Saturday 17 March 2018

Marian Gale

Marian Gale owns Marian Gale Dress Boutique in Donnybrook, where she sells outfits for all occasions, in particular weddings, debs and Communions. She lives in Ballsbridge with her husband, Laurie Tormey. They have two children, Harry (32) and Ambre (23)

My alarm goes off at 6.20 every morning, and straight away I'm up and at it. I live in Ballsbridge, and at this time of year I like to go for a walk around Stephen's Green first thing. I leave the house without having breakfast, have my walk, and then go to my tailor on Grafton Street. He opens at 7am, and I'm usually on the steps when he arrives, with all the alterations I need done.

After that I go home, and by then it's breakfast time. I always have egg whites and a juice I make myself. Three times a week I go to get my hair blow-dried, and I'm on my shop floor at 10 o'clock every day. After 35 years, I still love it.

I've made clothes all my life. My mum was very stylish, and there was always a sewing machine in our house. My father was Harry Gale, a rugby player and businessman. After school, I went to the Grafton Academy, where I did dress design. I opened first in Clontarf, in 1980, and from that first day, the concept hasn't changed. I sell occasionwear - everything from First Communion dresses to bridal wear and even funeral coats - and I still sell trouser suits, even thought almost no one else does any more, because women love trouser suits. I've always had the ethos that, unless you specialise, you won't succeed.

The first thing I do in the shop is to go through the diary. There are always bridal appointments; it's all year round at this stage, there are no quiet periods any more. With weddings, it's good to be able to listen. You need to understand the type of venue they are going to and what their wedding is about. You want people to say, 'Who dressed you?' not 'Who let you out?' Because of that, there is no such thing as commission for the women who work in my shop; I don't believe in it. Once you have commission, everything's 'fabulous'.

The year starts with appointments for First Communions, which are a huge part of the business. I know there is plenty of media criticism over the amount of money families spend on First Communions, and I understand that. But I believe it is a personal decision - it's what you want for your child, it's tradition, and you aren't going to change that kind of tradition. It would be like trying to ban wedding dresses. Also, people have a choice. You don't have to spend €800 on a dress and have a bouncy castle; you can find the type of dress you want to put your child in, at the price you want. Just as every bride looks lovely, every child looks lovely.

As always happens at this time of year, we're starting to get an awful lot of debs enquiries. I always ask them how they heard about us, and more and more I now hear back, 'Oh, I got my First Communion dress here', so the business is coming full circle.

There are so many amazing moments in this business. Seeing someone putting on something that is just made for them, watching them transform, is wonderful. Sometimes it's a reluctant daughter shopping with her mother, and you can see the tension. Mothers are anxious for their daughters to look super, but from a daughter's perspective, at 17, mother is a dinosaur. But that moment when they take off the tracksuit, the Abercrombie top, the Uggs, and you put them in their dress, their heels and their jewellery, and see the transformation, is just amazing.

Whether it's a debs or a First Communion, the most important thing is that nobody else in the class has the same dress. So I have a list, and I'm very strict about that. The clothes in the shop are all exclusive to us in Ireland, and everything is carefully recorded so that two of the same outfit never go to the same place.

I never go to lunch. Instead, I bring in my own. I like fresh vegetables, so I will bring in a salad and pick a quiet moment to eat it. I used to be open from nine in the morning until nine at night, but I have discovered that really, those hours are for shopping centres. You have to decide in business - either you want to have a family life or you don't. I have a daughter and a son, and I wanted to spend time with them. Also, I never wanted to have seven shops. I don't believe in this idea that you're not successful unless you have a string of shops. If you do, it takes over completely. You can't be everywhere at the same time, and what I do is very personal.

Nearly everything I buy comes from Italy, and I go on two or three buying trips a year. Every October and March, I go to Milan. These days, I go for as little time as possible; after 35 years, I can look at something and know immediately whether it's yes or no. You get to know exactly who you're buying for, and what they want. For example, there are colours - certain shades of green, in particular - that just don't work with an Irish complexion. With wedding dresses, for every hundred that I sell, only two would be snow white. It's a colour that doesn't work here.

I leave at 5.30pm, or when the last customer is gone. I go home, and then I go for another brisk walk, around Herbert Park, to wind down. I love to walk, because you can't worry and walk, I find. Then it's home, and feet up. My husband is a brilliant cook and a great support to me, so I have a lovely dinner presented to me every evening, which is most welcome.

I work six days a week, sometimes seven. If I'm not working on Sunday, I'll walk into town, and the odd Sunday I go for a facial, to whoever is open. That's my day just for me, and I enjoy that. I absolutely love what I do, and I couldn't imagine myself doing anything else. I even go mad on a bank holiday Monday, because I'm bored. I'm basically a workaholic, but I love it.

I'm usually in bed with the news at nine. I read the papers before I go to sleep, then it's lights out and I'm gone. I never have trouble sleeping, unless I'm planning my next window. I'm always thinking of what's next.

In conversation with Emily Hourican

Sunday Independent

Life Newsletter

Our digest of the week's juiciest lifestyle titbits.

Editors Choice

Also in Life