'You can't do alterations if you don't know how to make clothes. We know bodies, it's important to know how to make, you need to understand shapes and sizes," said Maeve Paterson of Studio 54, a fabric, design and alteration atelier in Blackrock, Co Dublin.
At this time of year, we are all tearing through our wardrobes wondering, will we ditch a much-loved dress or coat, but maybe the decision is hard because we really loved the fabric, or the style, or maybe it was a 'lucky' coat or dress, we remember the good times we had in it. Take heart, you don't have to ditch it, you can 'up-cycle' it, as they say in the interior design world. This is where Studio 54 comes into the picture, for Maeve Paterson's creative imagination knows no bounds, she lives and breathes fabrics. "I love seeing a piece of fabric on a table coming to life or, with old clothes, doing something totally different with them."
Maeve's love of design and fabric comes from her theatrical background, for she is one of our best-known and respected costume designers, having worked for many years on stage productions, film and TV. She has worked with all the greats, including film director John Boorman. "My mother, Vera Paterson, now 94, was in the theatre. She worked for RTE and for Phyllis Ryan in the Eblana Theatre. Our house on Upper Leeson Street was always the party house," she recalls. "There were theatrical parties every Saturday night." However, when Maeve left school, her parents wouldn't hear of her having anything to do with the theatre. "It's too 'iffy', they said, so I was sent off to do a secretarial course and I then went to work with Burmah-Castrol in London. I came home because I got married and had a baby, I was lonely over there. As soon as I got back, the late, great Jackie Gallagher offered me an assistant's job on a movie he was doing. However, for some reason, perhaps illness, he pulled out of it and I was left doing this 15-week French TV series on my own, which was a big thing. I just got bitten by that, and I started getting offered more work, and when my kids were small, I went to Leeds and did a design course, and from there it just snowballed. So, all of my children's summer life was spent with me working, which is one thing I regret, but there is nothing you can do about it, it paid the bills." Maeve's husband left her a number of years ago when the children were aged 10 and 12.
Maeve then built a big shed in her back garden, which was soon filled with fabric, vintage clothes, costumes and things for film work. "I did The Chastitute for the theatrical producer Phyllis Ryan, with Donal Farmer. I then did the Tailor of Panama with John Boorman, in Panama, followed by another film Not For Me, amongst others. Film work comes in spasms and is great for a few years and then it dies off, which it did. I had all the fabric so I started taking it to the Blackrock Market and it went very well. After a couple of years I thought, why don't I get a shop. So, in 2004 I found a shop beside the Blackrock Church and I was there until 2012, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and my world kind of fell apart. In the meantime I was also involved in film work, and doing two seasons of The Clinic. I had surgery and reconstruction and I got the all clear."
Maeve says there is a huge demand for altering and remodelling clothes. "When I was just selling fabric in the shop, people were asking would I alter clothes for them. Of course I knew how to alter, so I'd say yes, it was extra revenue coming in, but that element grew to such an extent that I had nine people working for me there, until the crash came when things started to get tight. It was a nightmare to control, it was a monster and, in the meantime, I was still working in film. I spoke to the girls and they started to look for alternative work. I had Eastern Europeans who returned to Eastern Europe and I had two Irish ladies who were at retirement age, so they retired. We had a great mix of nationalities and skills including an Indian lady, a girl from Hungary, one from Spain, and an English lady." Maeve moved the business then to Sandyford for a couple of years but the building she was in was sold and now she is happily back in Blackrock with Barbara from Poland, who has been with her for 10 years, and Asta from Lithuania, who has been with her for four years.
"Between us we have about 70 years' experience," Maeve laughs. "We did two spots on Ireland AM where we got very cheap clothes, and we did a before and after on revamping them. They also asked us to do some Oscar dresses. So, we would watch the Oscars on a Sunday night and on Monday we would make the dress and have it ready to be filmed on the show on Tuesday morning." Her fabrics are gorgeous, many of which are end of lines from Prada, Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, and Karen Millen. She also does James Hare silks to order.
A lot of people are buying beautiful wedding dresses on the internet but need them altered to suit. She has done drop-dead gorgeous copies of Kate Middleton's wedding dress, and other celebrity dresses. Maeve points out that while they do normal alterations, it isn't cheap to remodel outfits, by the time they put the hours in on redesigning something. I say, it is cheap, because if you can't wear it, it's of no value, and by the time Maeve and the girls have finished with it to your heart's desire, you can swan into anywhere feeling a million dollars.
Maeve has also just had two important commissions this week. The first, for a Los Angeles-based company, is to source costumes in Madrid for an upcoming commercial. "If I describe it as Lord of the Rings meets Game of Thrones, I don't think I'd be far off the mark. Fantasy, great fun to design." The second project is for Lord March's Goodwood Estate. They had seen costumes designed by her on the John Boorman movie, Queen and Country, last year, and liked the look.
"They have commissioned me to design two outfits to commemorate the women racing drivers of circa 1950s, for their poster Goodwood Revival. So, we will reconstruct some of the designs here in Studio 54." www.maevepaterson.com