Though lacking street frontage or window displays, the Design Centre’s second-floor position does nothing to detract from its reputation as one of Dublin’s premier fashion destinations. Located in an 18th-century town mansion, the Centre, originally established as a showcase for emerging Irish design talent, celebrated its 25th birthday last year. Today, under the ownership of Ashling Kilduff, it continues that remit alongside carefully chosen complementary international brands.
“We are predominantly about Irish designers but, as time went on, we added international labels to make it more interesting. Now we are 30 per cent international and the rest is Irish,” she says. Established Irish names such as Philip Treacy (hats, from €495) and John Rocha (chiffon blouses, about €395) have a presence here, alongside up-and-coming locals Claire Ann Lawler (who has made hats for Claudia Schiffer and Dolores O’Riordan; from €295), Ella Boo, who’s becoming known for her retro designs (dresses, €175) and Mia O’Connell, whose silken dresses have a modern edge (from €395).
Kilduff, who has been with the Centre since 1992, took over the business six years ago. “I went on buying trips to London and Paris to watch trends and had an interesting role right from the beginning,” she says. An astute buyer with a knack for identifying promising fledglings at home and abroad, she introduced Preen, Jasmine di Milo and accessories designers Lara Bohinc and Erickson Beamon to Dublin.
The spacious, airy, all-white shop, with its crystal chandeliers and bevelled mirrors, has a boudoir feel, accentuated by hand-flocked wallpaper (specially made by Cole & Son) in its four changing rooms. Anna Friel, Jane Seymour and Naomi Campbell are among the clients it has attracted.
Kilduff prides herself on service: “Our customers range from their early 20s and upwards, and a huge number of women who are looking for something for special occasions. Here in Ireland we have loads of black-tie weddings, balls, race meetings and associated events. We look at the fit of every designer every season. You can’t do straight-up-and-down dresses for most Irish women. We have curves, so I try on every piece before I buy. And we do alterations.”
Among Kilduff’s latest international finds are the curvy corset dresses of London-based Israeli designer Lee Klabin (from €900) and Ozlem Süer from Turkey, whose beautiful ecru and lace wedding dresses come with price tags of €1,500 or more. Wilbur & Gussie silk bags (from €120) and House of Harlow jewellery (€99-€159) are there to tempt younger customers. Or bridesmaids.