Move over Tiger, this new Dublin store will be the talk of the town
Insta-friendly retailer Oliver Bonas puts a spin on classics
Oliver Bonas Lightning Bolt Charcoal Grey Jumper €54
Every so often, a store opens up that reduces the need for those frenzied, burn-a-hole-in-your-bank-account shopping trips to London or New York. We rejoiced when Cos, Sostrene Grene, Flying Tiger and & Other Stories rolled into town – there was pandemonium when Victoria’s Secret took over a prime property on Grafton Street. Now fans of the high street are heartened by the news that Oliver Bonas is set to open its first Dublin store on Exchequer Street on the 19th of October.
Oliver Bonas stores have already been in situ in Belfast, on both Lisburn Road and Arthur Street. And each calm, airy store is like ambrosia for the eyes (albeit potentially lethal for the finances), with enough pastel graphics, modish quirk and idiosyncratic detail to lure discerning buyers through the door.
It’s the sort of place where you come for the statement graphic necklaces and throwback furnishings and somehow leave with a €30 Earl Grey & Rose candle. Its price point is pitched at the loftier end of the high street market – a chocolate pleated midi-skirt retails at €72, while a dress can cost about €70-€90.
Pitched somewhere in the tri-state area between Anthropologie, Joules and Urban Outfitters, Oliver Bonas is beloved of a certain type of woman: middle-class, well-dressed, aspirational. A yummy mummy who likes to think of herself as a style setter, rather than a follower.
The first Oliver Bonas store was opened on London’s Fulham Road by its founder, Oliver Tress. He was a regular visitor to Hong Kong, where his parents lived, and brought local wares and gifts home to sell in the store. The surname, incidentally, came from his then-partner Anna (a cousin of Cressida Bonas, one of Prince Harry’s ex-girlfriends). This origin story tends to feed into the branding. The gifts from Hong Kong may be no more – the products are now pretty much designed in-house – yet Tress’s exploratory spirit, not to mention a nod to the exotic, seems to be writ large over everything that is made.
The key quality in Oliver Bonas’s design, in homewares in particular, is that it moves beyond the boilerplate, putting an Insta-friendly spin on the classics. Oliver Bonas specialise in the type of offerings that appeal to anyone who has flipped through an interior magazine or gawped at Pinterest. Yet paradoxically, they are the sort of fares that die by their own popularity in jig-time, and are likely to have reached peak Hipster Basic within 12 months.
This season’s bamboo drinks trolley (€475) may look like an original flea market treasure (except, well, nice and shiny), but is already a staple in several trendy homes. Likewise, its wire wall antelope head (€38.50) is a modern twist on a vintage classic, but it’s the sort of thing that those dressing up the new student accommodation blocks would deploy. A gold and marble umbrella stand (€82), too, is a typical Oliver Bonas offering; pretty enough to be a statement in its own right, although entirely surplus to requirements. A lightning bolt grey jumper (€54) is a step up from a basic knit, but nothing that’s going to scare the horses on the school run.
This sort of shopping experience isn’t new to Ireland, mind – Avoca and Kilkenny have been in a similar game for years, offering a sort of spendy splurge experience on homewares, cards, clothes and the sort of randomly pretty ephemera that works well for the office Kris Kindle. Dublin-based stores like Designist and Hen’s Teeth have also been on hand if you want to walk in and pretend, even momentarily, that you have money to burn.
Yet in the UK, Oliver Bonas reported a 22 per cent jump in turnover for 2017, with turnover rising to £61 million (€68.5 million), even after a hefty investment in design, warehousing, website creation and an expansion to 72 stores. In 2015, it also became the first high-street store in the UK to offer its workers the living wage. And, as we’ve seen from the fates of Topshop et al, shoppers are starting to care about the sort of CEOs they hand their money over to.
At a time when the high street is under threat from online shopping and the might of fast fashion giants like Boohoo.com and ASOS, Oliver Bonas is bucking the trend and maintaining its toehold. The company motto – “Work Hard, Play Hard and Be Kind” – may be the sort of trite nonsense to be found in a frame (not in an Oliver Bonas store, mind, way too basic), but somehow, it all seems to work.
Part of the kudos of Oliver Bonas, of course, lies in the fact that there hasn’t been a shop in Dublin; ergo you’re less likely to see cat, dog and divil in the same Oliver Bonas outfit here. As has happened with Cos, & Other Stories and its ilk, the cachet tends to fade somewhat when everyone can readily buy it. Still, expect to be duly seduced by Oliver Bonas’s feel-good vibes in the coming months. And for your wallet to feel a little bit lighter.
The stores we wish were coming to town
Marimekko (marimekko.com) The Finnish textile house specialises in bold graphic prints and eye-catching interiors. Think a Scandi Orla Kiely.
Gorman (gormanshop.com.au) The Australian organic clothing store loves colour, graphic prints and generally dressing women like cool art teachers.
Monki (monki.com) Cooler than Topshop, as pocket-friendly as H&M, more playful than Zara. Think basics with a twist.
Anthropologie (anthropologie.com) Everything in this lifestyle emporium is turbo-desirable, albeit with a hefty price tag for the high street. Still, great for a browse.
Sephora (sephora.com) With its travel-sized beauty items and almost 300 brands in store, this Paris-based chain is the place you’re most likely to experience a retail blackout and come out €500 poorer.
Bravissimo/Pepperberry (bravissimo.com) A godsend for curvier or well-endowed women, Bravissimo does magnificently sturdy bras, while Pepperberry’s clothing perfectly fit those blessed with more than a handful.
Joy (joythestore.com) A close cousin of Topshop, Dunnes Stores and Oasis, Joy is playful and fashion-forward. Their accessories haul really comes into its own.
Yumi (yumi.co.uk) More knee-length patterned dresses than you can shake a purse at. Great for a ditsy number in a bold colour.
Leona Edmiston (leonaedmiston.com) This Sydney designer isn’t cheap, but her jersey dresses are mega-flattering and perfect for an older shopper.
Sfera (sfera.com) This Spanish retail giant is often spoken of in the same breath as Mango and Zara, though has yet to make the same impression globally.