Thursday 22 March 2018

Goddess of high fashion finds her paradise

Marie Therese Duggan's dress shop harks back to a vintage era where style met romance, writes Lucinda O'Sullivan

THAT we are living in extraordinary times is not new to anyone, but what is extraordinary is the level of creativity that is coming to the fore throughout the country in many fields.

Now the crafts our mothers took for granted -- sewing and knitting, remaking and redesigning -- which would have been scoffed at 10 years ago, are all the rage. In Dublin, in the Sixties and Seventies, there were many haberdashery shops where you could buy gorgeous buttons and rich braids and trimmings; these all bit the dust in the throwaway years -- now there's an opening for someone!

Marie Therese Duggan, originally from Kilkenny, is a woman with an innate sense of style who turned her talent into a business by opening the most wonderful vintage couture store and atelier -- The Goddess Room, in Greystones, Co Wicklow. She is doing seriously beautiful vintage couture clothes -- wonderful fabrics, wonderful designer names of the past.

The Goddess Room is so much more than just a shop -- it is a salon, almost in the theatrical grand couture house way of times past, where the customer sat on a beautiful sofa as models would be paraded by in fabulous gowns for the approval of the female and her rich lover.

Marie Therese originally worked in retail, then moved on to making pasta and breads in the Eighties, and then for many years worked in film production.

Just as the recession was hitting in 2008, her son Rory, aged 30, was made redundant from Dell. In fact he later invested his redundancy money in The Goddess Room!

"Redundant is such a terrible word. I thought I had better do something because I still had a young son, now 13, to rear," she said.

She also has a daughter, Iseult Sheehy, who is a stylist and has been working with RTE's programme Off The Rails.

"I decided to go right back to where I had started in my career, which was with a market stall in the Dandelion Market."

Marie Therese had trained with Kilkenny Design before joining Laura Ashley when the label first moved into Ireland. Then. from 1993 on, she worked as a screenplay writer with her own independent film production company.

"I was working very hard to ensure I got these films made but, every single time I came up against bureaucracy. I could leave Ireland, raise money in Europe, come back and, lo and behold, there was no support. I just felt I was up against a wall. I climbed over the wall, or tried, I tried digging under the wall, boring holes in the wall, going around the wall, until I suddenly realised, I had to park the wall, walk away in a different direction,

leave it for the moment, and that's what I did."

Faced with coming up with a new way to earn a living she looked to her past. "I asked myself what I would really enjoy doing if I had to work my ass off. I also felt women over 40 were getting a very bad deal throughout all of those years over the Tiger economy.

"I thought, what was the thing you most enjoyed when you look back to being a kid and went places with your mother? We used to go to the dressmaker. Mrs Delahunty's was the place where you went in Kilkenny. My mother would stand there, whilst Mrs Delahunty's mother, who was in her 80s almost and wore a pince-nez, also sat quietly sewing; but there was an intimacy, and the concentration was on the woman, her form and shape, making the garment for her, giving her exactly what she wanted.

"Every woman knows how difficult it is to find exactly what you want for a special occasion and you very often just 'settle' for something. Come in here to The Goddess Room and we will make it for you, or we will find a piece that we can transform for you, that is yours and yours alone.

"If you think back to years ago there were always places where women could go -- whether it was the hairdresser or dressmaker. You went through those doors, it was a sanctuary, not a male crossed the carpet, a place you went and you came out feeling like a queen having been pampered.

"My mother used to have her clothes made by Pat Crowley, the top Irish designer, and also at Clodagh's. I remember her having a swing coat made with fur all around the bottom, it was seriously Jackie Kennedy, and I remember sitting there watching all these women creating this marvellous garment. It was just about style, they all had style and knew what suited them because they had to stand in front of the mirror for hours assessing themselves. By the time you got to 16 you knew what suited you."

Marie Therese took a stall in December 2008 in the Dublin Flea Market with vintage clothing, which proved very successful. She was then asked to do a fashion show in Greystones, and subsequently offered a premises there on a six-month trial basis. She then found her current location, a stunning former restaurant premises, to create The Goddess Room with the involvement of her son Rory.

"I have evolved the business since I started. I realised what women want is a made-to-measure service. Alterations are about turning up a hem or a cuff, but what we do is resize the whole outfit so that it looks as if it was specially made for the client. We would have a half-dozen dresses that I collected from different eras that are marvellous on different body shapes. So, if someone says, 'I have a really important occasion and I hate all of the standard outfits that are out there,' we can do something really special just for them.

"My mantra is cut, cloth, charisma -- if it has the cut, if it has the cloth, it has the charisma. It is my job to help people visualise an outfit."

Lavenia Theis, from Transylvania, is Marie Therese's elegant assistant; while the superbly talented Yvane Bude is in charge of the workroom. Yvane is French and went through the French system of training for seven years. "She could work for Chanel or any other top couturier but she likes living in Ireland and working with me."

Yvane has previously worked with top Irish designer Thomas Wolfangel, and also with Peter O'Brien on a number of occasions on specific beaded chiffon dresses for his shows.

My eye went immediately to a black silk Chinese chrysanthemum coat from the Fifties, selling at €600. I was distracted again immediately by a superb silk coat and dress made in Hong Kong. It was exquisitely cut, with the silk coat slightly wadded to support the fabric. It was selling at €1,500 and was straight out of the legendary William Holden and Jennifer Jones romantic movie Love is a Many-Splendored Thing. Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Deborah Kerr, Ava Gardner and Elizabeth Taylor were all in the room.

We continued through the rails of amazing clothes: a Chinese yellow silk dress, and an Yves Saint Laurent smoking jacket at €700. Vintage Oscar de La Renta was there, as was a wonderful, simple white wedding dress by the Bianchi sisters, who trained in Florence in the Twenties before opening a salon in Boston. Amazing quality. I also looked at a fabulous silk coat based on a Sybil Connolly design which they created to match a vintage dress for a wedding. Wedding dresses are priced between €250 and €3,000 but usually under €1,500.

"It is all about the quality of service and the amount of time we give them. We invest our time in helping you get the dress of your dreams," says Marie Therese.

She also has a great selection of not only vintage costume jewellery and handbags, but stunning individual pieces made by Sue Godley.

Marie Therese, with her skill and flair, has created an amazing place. "There are a lot of people out there who have found themselves in excruciatingly difficult situations, and sometimes it feels like there is no way out, but there always is. I just want what we have done to generate that sense of a value in women, the value in craft, going back to everything being done by hand, individually, for the individual woman -- and that's it -- I hope."

I, too, left feeling like a goddess.

The Goddess Room, Meridian Point, Church Road, Greystones, Co Wicklow;

Sunday Independent

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