasons rather than years," she smiles.
Despite the fact that she has almost 20 charity fashion shows under her belt, Elaine's enthusiasm certainly hasn't waned. "I think they are really important. I would have to be sick or worse not to do them," she laughs, "The show is great for us as a shop, but it is also a brilliant fund-raiser for the charity. We raised our target of €100,000 for our last charity Saplings (Schools for Children with Autism), so now all proceeds will go for the local county hospice and their tremendous team."
TV presenter Mary Kennedy, resplendent in a royal-blue, hour-glass dress, was the show's host, engaging the audience about everything from the clothes to the charity, politics and cricket. "Myself and my friends always have a saying, 'when you're out, you're out', so I hope nobody has any terribly early appointments tomorrow morning," Mary joked with the glamorous attendees.
This season at Elaine Curtis is bright, colourful, print-heavy, feminine and wearable. While dresses dominate, she has bought into the trousers and knee-length shorts trends.
"We're really trying to carry stuff that is ageless. We're trying to be careful about lengths. We want to be commercial. Not too much black. When people are parting with their hard-earned cash in these times, you really have to make sure it's right," says the mother of seven-year-old twin girls.
In response to the downturn, Elaine is now stocking long-established labels that are universally loved -- such as Hoss Intropia, By Malene Birger and Philosophy di Alberta Ferretti. As she says herself, it's like there are now "mini-concessions" within the store. "I am pretty loyal to my labels, so I like to go back to them. I don't like just doing them for a season, I love continuity. When I go buying, I just pray to God that it will deliver. Sometimes that just doesn't always happen. In saying that, I certainly wouldn't buy a label just to keep it in the shop. It needs to work."
Despite the fact that many other boutiques have now chosen to introduce budget labels, Elaine refuses, for fear that it will dilute her boutique's brand. "I might have thought about doing short-order collections that are of a cheaper price bracket, but the quality just isn't in it, so therefore my heart is not in it. I simply can't compromise," she insists, adding, "but what I will make sure is that what I buy is good value, and that it's timeless."
In what is a massive coup for her, Elaine is now stocking Diane Von Furstenberg dresses. "We were lucky and privileged to get them. I think we're the only small store in Ireland that stocks them," she explains
Elaine also continues to stock Tim Ryan, a designer who she chose to wear on the night of the show, and who she describes as "a truly gifted, clever designer".
She should know what qualifies as design talent, given that she started out in design and cultivated a successful knitwear business from it, before giving it up to open up her boutique in Carlow.
Such is her close relationship with her customers that Elaine allows people to put an item on deposit, and chip away at it over weeks or months. "We are in the country, it's becoming a more popular way of doing business. You'll find that people from all pockets are doing it."
Business, she tells me, has definitely picked up in recent months. "We don't have people coming in to buy their whole wardrobe but they are topping up on the existing one all right. Of course, it's all driven by occasions -- weddings, confirmations, communions. People make such an effort still."
Photography German Collins, www.germancollins.com
Hair Michael Doyle, for Peter Mark, Dublin
Make-up Lisa O’Connor, The Beauty Source, Dublin
Shoes Stylist’s own
All clothes from Elaine Curtis, 122 Tullow St, Carlow.
Tel: (059) 914 1790, or see www.elainecurtis.ie
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